TIME Gadgets

The 4 Best Tablets Not Named ‘iPad’

With the iPad hogging headlines, it’s easy to forget about the rest of the market, filled with Notes and Tabs, Kindles and Surfaces. And that’s a shame. The iPad might be simple and elegant, but Apple’s rivals specialize in power, price and productivity — sometimes offering twice the features at half the cost.

With that in mind, we pored through hundreds of reviews to see what both experts and everyday users value most in a tablet.

In the end, four themes emerged: battery, price, hardware and productivity. For each category, we picked the best tablet you can buy that isn’t made by Apple. Time to think different.

Battery Life

In tablet reviews, customers mention battery life more often than any other feature. A bit of lag, for example, is a minor nuisance, but a dead device is a travesty.

Unfortunately, tablets aren’t smartphones, even if that’s what consumers have come to expect. You can get through a full day with a 5-inch phone, but a 7- to 12-inch tablet with (literally) millions of pixels? You’ll be lucky to make it through lunch. And yet, one device emerges from the pack of top-rated tablets: the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.

At 13 hours (of constant use), Samsung’s Note Pro bests Amazon, Google and Sony, whose flagship tablets can muster just 12 hours each. Yes, that 13-hour figure might be a little inflated (these are manufacturer-reported numbers, after all), but getting anywhere close to half a day of battery out of a 12.2-inch, 247-PPI screen is just nuts. Even Apple hasn’t pulled that off.

Note that the Note Pro leads in both battery life and total pixels in this plot of popular tablets — a rare combination:

Our Pick: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Price

Many consumers are intrigued by tablets, but they can’t stomach the $500-$900 price tag. Meanwhile, the truly budget options are usually three years old, featuring out-of-date technology that manufacturers can’t wait to unload on uninformed consumers.

So at FindTheBest, we looked for a tablet that was modern (no more than 1.5 years old), well regarded by the experts (at least 4 out of 5 stars, on average), and most of all, cheap.

Here, it comes down to the 2nd generation Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7. While Amazon’s device wins on specs alone, our overall recommendation is the Nexus 7, which received slightly higher review scores across the board. It’s a photo finish, but ASUS, not Amazon, wins this round. With Google’s recent Nexus 9 announcement, expect the Nexus 7’s price to drop even lower.

Our Pick: The Nexus 7 (2nd Gen)

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Hardware Design

It’s tempting to assume that Apple has a monopoly on hardware design. Sure, you can beat an iOS device on performance and features, but no one can touch Apple when it comes to how the product looks, right?

Wrong. Your alternative is Sony. With a classy, sleek design that’s thinner than the iPad Air, the Sony Xperia Z2 is a feat of material engineering. At 439 grams, it’s also the lightest flagship 10-inch device on the market (depending on the final stats of the new iPad: this post went live before Apple’s October 16 announcement).

In the below chart, you can see how the Xperia Z2 compares to other popular ~10-inch tablets. (The size of the dot reflects the slight variances in screen size.)

Our Pick: The Sony Xperia Z2

Runner-up: The Sony Xperia Z

Productivity

In the world of tablets, productivity is a two-horse race. First, you’ve got the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, complete with a giant screen and built-in stylus. Second, there’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, a performance beast with internals that look more like a laptop than a tablet.

For casual consumers, the Note Pro is the right choice, if only for the well-rounded Android ecosystem of Google services and app selection. But for the working professional, it’s hard to deny the Surface Pro 3’s real-world performance. For an apples-to-apples comparison, just look at Geekbench scores. Geekbench performs benchmark testing for a wide variety of products across multiple device categories in order to compare real-world performance. Note below how the Surface Pro 3 performs compared to three other popular tablets:

For reference, consider that the most recent MacBook Air clocks in at 4,678 (multi-core) and 2,469 (single-core).That’s better than almost any tablet, but it’s still below the Surface Pro 3’s scorching results. Microsoft isn’t messing around here.

Yes, Windows 8 still has its foibles, and the Surface Pro 3’s various menus and gestures come with a sizable learning curve. But if you want pure performance and productivity, the latest Surface should be your pick.

Our Pick: The Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Runner-up: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

TIME FindTheBest

3 Reasons Apple Needs to Make a Bigger iPad (and 3 Reasons It Doesn’t)

Compared to the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch speculation, the buzz surrounding Apple’s October 16 event has been as subdued as Tim Cook’s southern drawl. Yes, we’ll probably see new iPads, and rumor has it, they’ll be a bit thinner. They’ll likely have TouchID built in. And there’s a good chance they’ll have faster, A8 processors. In other words, set your iPhone 6’s alarm to wake you up once this sleepy, predictable announcement is over. You probably won’t miss anything.

Unless, of course, Apple announces a bigger iPad.

Here, the rumors are anything but mundane. Could we see a hybrid tablet-laptop like the Microsoft Surface? Would we we get a big, bright 4K display? And would a big iPad get a massive performance upgrade, more like a MacBook Pro than an iPad Mini?

With the rumors swirling, we set out to determine the pros and cons of such a launch. Is it the right move for Apple?

Here are three reasons for Apple to release a bigger iPad, and a corresponding counterpoint for each.

#1: People like big devices. Just look at the iPhone 6 Plus…

Apple may have waited seven years to do it, but in 2014, a big-screen iPhone was an obvious choice. At FindTheBest, we charted the mix of small- (under 4.5”), medium- (between 4.5” and 5.2”), and large-screen (over 5.2”) phones released each year since 2010:

At this rate, phones over 5.2” will make up half the market by 2015. It was time for Apple to jump in. Consider also that bigger phones tend to have better specs and higher scores from the experts. In the chart below, we plotted our Smart Ratings (which combine specs, features, benchmarks and expert review scores) against screen size:

As the screen size gets bigger, the phone gets better. This isn’t just a coincidence. Larger phones have more room under the hood for bigger, better components. So why not apply the same logic and make a bigger iPad?

…but the tablet market is a lot different than the smartphone market.

Plot the same data for tablets, however, and things quickly get muddy. Here’s the mix of tablets released each year since 2010 (small: under 9”, medium: 9” to 11”, large: over 11”):

While large tablets have seen a small resurgence in 2014, there’s no clear trend. Will giant tablets stay a niche item or mount a big comeback? It’s too early to say. Small tablets have certainly gotten more popular since 2010, but outside of that, the market remains murky.

And are bigger tablets better, by the numbers? Not really:

Add it all up, and a large tablet is simply a bigger risk than a giant phone. There’s no obvious market precedent, and the best tablets come in all sizes — not just big ones.

#2: You can charge a premium for big tablets…

If there’s one thing Apple loves more than promotional U2 events and aluminum unibodies, it’s profit margins. At FindTheBest, we looked at the average price, by size category, for over 1,600 phones and 750 tablets. We found one surprising standout:

Average base-model MSRP (no contract) for phones and tablets:

Small phones: $343
Medium phones: $368
Large phones: $397

Small tablets: $304
Medium tablets: $533
Large tablets: $899

Tablets over 11” tend to cost nearly three times as much as their mini-tablet counterparts, and more than any smartphone, even out of contract. Granted, a bigger, faster tablet will be more expensive to make, but Apple probably wouldn’t mind adding another option at the high-end. As Android and Amazon race to the bottom with sub-$200 tablets, Apple would be more than happy to win the $899 to $1,299 range. In tech, no one does luxury better (or more readily) than Apple.

…but there just aren’t that many big tablets, and they don’t seem to be selling particularly well.

Of the 750+ tablets we used to calculate the above averages, only 25 were over 11 inches, so we’re already working with a small sample size. And then look at sales. It’s tough to get an accurate breakdown from manufacturers, but consider that (as of this writing) you have to page through 50 different tablets on Amazon’s best seller list before you get to your first 12” tablet (the Microsoft Surface 3). iPads, small Amazon Kindles and 7-inch Android tablets are selling well. Big tablets are not.

So while that $899 base price point might look attractive at a glance, it’s based on a handful of niche products with (likely) mediocre sales.

#3: It’s the obvious (and only) place for Apple to go next…

In 2010, Apple made mobile devices in just two sizes (not counting iPods): a 3.5-inch iPhone and a 9.7-inch iPad. Jump ahead to 2014, however, and Apple has quietly created a run of six distinct size options, with a tidy increase of about 15%-20% in screen size per model.

FindTheBest

As long as these things keep selling, why not try the next size up?

…but how do we know the tablet isn’t just a fad?

Tablet sales are still growing, but they’re decelerating, according to research firm IDC. “The market is still being impacted by the rise of large-screen smartphones and longer than anticipated ownership cycles,” says IDC’s Research Director Jean Philippe Bouchard. IDC has been forced to revise its previous tablet growth estimates, while Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told Re/code that tablet sales are “crashing” at the company’s brick-and-mortar stores.

Some commenters suggest that a deluxe, jumbo-sized iPad might be the solution to this problem—a tablet that can actually compete with PCs, task for task.

But what if the tablet’s slowing growth is just the beginning? What if the world is satisfied with a 6-inch smartphone, rather than a 12-inch tablet? And finally, what if Apple suspects all of this already, and that’s why its newest device isn’t a 12-inch tablet, but a 42-mm wristwatch? Only time will tell.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Money

Lending Club Besting P2P Borrowing Peers Ahead of IPO

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Couple signing contract Rob Daly—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

With an initial goal of $500 million, Lending Club intends to go public in 2014. Here’s how the three major U.S. peer-to-peer lenders compare.

Corrected Monday, Oct. 13

Call it a shot across the bow of the traditional banking system.

Having formally announced its intention in August to go public, major U.S.-based peer-to-peer (P2P) lender Lending Club is looking to take its growth to a new level.

The point of P2P—or marketplace lending—is to deliver better rates for both investor and borrower by realizing efficiencies through technology.

Let’s say you have $100 you’d like to invest in three projects you’ve found on a P2P marketplace. These can be anything—a new fence, perhaps, or money to pay down debt. The projects have varying degrees of risk because of the borrower’s relative risk of default. Say you bundle your three investments in a medium-risk portfolio and invest. Depending on the lending platform and holding all else constant, you could be looking at getting roughly an $8 return on your investment each year for three to five years. Longer term means less liquidity, but allowing for risk, that sure beats the going interest rate for a traditional savings account these days. The borrower walks away happy having acquired needed capital at a comparatively better interest rate. And the lending platform takes a cut for facilitating, or originating, the loan.

It’s a reaction against how traditional banking has met demand for smaller lines of credit like personal and small business loans: largely with more easily underwritten, higher-interest credit cards.

Lending Club’s announcement—widely reported in August—comes at a time when the demand potential for securing smaller personal loans is soaring.

In July, outstanding consumer credit in the U.S. inched up to a seasonally adjusted $3.24 trillion, which included roughly $880 million in revolving credit, a perennial refinancing option for consumers according to Lending Club’s S-1 filing. In the second quarter of 2014 alone, Lending Club facilitated more than $1 billion in loans, or roughly one-fifth of its $5.04 billion worth of loans to date.

Digging into the data on P2P lenders to look at the industry as a whole and to try to gain a deeper understanding of each specific lender, we focused on the three principal U.S. players—Lending Club, Prosper and Peerform—to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each company.

Looking at How the Major U.S. P2P Players Compare

Here’s how the major U.S. P2P lenders compare (Peerform did not provide comparable data):

While Lending Club is the clear leader in terms of total loans funded ($5.04 billion), there are nuances to each of the three major U.S. lenders. It’s important to evaluate all three—Lending Club, Prosper, and Peerform—from the perspectives of both a borrower and a lender to understand how these P2P lenders stack up.

Peerform

Founded by Mikael Rapaport in 2010, New York-based Peerform is the relative newcomer in the group. Its average interest rate of 15.85 percent falls right between the average interest rates of Lending Club (14.4 percent) and Prosper (17 percent), while its reported return of 9.88 percent actually puts it above both major competitors in that category.

Lender states include all states except for Alabama, while borrower states number 23 in total. Peerform has an annual percentage rate (APR) range that tops out at around 28 percent. Keep in mind that the actual cost of borrowing is better represented by the APR, which considers fees and charges in addition to the interest rate.

While Lending Club and Prosper are fairly open to participation (a minimum investment amount of $25 and a minimum age of 18 with certain credit requirements), Peerform sets its minimum investment amount at $50,000 and stipulates that only accredited investors over the age of 18 may invest.

As it turns out, later this month the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may further restrict its definition of who qualifies as an accredited investor. Although Prosper and Lending Club don’t share Peerform’s accredited investor requirement, each of the three is regulated by the SEC.

Even though Peerform offers many of the same types of loans as its two major competitors, its loans only range from $1,000 to $15,000 (Lending Club’s range, by comparison, goes up to $35,000). And although its average origination fee is par for the course, its minimum credit score of 600 is by far the lowest among the three.

While we were unable to determine Peerform’s default rate (and subsequently the net yield at each loan grade), we did find that the effective yield (the average interest rate minus the service charge not accounting for late fees, recoveries, or charge-offs) for Peerform is the lowest of the three at each loan grade.

Based on the effective yield alone, Peerform is the least profitable of the three major U.S. P2P lenders.

We should also mention that it’s the most limited in terms of features and lender accounts, with a clear focus on individual investment accounts (Prosper has a similar focus, though it also offers a range of retirement accounts).

Average Interest Rate: 15.85%
APR Range: 7.1%-28.1%
Loan Terms: Not provided
Default Rate: Not provided
Reported Return: 9.88%
Conclusion: Its focus on accredited investors leaves it a step removed from the peer aspect of peer-to-peer lending. When it comes to how it fares against both Prosper and Lending Club, we’re left with a somewhat-incomplete picture.

Prosper

San Francisco-based P2P lender Prosper was founded in 2005 by Chris Larsen and has facilitated roughly $1.61 billion in total loans to date. Lending Club, by comparison, has facilitated roughly three times as many loans ($5.04 billion).

Its average interest rate of 17 percent and reported return of 9 percent puts it above Lending Club in both categories, making it an even costlier choice for borrowers and an even more profitable choice for lenders, holding all else constant.

With that said, Prosper reports a slightly higher default rate of 7.29 percent. Using numbers we calculated based on lender information available, Prosper is the most profitable of all three. After accounting for its higher default rate, however, Lending Club actually delivers an average net yield that bests Prosper’s by 0.08%.

You can see in the visual that Prosper’s riskier loan grades (A being relatively lower-risk, lower-reward loans, and so on) have default rates that actually exceed their net yields.

Along with an average interest rate that is well above its two major U.S. competitors (17 percent), Prosper also has the largest APR range (6.7 to 35.4 percent). It posts a 3 percent origination fee, which is actually 0.05 percent lower than Lending Club’s, while its average loan of $7,840 is just over half of what Lending Club averages ($14,056).

Yields for Prosper’s example low-, medium- and high-risk portfolios are an average of 0.5 percent above representative risk portfolios with Lending Club. From just the standpoint of maximizing yield at each of the three risk classes, Prosper is the better choice for investors.

Although Prosper focuses on many of the same loan types that Lending Club does, it only requires a minimum credit score of 640, slightly below Lending Club’s requirement of 660, and it doesn’t offer nearly as many account types to its users.

With Prosper, lenders can lend in 31 states and borrowers can borrow everywhere except in North Dakota, Iowa, and Maine.

Average Interest Rate: 17%
APR Range: 6.7%-35.4%
Loan Terms: 36 or 60 months
Default Rate: 7.29%
Reported Return: 9%
Conclusion: Prosper outperforms Lending Club in certain areas (e.g., borrowing and lending coverage, higher yields on average than Lending Club using example portfolios with varying amounts of risk). But its higher default rate is something to consider.

Lending Club

Founded by Renaud Laplanche in San Francisco in 2006, Lending Club is an established platform with an average interest rate of 14.4 percent, 4.1 percent higher than the average interest rate across all competing platforms (10.3 percent).

Lending Club claims a reported return of 8.30 percent and a 6.04 percent default rate. That’s a lower reported return than Prosper’s (9 percent), but it’s also a lower default rate (1.25 percent lower to be exact).

Lending Club’s APR ranges from 6.8 percent to 28.7 percent. Its higher-than-average origination fee of 3.05 percent means it can be a costlier option for borrowers.

Yet, Lending Club maintains the most extensive offering of account and loan types. For lenders, it operates in 26 states, and services are available to borrowers in every state except Alabama. Borrowers must have a minimum credit score of 660, three years of credit history, and a satisfactory debt-to-income ratio.

Across Lending Club’s primary loan grades, net yields are higher than default rates:

Although Prosper delivers yields that are on average 0.5 percent higher than Lending Club’s using example low-, medium- and high-risk portfolios, risk-seekers investing with Prosper might hesitate to give more weight to loan grades beyond C in their portfolios (recall that in our calculations, Prosper’s default rates exceed its net yields for its riskier loan grades).

While it may not be available in as many states as Prosper is, Lending Club comes out ahead when you consider that it offers its customers an unparalleled level of account and platform flexibility. It also has the highest credit score requirement and the lowest average interest rate of the three biggest U.S. P2P lenders.

It may be true that Lending Club faces various financing challenges—an over-reliance on credit score and the inability to securitize loans—that traditional banks can better mitigate. With a fairly tight margin last year and growing marketing and expansion costs that have erased its profits, it may also be called on to defend its valuation, currently privately estimated at $3.8 billion.

Even so, with more than $5 billion loaned and roughly $494 million in interest paid out to investors, it has provided borrowers and investors alike a comparatively consistent product for the exchange of capital.

In a space in which consistency is valued, Lending Club still has the upper hand on its two major competitors. For capital market investors who are interested, it’s the P2P lending service to keep an eye on.

Average Interest Rate: 14.4%
APR Range: 6.8%-28.7%
Loan Terms: 36 or 60 months
Default Rate: 6.04%
Reported Return: 8.3%
Conclusion: Lending club secures its leading place with the consistency and flexibility of its platform. With more account and loan types than either Peerform or Prosper, it has facilitated the highest amount in loans according to currently available information. While its reported return is lower than Prosper’s, so too is its default rate.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the founder of Prosper. It was Chris Larsen. The original version of this story also uncorrected stated the number of states in which lenders can invest with Prospect. It is 31. The original version of this story also did not indicate the date range of data that was reviewed to each lender.

In building its peer-to-peer lending topic, FindTheBest relied on historical data in the form of seasoned returns (“seasoned” meaning multiple years). For Prosper, we used seasoned returns as of June 30, 2014 for loans originated from July 2009 to August 2013 available here on Prosper’s website. For Lending Club, we evaluated seasoned information for 2007 to 2014, which can be found here on Lending Club’s website. As originally stated in the article, Peerform did not provide comparable data.

FindTheBest believes using historical data for comparison purposes is a more accurate reflection of a lender’s performance for financial products that are inherently longer term. As with any investment decision, prospective investors and borrowers are encouraged to conduct their own research and to take into account that historical data are neither an indication of the current state of the market nor a predictor of future performance.

FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on Lending Club and Prosper and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information about peer-to-peer lending, personal finance and thousands of other topics.

TIME FindTheBest

3 Categories Where the iPhone 6 Falls Short

Last week, we crowned the iPhone 6 the best smartphone on the market…at least for now. With a mix of strong expert reviews, solid benchmark scores and a host of new features, Apple’s latest handset just nudged its way past the LG G3, HTC One (M8) and Galaxy S5 to claim smartphone supremacy.

But the iPhone’s success comes more from the sum of its parts than from any individual category. The phone doesn’t have the best display. It’s not as light as some competitors. And it certainly doesn’t have the best battery life.

So if you care most about a beautiful screen or a full charge, you can do a lot better than the latest iPhone. We looked at three key categories to see how the iPhone 6 stacks up to its closest competitors stat by stat, feature by feature. Let’s take a look, starting with the iPhone’s biggest weakness.

Battery Life

Battery life has always been tricky to measure objectively, particularly in smartphones. The most popular metric is talk time, but these figures are often fudged by the manufacturers, who can manipulate testing conditions to produce the numbers they want for marketing materials.

And even when you consider third-party reviews—which often feature practical battery comparisons based on day-to-day use—they still rely on the reviewer’s hometown cell towers and personal use habits.

A better metric for a fair comparison is battery capacity. Measured in milliamp hours (mAh), it’s the amount of electric charge the device can deliver—or in consumer terms, it defines how much “juice” there is to go around.

There’s just one problem with this measurement: It doesn’t account for screen size. A smartphone’s screen is a giant power hog: the bigger the screen, the more battery capacity it’ll need to get through the day. This means that a 5.5-inch phablet will die a lot faster than a 4-inch iPhone, even if they have an identical battery capacity.

With this in mind, we’ve plotted screen size against battery capacity to account for differences in smartphone screen size. In the plot below, handsets above the blue line will tend to have worse batteries than average, while phones below the blue line will tend to have better batteries than average.

Predictably, the iPhone 6 sits above the line in the worse battery zone: that 1,810 mAh of capacity simply isn’t enough for its 4.7-inch screen. Despite incremental improvements over the 5s, the iPhone 6 still holds less juice than a glass of Sunny D.

The comparison in the chart isn’t perfect. Specifically, a phone’s pixel density will affect battery life as well, where a more crisp display will drain battery faster. Still, using the above plot, we can see that the DROID MAXX, HTC Butterfly S and several Sony phones—not the iPhone 6—have the industry’s best screen size to battery capacity ratio.

Display

In 2010, Apple set the new standard for display sharpness with the “Retina” iPhone 4. For its time, 326 pixels per inch (PPI) was one small step for screen sharpness and one giant leap for blood-shot eyes.

Four years later, Apple hasn’t budged. The iPhone 6’s display is no crisper than its 4-year-old predecessor, while Samsung, HTC and LG have jumped ahead, pushing their PPIs into the 400s and 500s. You might argue that the human eye can’t discern anything over 300 PPI anyway, but take one look at the LG G3 and you might just change your mind. Apple apologists have also pointed to battery life—more pixels means faster battery drain—but it’s a tough argument to buy when phones like the HTC One (M8) both looks sharper and runs longer than the iPhone on a single charge.

The chart below lists the sharpest screens in 2014. Note that the iPhone 6 is on the far right, at #33 overall for the year.

To its credit, the iPhone 6 Plus fares a bit better than its smaller brother in both display sharpness and battery life—it’s tied for the 23rd sharpest display in 2014. Regardless, if you want a world-class display, grab an LG G3 or a Galaxy Note 4 instead.

Weight

So even if the iPhone 6 remains a stubborn 326 PPI and blows through battery life, it’s at least the thinnest, lightest device for its size, right? Not quite. At 129 grams, the iPhone 6 is quite light, but it’s only the 9th lightest 2014 phone (in the 4.6- to 5-inch range), trailing handsets like the LG G2 Mini, LG Optimus L90 and Huawei Ascend P7.

For a fair weight comparison of all 2014 phones, however, we’d want to factor in screen size, just like we did with battery life—in other words, ounces of weight per inch of screen real estate. Using this measurement, the iPhone 6 is only the 22nd lightest phone in 2014, at 27 ounces per inch (the BLU Life Play S leads all 2014 phones, at 23 ounces per inch).

And even if you look at only the best-reviewed phones of the year (i.e. the ones you’d really consider buying), the iPhone 6 is heavier, by the inch, than five other handsets, including the Huawei Ascend P7, LG Optimus L90, LG Lucid 3, Sony Xperia T3 and LG’s latest flagship, the G3. The iPhone 6 may be light, but for now, LG’s top devices are lighter.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Smartphones on the Market for Fall 2014

With all the reviews in for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it’s time to take stock of the larger smartphone battlefield. At FindTheBest, we compiled specs, features and ratings for every smartphone on the market to determine the top 10 phones today. Here’s the methodology:

35% Tech Specs

Made up of 18 different specifications for each phone, including max video resolution, camera optics, pixel density, weight, RAM, megapixels, talk time and more.

33% Expert Ratings

Includes reviews from publications that post numerical scores. These include WIRED, PCWorld, PC Magazine, CNET and Laptop Mag.

26% Features

Can the phone charge wirelessly? Does it come with an FM Receiver? Is it water resistant? Can it do NFC payments? The more capabilities, the better.

6% Performance Benchmarks

Lastly, how does the phone perform using a handful of benchmarks, like Geekbench for overall performance and DxOMark for camera quality?

Here’s the list, followed by the biggest takeaways:

Biggest Takeaways

Year-old phones are still winners…as long as they’re flagship models

Over 120 smartphones have been released this year, yet four 2013 handsets remain in our top ten. The reason? The flagship phones from Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony are simply a cut above the rest of the industry. These manufacturers know how much of their bottom lines ride on hit devices, so they pour most of their resources into one or two handsets per year.

For this reason, saving $100 by selecting a year-old phone is no longer a terrible idea. A Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5S is still a solid buy, and it’s certainly better than that budget Motorola at the Verizon store.

For the very best phones, release date matters

Once we get to the best of the best, however, release date does matter. There’s one big reason the iPhones outrank their rivals: Apple’s handsets are newer. Consider that the M8, S5 and G3 were released in March, April and May, respectively. Apple had all summer to pack in the latest tech and to gauge customer reaction to its competitor’s phones. Expect all three manufacturers to retake the lead as soon as they release their next products.

With this in mind, discerning smartphone buyers might consider following this principle: Just buy whatever the latest release is from a top manufacturer. If you’ve already bought into the iOS or Android ecosystem, it’s a different story, of course. But if you’re ready to start fresh, look for whichever top brand released a flagship phone most recently. Right now, that’s the iPhone 6. In a couple of months, that could be the Sony Xperia Z3. Early next year, that’ll likely be the Galaxy S6.

Bigger really is better…sometimes

Glance over our top 10 with screen size in mind, and you’ll find some inconsistencies. For the iPhone, smaller is better, with the 6 edging out the 6 Plus. For the Galaxy? The 5.7-inch Note 3 is still our #1 Samsung device, besting the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5. What’s going on?

The difference comes down to the intangibles, which are best captured in the expert reviews. While experts loved both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they had a slight preference for the smaller device. To reviewers, the 6 Plus often felt like something new and interesting, but the 6 felt familiar and intuitive—enough to push it ahead of its bigger brother (despite inferior battery life).

For Samsung, things went the other way. The Note 3 was revolutionary, while the Galaxy S5 was evolutionary. Experts loved the stylus-equipped Note 3 for its size, audacity and productivity—a new landmark for big-screen handsets. The S5, while solid, didn’t captivate reviewers the same way.

So in the end, who really knows what the right screen size is? Perhaps smartphone size is more art than science.

Microsoft can’t crack the top ten

Microsoft’s Lumia line continues to miss the top 10 (the same thing happened when we did this exercise last year). It’s the honorable mention that’s increasingly more mention than honor. Experts continue to hit all the usual beats: The Windows interface is clever, but iOS and Android are more mature. The camera takes superb photos, but the app selection is weak.

Microsoft is planning a big rebrand this holiday season (dropping “Nokia” and “Windows Phone”), but unless the company coaxes more developers and customers from Android and iOS, it’ll have trouble sniffing the top 10. And at this rate, it’ll drop out of the top 20 soon (currently, our top two Lumias sit at #19 and #21).

China is knocking on the door

Take a look just outside our top 10, and it’s the Xiaomi Mi 4—not a Lumia phone—that threatens to disrupt the top 10 next year. The red-hot Chinese manufacturer already beats all of its rivals on price, and its specs are right in line with the best handsets on the market. The only remaining question: How long will it take for Xiaomi to come to the US?

Final Recommendations

If you want the best phone right now….

grab the iPhone 6.

If you want a great phone on a budget…

…get the Samsung Galaxy S4 or LG Nexus 5 — a year old, but still excellent.

If you’re willing to wait…

…a few months, get the Sony Xperia Z3.

…until next year, get the Samsung Galaxy S6.

If you want a fully unlocked phone with all the latest technology for ~$450…

…move to China, and get the Xiaomi Mi 4.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

How Much Will the Apple Watch Really Cost?

We only know one thing for sure about the Apple Watch’s price: It starts at $349. Everything else is speculation.

Even so, a bit of research can lead to some educated guesses. I went ahead and parsed Apple’s (few) words on the subject, read through a dozen theories, then did a little analysis of my own. I’ll run through the most popular opinions, comment on each, then predict how much each band and size will cost.

How many price points?

Apple gave us a hint about pricing by curating three collections: Sport, Watch and Edition. The Sport Collection is comprised only of aluminum cases, the Watch Collection only of stainless steel cases and the Edition Collection only of gold cases. So we’re probably looking at three standard price points, which will fluctuate based on your choice of band, and possibly, size (38 mm vs. 42 mm).

It’s almost certain, then, that the 38 mm Apple Watch Sport is the $349 model. Swap out for a larger display and different band, however, and you’re probably looking at a higher price point. But before we get too bogged down in bands and sizes, let’s focus on the big picture: What will be the default price point for each of the three collections?

Price points for each collection: Sport, Watch, Edition

#1: The iPod/iPhone/iPad Pricing Theory

  • $349 for Sport
  • $449 for Watch
  • $549 for Edition

A pricing structure like this would fall right in line with past Apple pricing schemes. For the iPod, iPad and iPhone, Apple has historically charged $100 more for additional storage. Then there’s size differences. The iPad Air starts $100 above the latest iPad Mini, while the iPhone 6 Plus will cost $100 more than the iPhone 6. Taken all together, a simple $100 premium for each collection seems obvious. It’s just the way Apple does things.

It seems obvious, that is, until you consider that the Edition Collection is made out of 18-karat gold. There’s simply no way Apple is selling that much precious metal for less than $600. At the very least, the Edition Collection will have to be priced higher.

#2: The precious metal premium (conservative)

  • $349 for Sport
  • $749 for Watch
  • $1,499 for Edition

The prevailing wisdom now seems to be that the gold watches (Edition) will cost well over $1,000, while the stainless steel watches (Watch) will fall somewhere in the middle. At a glance, these price points seem pretty high, especially considering that today’s average smartwatch is only $219:

But look at these prices from the perspective of a traditional watch enthusiast, and $1,499 for a gold watch isn’t so bad. Under this theory, the Apple Watch’s success will come down to whether customers consider the product a competitor to Pebble ($249) or Rolex ($20k). Naturally, Apple hopes it’ll be the latter.

#3: The precious metal premium (liberal)

  • $349 for Sport
  • $999 for Watch
  • $4,999+ for Edition

First speculated by Apple commentator John Gruber, some now believe Apple’s watches will cost much, much more than most people first thought. (Gruber’s gold watch prediction was actually even higher, at $10k).

The first ominous sign here is Apple’s own words. The company never referred to Apple Watch as a “smartwatch,” and in an earlier interview, Jony Ive himself named Switzerland — not Silicon Valley — as Apple Watch’s primary region of competition. Whether or not you agree with this frame of mind, Apple’s pride (hubris?) on this point is likely to drive their price point up.

But once again, the bigger factor is the 18-karat gold. Rolex’s all-gold watches (including the band) tend to start around $12k, and even those with standard leather bands tend to start at $3k.

I remain skeptical that Apple could sell a consumer tech product at a price point this high, but if the company can convince the world this is a piece of fashion — and not just a glorified iPod Nano — maybe a few of Apple’s wealthiest patrons will cave.

The size of the case

I’m expecting the 38 mm and 42 mm versions to have different price points, as Apple has always attached bigger price tags to bigger products (the 11- vs. 13-inch MacBook Air, the iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus, for example). For the Sport and Watch Collections, I expect Apple to charge its usual $100 premium on the 42 mm model. But for the Edition line? Even a small increase in gold could mean a significant price jump. For now, let’s call it $300 more for the 42 mm.

But what about the bands?

The first question about bands, I suppose, is whether they will even be included in the retail price of the watch. My best guess is that each watch will come with a base price that includes the Sport Band, but that subbing in an alternative band will increase your final bill, a little like adding RAM when purchasing a MacBook Pro.

Apple also made a big deal about changing out bands for different occasions, proudly showing off the easy-release functionality. For these reasons, it seems likely that each band will also be sold as an individually priced accessory.

So what will those prices be? I looked back over Apple’s past product offerings to see if I could find a similar accessory. I needed something that came in multiple materials, that could be attached and removed, and that could serve as a close companion to a core Apple product. The best analogy I could find? The iPad’s Smart Cover and Case.

The most affordable Smart Cover is made of polyurethane, and costs $39. It comes in six colors, most of them bright or pastel. In other words, it’s the Sport Band equivalent for the iPad. Meanwhile, the leather Smart Case is a luxury accessory, coming in at $79. Buying a leather cover for your iPad would be like buying a Milanese Loop band for your Apple Watch. A quick calculation reveals that the $39 price point is 13% the cost of the cheapest iPad (the $300 non-Retina iPad Mini), while that $79 accessory is 26% the cost.

It’s for these reasons that I predict the cheapest band (the Sport Band) will be about 15% the cost of the watch, while the most expensive bands will be about 30% the cost of the watch. However, I think Apple will price the five non-sport bands relative to its Watch Collection, not its Sport Collection. Case in point: only the Sport Band is present on Apple’s Sport Collection page, while every band is present on Apple’s Watch Collection page.

So here’s what I’ve got:

  • Sport Band – $49*
  • Classic Buckle – $99
  • Leather Loop – $149
  • Modern Buckle – $149
  • Milanese Loop – $199
  • Link Bracelet – $249**

*~15% of $349, the official Sport Collection price

**~30% of $749, the price estimate for the Watch Collection from Theory #2

How did I decide on this order? First, I assumed that the more metal involved, the pricier the band. Take a good look at the Modern Buckle and you’ll see how much more metal it contains than the Classic Buckle. That will likely add up to a $50 price difference for stainless steel, and possibly a lot more for a gold version.

But my best explanation is simpler than all that: This is the order that Apple lists the bands on its main Watch Collection page. It’s a subtle hint about which ones Apple is most proud of. Read down the list yourself, and I imagine you’ll agree.

Finally, what about the Edition bands, (presumably) with gold clasps and hooks instead of aluminum or steel? I used the same logic (15% for the cheapest, 30% for the most expensive, based on the pricing prediction from Theory #2):

  • Sport band: $249
  • Classic Buckle: $349
  • Modern Buckle: $449

The gold premium strikes again. Note that Apple doesn’t list any Edition Collection models with either the Milanese Loop or Link Bracelet. My guess is they don’t exist: They’d likely be so expensive to make, Apple would have to triple the MSRP based on the metal alone.

So unless you’re happy with an aluminum sports model, start saving. The Apple Watch could very well be the priciest Apple product since the MacBook Pro.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

13 Apple Watch Design Combinations (and What Each Says About You)

You weren’t going to buy an Apple Watch: you were just curious. You were perfectly happy with your iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Macbook Pro, thank you very much. And then, somewhere between “space black stainless steel” and “milanese loop,” everything changed.

So you’re going to buy the new Apple Watch, even if it means missing your best friend’s sister’s wedding and eating only canned tuna for four months. Don’t worry; no one will judge you for making an adult financial decision.

They will, however, judge you for the design you choose, so study up. We’ve reviewed all the options: six metals, six bands and 11 face designs. Here are 13 potential design combinations…and what each will say about you.

A quick look at the Apple Watch and its competitors. Battery life is rumored at one day.

1. The Bare-Bones Basic

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: Link Bracelet

Face: Utility

What it says: I have no idea what I want out of life.

2. The Hipster

Metal: Silver Aluminum (recyclable)

Band: Classic buckle (bringing it back)

Face: Solar (all-natural)

What it says: I’m anti-establishment, but I just spent $349 on a watch from a multi-billion-dollar company.

3. The Extra-Terrestrial

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Band: Jet Black Sport Band

Face: Astronomy

What it says: I can name every Star Trek character in under 20 seconds.

4. The Waste of Money

Metal: 18-karat rose gold

Band: Mahogany modern buckle

Face: Solar

What it says: I live paycheck to paycheck, but at least I look rich.

5. The James Bond

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Brand: Link Bracelet

Face: Simple

What it says: I watched Skyfall six times in theaters.

6. The Normal Watch

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: Classic Buckle

Face: Simple

What it says: I just paid 10 times the money for a timepiece that looks like a $35 grocery store Timex.

7. The Mickey Mouse

Metal: Silver Aluminum

Band: Bright Yellow/Green Sport Band

Face: Mickey Mouse

What it says: I’m eight years old.

8. The Risk-Taker

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Band: Milanese Loop

Face: Modular

What it says: Every time I eat out, I order the weirdest, most unpronounceable menu item. I shop for products the same way.

9. The Failed Interior Designer

Metal: 18-Karat Yellow Gold

Band: Blue Leather Loop

Face: Color (orange)

What it says: Don’t hire me.

10. The Apple Fanboy/Fangirl

Metal: Silver Aluminum

Band: White Modern Buckle

Face: Photo (of Steve Jobs)

What it says: I have three more of these watches at home.

11. The Non-Watch Wearer

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: None (took it off and threw it away; face stored in pocket)

Face: Utility

What it says: I should have just bought an iPod Nano.

12. The Well-Intentioned Couch Potato

Metal: Space Gray Aluminum

Band: Bright Blue Sport Band

Face: Chronograph

What it says: I bought this watch, worked out twice, and now I just send animated emojis to my friends.

13. The Fitness Guru

Metal: none

Band: none

Face: none

(AKA: just wear the same old Casio stopwatch)

What it says: I’m actually in shape and don’t need an Apple Watch to pretend I’m fit.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

5 Ways Apple’s iPhone 6 Media Event Could Play Out

You’d think we’d have figured out Apple media events by now. After all, they’ve done dozens of special presentations, seven prior iPhone launches and more Jony Ive product videos than Jimmy Kimmel knows what to do with.

So let’s use what we know. Here are the five possible ways next week’s iPhone event plays out, from least to most likely.

1. Apple blows everyone away

Hypothetical: After a week of bad press from the celebrity photo scandal, Apple bounces back. Tim Cook reveals three new iPhones, a gorgeous wearable device, and—in a twist no one saw coming—a sparkly, 60-inch Apple television set. Craig Federighi tells seven jokes, and six of them receive genuine laughs. Wall Street swoons. Fifty thousand Android users convert to iOS on the spot. The next day, headlines across the world praise Tim Cook. “Steve Who?” tweets one influential tech blogger.

Commentary: This isn’t happening. For five years, Apple’s changes have been smart and incremental—but not revolutionary. There’s no reason to expect shock and awe now.

Chance: None

2. The celebrity photo scandal dominates coverage

Hypothetical: Three minutes into Tim Cook’s polite, subdued introduction, live bloggers and tweeters across America start getting bored. An early headline on Re/code (“Still no word on iCloud security”) becomes the dominant narrative, as tech writers wonder aloud whether each new application in iOS 8 is “safe for storing our data.” Desperate to win back an unresponsive audience, a nervous Craig Federighi ad libs a joke about hackers leaking his grandma’s medical records through HealthKit. The damage is done.

Commentary: This is pretty unlikely. Had the celebrity photos leaked this coming weekend, Apple could have been in more trouble. But knowing Apple keynotes, one Jony Ive video about the iPhone 6’s “gorgeous, brushed-aluminum assembly” will wipe away the scandal for good.

Chance: Very low

3. Apple’s new wearable totally overshadows the new iPhones

Hypothetical: In a surgical, almost-tedious demonstration, Bob Mansfield waves around the new iPhones, describing the aspect ratios, battery capacities and exact pixel dimensions in exhaustive detail. Meanwhile, Tim Cook falls asleep offstage. Just as the keynote seems beyond hope, a vibrant Jay Blahnik (Apple fitness guru) bounds on stage, his body covered in a colorful array of all-new wearable devices. Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” blasts throughout the auditorium. “Not only do I look great,” Blahnik shouts, “but these wearables could literally save my life! Let’s take a look…” Behind him, Mansfield shuffles awkwardly offstage.

Commentary: This is a small, but real possibility. The best analogy would be the March 2011 iPad 2 announcement, where the Smart Cover was the flashiest part of an otherwise routine update. If the wearable’s design is good (or weird, or unusual) enough, we could be looking at the first iPhone keynote ever where the iPhone is a footnote.

Chance: Somewhat low

4. Apple has a great keynote, but announces that four out of five products won’t ship until 2015

Hypothetical: The keynote is going flawlessly. Apple’s new iPhones are a hit (5.5 inches! Sapphire displays! Bigger lenses!) and their brand-new fitness tracker is the most stylish tech accessory since the wristwatch. “Can’t wait to wear one myself!” tweets Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. Apple even releases two new sets of headphones, just as cool as Beats by Dre but actually good at producing accurate sound. “So when will all these products ship?” Tim Cook asks, smiling, with five minutes to go. “In short: 2015.”

Commentary: Now we’re getting into truly likely scenarios. Rumors indicate that the larger 5.5-inch iPhone will ship “later” than the 4.7-inch model, with some analysts predicting a 2015 release. No one knows for sure when Apple’s new wearable will ship, but many are pegging its release for “early” next year. In 2013, I might have blamed the finicky public for getting too riled up, but this is on Apple now. After all, Tim Cook has been teasing “exciting new product categories” since early 2013.

Chance: Moderate

5. Apple announces everything we expect them to, with little to no surprises.

Hypothetical: Tim Cook does a delightful, if overly long intro. Craig Federighi is charming and geeky. The new iPhones are cool and bigger and a little different, but they’re still iPhones. The new wearable device looks pretty good, has some neat features, and an Apple price tag to match. After the keynote, AAPL stock dips a little, the tech community complains for a few days, and then Apple sells tens of millions of products anyway, because let’s be honest, it’s the iPhone, and it’s Apple.

Commentary: Let’s face it: This is by far the most likely scenario. When this happens, we can mope, laugh or even just shrug. But for once, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Chance: Very high

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

How China Will Change the Smartphone Industry: Predicting Winners and Losers

Back in 2012, if you compared a budget phone to a premium phone, you’d likely see a spec/features breakdown like this:

The comparison was simple: Twice the money bought you a phone that was, statistically speaking, twice as good.

But with Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi’s ascendance, the following type of comparison is becoming increasingly common:

The Xiaomi Mi 3 is less than half the cost of a Galaxy S5, yet boasts nearly identical specifications, even edging out Samsung’s flagship phone in a few categories, including display sharpness and standby time. For the money (at least based on the raw data) the Mi 3 is the clear choice.

But what about the fluffy stuff, like build quality, interface and overall user experience? Surely that’s where the Galaxy S5 earns its higher price tag.

Not necessarily. CNET calls the Mi 3 “quite the looker,” complementing the phone’s “aluminum-magnesium chassis and…beautiful face.” Meanwhile, TechRadar praises the “polished and comprehensive MIUI interface,” awarding the phone four out of five stars in both design and usability. Compare those accolades to the same experts’ opinions on the S5’s hardware (CNET: “at the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels…like plastic;” TechRadar: “[the S5] doesn’t look like a cutting edge smartphone”).

So Samsung might actually be in trouble, and the first warning signs are already here. Just last quarter, Xiaomi leap-frogged Samsung to become China’s #1 smartphone seller, usurping a spot Samsung had owned for over two years. What’s more, Xiaomi is just getting going, with its new flagship, the Mi 4, all set for launch.

The catch for Americans, of course, is that the highly-affordable, surprisingly-capable Mi line won’t be available in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Until Xiaomi decides to brave the fierce, patent-infested waters of the American electronics market, U.S. citizens will be stuck paying $650 for unlocked, top-shelf handsets.

Still, Xiaomi’s ascendance will likely shake up the mobile industry for years to come, as rival smartphone makers are forced to respond to top specs at low prices. So with that in mind, let’s speculate as to who will win and lose as a result of China’s maturing budget phone industry.

Winners

Chinese Manufacturers

The biggest winners here are Chinese handset makers—and not just Xiaomi. Originally the market followers, China’s gadget manufacturers are now positioned to be market leaders, with an opportunity to shape pricing, features and development trends around the world. If rival Chinese makers like Lenovo, Huawei and Yulong can match Xiaomi’s quality, they’ll be able to fight over Samsung’s old throne for the next several years.

Best of all, they’ve got a giant pie made up of 1.5 billion customers.

Consumers in Emerging Markets

Naturally, phone choice is only getting better in China, as manufacturers offer better and better phones at the same mid-to-low price points. It won’t be long before Americans are jealous of the latest Chinese-only hit—a 180 degree turn from five years ago.

Losers

LG, Samsung, Sony

Rival smartphone makers in Korea and Japan have the most to lose here—over time, they will have tremendous trouble competing with their Chinese counterparts on price. In order to survive, each company will need to find new ways to differentiate its offerings…and it has to be something other than specs and price.

Remains to Be Seen

Consumers in Developed Markets

On paper, consumers in developed markets should benefit from China’s new army of low-cost, high-quality handsets. Once Xiaomi and co. finally enter the U.S. market, the inexpensive products will theoretically drive down prices from the likes of Apple, Sony, and Samsung.

But how long will this take? Will Apple sue Xiaomi for infringing on patents to stall the threat? Will American manufacturers start making lower-quality phones to compete with China on price? And will any of this help solve America’s biggest smartphone problem: namely, the appalling, worst-in-the-world contracts forced upon us by big carriers? There may be a tech revolution going on in China, but the U.S. benefits could take years to unfold.

Apple

It’s tempting to call Apple a loser here. After all, the company has always rejected the low-cost phone, and here Xiaomi seems to be proving its success.

At the same time, however, Apple might just be positioned to sit above the fray as Samsung, LG and Sony fight for Xiaomi’s crumbs. Consider that Apple has never played the spec game, having ceded the spec-sheet war to Samsung years ago. Apple doesn’t sell handsets on the strength of megapixels or CPUs, but rather, great design and the Apple mystique. Perhaps the company was right to avoid the low-cost market all along, a territory that a Chinese company like Xiaomi was bound to win eventually.

Maybe people will finally abandon Apple once they can buy a phone with similar specs, for a third of the price. Or maybe the same group of geeks, Apple apologists and design nerds will just keep buying iPhones, Mi or no Mi. Time will tell.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

By the Numbers: The Streaming Music War (and Who’s Winning)

Brand awareness and listener penetration for 102 music services reveals the top 10 options.

A dozen years ago, there were several different ways to get new music, each about as popular as the next. You could keep buying individual CDs, sign up for a CD delivery service, buy tracks one at a time through iTunes, or download huge chunks of music through user-friendly services like Napster — sites that were so easy to use it barely felt like you were doing anything wrong. They all seemed like perfectly acceptable methods; it was simply a matter of which style you preferred.

Fast-forward to 2014, however, and most people are listening the same way: through streaming music services. Yes, illegal music-downloading is still rampant, but as far as legal music-listening goes, streaming services are the new fad. Even Apple—whose pay-per-song iTunes once seemed like the future—has doubled-down on iTunes Radio, its music-streaming Pandora competitor. So just how widespread is the trend?

At FindTheBest, we counted a total of 102 separate services (counting basic and premium versions separately) that let you stream music (typically) from $0 – $10 per month. If you like, you can distinguish between on-demand services (like Spotify) that let you pick each song, and radio services (like Pandora) that choose songs for you, but the overall concept is similar: unlimited music for a low monthly fee.

So how do you stand out in a field with 101 similar-to-identical competitors? It comes down to brand. We looked at brand awareness and listener penetration from a 2014 Edison Research study to determine which services are on consumers’ minds…and which aren’t. We’ll count down the top 10 services based on consumer awareness, and comment on the strengths and weaknesses for each.

For a comparison of the specific features and pricing for 13 of the most popular services, see the earlier TIME story here. To research all 102 services we reviewed, visit the music streaming topic on FindTheBest.

Note: YouTube, VEVO (music videos) and SoundCloud (a social sound creation and sharing platform) each boast over 200 million users, but none are strictly music streaming services, so you won’t see them in this countdown.

10. Last.fm

Awareness: 8% (poor)

Listening percentage*: Below 2% (very poor)

*”Listening percentage” is the percentage of people polled who have actually listened to the service.

Type: Hybrid on-demand and radio service

The gist: More of a community than a standalone service, Last.fm lets you build a profile based on your musical tastes, then helps you find new music tailored to your preferences.

What’s working: Integration with other services. Over the past six months, Last.fm has integrated with Spotify, YouTube, and VEVO, resulting in tons of new content and a giant catalog of tracks.

What’s not: Awareness and penetration. Last.fm started in 2002, back when social profile-based sites were still the hottest thing on the Internet. Today, people want plug-and-play solutions that suggest great tracks instantaneously, not (yet another) online community that takes weeks of ramp-up to really work. Fewer than 1 in 10 people know the site exists, and fewer than 1 in 20 have actually bothered to try it.

9. TuneIn Radio

Awareness: 10% (poor)

Listening percentage: 2% (poor)

Type: Radio

The gist: TuneIn Radio provides a massive, online database of radio stations and podcasts, going well beyond music into sports, news and talk. By our estimates, it’s also got one of the highest user bases on our list—with 50 million users, it ranks #5 out of the 102 services we reviewed.

What’s working: Number of users. Due to a massive selection (100,000+) of stations, TuneIn Radio has plenty of customers.

What’s not: Precise music selection. TuneIn Radio has more stations than you can ever listen to, but it lacks the smart, custom-style stations popularized by Pandora. With TuneIn, you’re less likely to find the perfect station, and more likely to bounce around.

8. Radio.com

Awareness: 14% (somewhat poor)

Listening percentage: Below 2% (very poor)

Type: Radio

The gist: Similar to TuneIn, Radio.com offers a variety of radio shows, spanning from talk to sports to music.

What’s working: A simple, memorable brand. Even though 14% awareness isn’t all that good, it’s amazing that Radio.com even scores that high, given its comparatively small penetration numbers. Competitor TuneIn Radio has more overall users, but people are actually slightly more likely to recall Radio.com when polled.

What’s not: A unique offering. Radio.com lacks a killer feature or particularly memorable interface, preventing the service from ascending in the ranks.

7. Slacker

Awareness: 14% (somewhat poor)

Listening percentage: 2% (poor)

Type: Radio

The gist: Slacker is a lesser-known, more fully-featured alternative to Pandora. By our estimates, it has 13x the songs of Pandora, but only a fifth the subscribers. There are three pricing tiers (free, $4/month, $10/month), with the priciest option being the most compelling, given the sheer number of features.

What’s working: Features. Slacker Premium Radio offers unlimited skips, offline listening, custom playlists, and crucially, the ability to replay songs — something Pandora’s music contracts simply won’t allow.

What’s not: Pricing. Slacker’s big edge over Pandora is features, but you have to pay $10/month to get the ones that really set Slacker apart. Most consumers won’t be willing to shell out the extra cash, even if they’d be getting their money’s worth.

6. Google Play Music

Awareness: 24% (decent)

Listening percentage: 3% (poor)

Type: On-demand

The gist: Google Play Music is Google’s alternative to Spotify (on-demand listening, $10/month), with 18 million available tracks.

What’s working: Android integration. Google Play Music fills a music void for Android the way iTunes supports music on iOS devices. For Android users, Google Play Music is a natural — and readily available — service.

What’s not: Awareness. The awareness numbers are actually somewhat low for a Google product, but typical for the company, it’s done little to promote a lower-priority Google service. And you can’t really blame it, given how razor-thin music streaming profit margins tend to be.

5. Spotify

Awareness: 28% (good)

Listening percentage: 6% (decent)

Type: On-demand

The gist: The industry darling, Spotify is probably the most referenced on-demand music service in the world of tech. The company offers a desktop-only, ad-supported free service and a $10/month, mobile-enabled premium service.

What’s working: Branding. In 2011, Spotify launched in the U.S. to much fanfare and positive press—Americans finally had the chance to try the popular European music service. Spotify has remained in the news off and on since then, and today, more than one in three people will recognize the brand.

What’s not: Non-premium mobile options. Without a premium subscription, Spotify’s mobile offering becomes a less-capable version of Pandora, cycling through songs radio-style instead of providing on-demand selection. For mobile-users, the (pricey) Spotify Premium is a must.

4. Rhapsody

Awareness: 40% (great)

Listening percentage: 2% (poor)

Type: Hybrid radio and on-demand service

The gist: An industry veteran, Rhapsody’s been in and out of the music press for years (most notably, as part of a 2011 merger with Napster). Its “unRadio” offering, however, is brand new, a nifty little service announced this past June in partnership with T-Mobile. At a cost of just $5/month, unRadio customers can listen to Pandora-style radio stations, but with no ads and unlimited skips.

What’s working: Awareness. Rhapsody’s been around long enough to garner an impressive 40% brand awareness, an advantage that’s particularly helpful when it comes to rolling out new services like unRadio.

What’s not: Actual use. Just 2% of people have actually listened to Rhapsody, a fairly dismal figure next to its strong awareness numbers. The T-Mobile partnership, however, has the potential to shake out a few more users.

3. iTunes Radio + iTunes Match

Awareness: 47% (great)

Listening percentage: 8% (decent)

Type: Hybrid radio and on-demand service

The gist: Apple’s music radio service is a carbon-copy of Pandora, with similar features (smart stations) and annoyances (limited skips, ads). Meanwhile, the iTunes Match service ($25/year) lets you turn all that music you stole into legitimate, cloud-based versions stored in Apple’s servers. Once you’ve matched your library, you can play those songs from anywhere on any Apple device.

What’s working: The iTunes brand. Say what you will about iTunes (ex: clunky, out-of-date), people know the name, and that’s a built-in advantage for Apple.

What’s not: Apple’s innovative spirit. Apple’s iTunes Radio is thoroughly reactive—a nervous response to the success of Spotify and Pandora. The Beats acquisition might keep the company out of real trouble, but for the time-being, it’s playing catch-up.

2. iHeart Radio

Awareness: 48% (great)

Listening percentage: 9% (decent)

Type: Radio

The gist: Combines Pandora-style genre-based radio stations with actual, live radio stations.

What’s working: Users and awareness. With 48 million users and 48% awareness, iHeart Radio is the fifth most-used and second best-known music streaming service in the industry.

What’s not: Focus. iHeart Radio attracts a wide variety of users through its giant selection of custom and live radio stations, but it doesn’t have the immediate, tangible selling points of an app like Spotify (ex: find any song) or the attractive simplicity of a service like Pandora (ex: type in a genre and sit back).

1. Pandora

Awareness: 70% (excellent)

Listening percentage: 31% (great)

Type: Radio

The gist: The classic online radio service, Pandora lets you type in a genre, album, song or artist, then plays a selection of songs it predicts you will like. Pandora is proud enough of its music-matching system that the technology has its own fancy name: the Music Genome Project.

What’s working: Despite the recent influx of competition, Pandora remains by the far the most recognized and used service, with over 75 million users and brand awareness at a remarkable seven out of ten. The radio concept itself couldn’t be simpler, but Pandora has had 14 years to build its brand and hone its matching-system, which gives the company a huge advantage over competitors.

What’s not: Number of songs. Pandora has far fewer songs (~1 million) than most of its rivals, a discrepancy that could sneak up on it as the other services get better. For the time being, Pandora can ride its strong brand, but eventually, the best products have a tendency to win out.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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