TIME apps

Hong Kong’s Protesters Don’t Need the Internet to Chat With One Another

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
A protester waves her cell phone in the air outside the Hong Kong Government Complexon October 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network

If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong’s this week are learning: When you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.

Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.

In the face of these hangups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 feet. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.

FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience, too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app store charts.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel told TIME FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by anti-government rebels and jihadi groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.

Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel said the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”

“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel said. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”

TIME Smartphones

Apple’s iPhone 6 Is Headed to China

CHINA-APPLE-US-TELECOMMUNICATION
A young boy uses an iPhone to take photos in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 30, 2014. Greg Baker—AFP/Getty Images

New device faced security concerns from Chinese regulators

Apple’s iPhone 6 will soon arrive on China’s shores. The company’s latest flagship device, along with its bigger cousin the iPhone 6 Plus, will go on sale in China on Oct. 17, while pre-orders will begin on Oct. 10.

For Apple, China has become a critical market that now comprises 16% of the company’s overall sales. The iPhone 6 launch had reportedly been delayed there because China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was slow to approve the new device. Regulators said as much in a statement on Tuesday, noting that Apple had to address security concerns related to third party access to user data before the device could be sold in China.

Apple has previously been forced to deal with concerns over iPhone security in China. Over the summer, a Chinese state-backed TV station issued a news report calling the iPhone a “national security concern” because of its location-tracking features. Apple issued a swift response pointing out that it doesn’t have access to that location data. CEO Tim Cook has since stressed Apple’s commitment to security in another statement, saying that the company had never allowed a government agency access to its servers. U.S. tech companies have been facing a chilly reception from foreign regulators since Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Even with security concerns assuaged, Apple faces challenges in China. A new crop of domestic phone manufacturers like Xiaomi now offer smartphones with robust feature sets at a fraction of the iPhone’s cost. Indeed, Apple is not even one of the top five phone makers in the country — but analysts say the jumbo-sized iPhone 6 Plus will appeal to Chinese users’ tastes and could be a big hit there.

TIME How-To

Mobile Payments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We use our smartphones in place of maps, health trackers and cameras, so why not use them to replace our credit cards, too? It’s not like Americans don’t already choose their smartphones when it’s time to shop and bank online.

Yet a 2013 survey from financial services company TSYS (PDF) found that just 6% of Americans valued being able to use their card or cash via a smartphone virtual wallet.

Consumers seem comfortable with credit cards, whether they’re signing a receipt, entering a PIN or waving the card at a contactless payment terminal, and they see little perceived extra value in using smartphones to pay in stores, asserts Rajesh Kandaswamy, an analyst at information technology research and advisory firm Gartner. “Consumers need an incentive to move to mobile payments,” he says. And Softcard mobile payment app (formerly Isis) does that, offering a dollar off every purchase you make with an American Express Serve card (up to 50 transactions).

The upcoming launch of Apple Pay will also help. The app will download automatically in October as part of an update to iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and it works with American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards.

“Given that Apple already stores millions of customers’ financial info in iTunes, Apple Pay is likely to be a catalyst for higher adoption of the smartphone wallet because it reduces the efforts of millions to even try mobile payments,” Kandaswamy says.

Apple Pay is also supported by major banks, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi. These big banks are unlikely to spike the cost of processing Apple Pay transactions versus credit card transactions, giving more merchants more incentive to make the service available to their customers.

Why switch to a smartphone wallet

A mobile wallet app offers a better way to manage payment cards, from debit and credit cards to discount vouchers and loyalty vouchers, Kandaswamy says. “A mobile wallet app can also offer better control over finances, in the sense that you have a single place to examine and analyze your purchases,” he says.

Paying with your smartphone can speed up the checkout process. Instead of rifling through your wallet (and possibly realizing you forgot to bring a card at all), simply tap your smartphone on a payment terminal to authorize a transaction and simultaneously apply discounts or loyalty points.

How the money moves

Most current smartphone wallet apps with a tap-to-pay feature require a phone with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip to work. For iPhones, that means the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Most Android phones that run Android 4.0 or newer are NFC-compatible, although some apps require a special, extra-secure SIM for storing financial information. Check with your carrier to see if your Android phone is e-wallet-friendly.

If you use a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device, you’re facing a wait. Microsoft recently announced Wallet for Windows Phone for storing credit cards, loyalty cards, vouchers and tickets, but the app’s tap-to-pay functionality isn’t yet supported by any Windows Phone devices. And although Visa approved the BlackBerry mobile payment framework last year, we have yet to see any official launch of a wallet app.

But the mobile payments game is heating up. Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that it’s piloting its own mobile payments system, along with several other large brands. Current C, which will work on any smartphone, won’t launch until next year.

The apps to consider

For now, Android and iPhone owners can turn their smartphones into lean, mean paying machines with one of these apps:

apple-iphone-6-apple-pay-510px
Apple

Apple Pay

Apple Pay will be available in October for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as well as for the Apple Watch when it launches next year. Apple Pay holds credit and debit cards, and iTunes users can automatically link the credit card they already have on file. Once you’ve activated Apple Pay, you can use it for secure one-tap purchases in shopping apps as well as services such as Uber and Panera Bread, without having to fill out billing and shipping information.

Tap to pay: Touch the front of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to a contactless payment terminal while holding your finger over the TouchID fingerprint sensor. You get a gentle vibration when the transaction is complete.

Security: Instead of storing and sending credit card numbers, Apple Pay allocates a device-specific account number encrypted on a dedicated chip in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. This number is sent with a one-use transaction ID called a token. “The consumer’s credit card is never exposed during the transaction, and merchants are no longer storing giant databases of credit cards, waiting for some hacker to come along and compromise them,” says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at mobile security company Lookout. “However, whether [this is more secure] depends on how the token itself is protected and if it is securely stored, neither of which are clear at this point.”

Why you want it: It’s fast. Using the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to tap and pay beats signing a receipt or entering a PIN code. And with the support of every major U.S. bank, the number of shops that accept Apple Pay could skyrocket very quickly.

Where you can use it: Use it at about 220,000 shops over about a dozen retailer chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Bloomingdales and Walgreens.

Which phones support it: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet holds credit and debit card information as well as loyalty cards and discount coupons. You can transfer money into a prepaid card called the Wallet Balance. If you’re using an NFC-enabled Android 4.4 phone, you can pay for purchases in-store. Tap-to-pay won’t work on iPhones or on Android phones running Android 2.3 or older; however, these can access the Wallet’s other features, such as sending or requesting money, one-click checkout at online retailers and tracking orders made with linked payment cards.

Tap to pay: Open the Google Wallet app on your phone, then enter a PIN before holding it against the terminal.

Security: Google encrypts and stores users’ financial details on its servers, and use of the app is protected by a PIN. If someone should manage to pilfer your phone and guess your PIN, Google claims its fraud protection covers 100% of “verified unauthorized transactions.”

Why you want it: Google Wallet supports dozens of loyalty programs and coupon sites. Adding points and receiving discounts when you purchase something is hassle free, even if you’ve forgotten which vouchers and cards you have.

Where you can use it: Use it at any store where contactless payments are accepted.

Which phones support it: Android 2.3; 4.4 and higher required for tap-to-pay; iOS 6 or newer, but does not support tap-to-pay.

softcard-paying-at-kiosk-510px
Softcard

Softcard

Softcard was created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, so (you guessed it) you’ll need to be on one of these carriers to use it. You’ll also need an NFC-compatible Android phone. The app supports American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards plus a handful of loyalty and discount cards. You can set up an American Express Serve account and use it to make payments with any debit card, credit card or U.S. bank account.

Tap to pay: As with Google Wallet, open the app, enter your PIN, then hold your NFC smartphone against the payment terminal.

Security: To use Softcard, you need a secure SIM card that can store your financial information so that only the Softcard app can access it. (You can request one from your carrier, assuming your phone is Softcard-compatible.) For each transaction, a one-use token is created so that your card details are not sent to the merchant. Like Google Wallet, a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: Softcard also scans nearby merchants for offers or discounts available to Softcard users, which you can then use at checkout.

Where you can use it: Use it at dozens of chains including Urban Outfitters, Subway and Walgreens. Check the full list at paywiththis.com.

Which phones support it: Android 4.0 and higher.

LoopPay

LoopPay, a Kickstarter success, works via a smartphone app combined with a Loop device — either a fob ($39, pairable with iPhone or Android phones) or a ChargeCase for iPhone 5/5S ($99). Credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards and your driver’s license can be scanned into the Loop app. Most Android phones running Android 4.2 or newer work with Loop, but some have compatibility issues; check to see if yours works at LoopPay’s compatibility page.

Tap to pay: Hold your fob (or ChargeCase-sheathed iPhone) by the credit card terminal, then swipe your phone screen or press the fob button to pay. If you need to show ID (say, for an alcohol purchase), hit the ID icon on the phone screen and display a scan of any identification you’ve loaded.

Security: All payment information is encrypted and stored in a secure chip inside the Loop fob or ChargeCase, and a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: LoopPay works at 90% of retailers around the world — far more shops than any of the other apps.

Where you can use it: Use it anywhere there’s a credit card reader.

Which phones support it: iPhone, Android 4.2 and up.

More than an app, not quite a wallet

starbucks-app-balance-screen-320px
Starbucks

Starbucks

This iPhone app combines your loyalty card and prepaid card balance into one handy app for tap-and-pay, keeping track of rewards you’re due and seeing how much more coffee you need to buy before you hit the next reward. Starbucks got this right — the app is used for $6 million in transactions every week.

PayPal

If you’re in a shop that accepts PayPal, log in to the app (iPhone and Android) and check in to your location. You can then take your purchases to the register, tell the cashier you’re paying by PayPal and simply approve the payment on the phone screen. It’s not quite a wallet replacement, but it is handy if you forget your real-world wallet. The app can scan your vicinity for PayPal-friendly merchants.

Keep your information secure

Using a mobile wallet app can be more secure than using a credit card because wallet apps don’t send as much sensitive information (such as your credit card number and expiration date) in the course of a transaction. To maintain security with a mobile payment app on your phone, follow these suggestions from Lookout’s Rogers:

  • Set a password on your phone.
  • Download an app for finding your phone if it’s lost. When your phone becomes your wallet, loss or theft becomes even more inconvenient.
  • Only download mobile payment apps (or, indeed, any apps) from sites you trust. Check the app’s ratings and permissions and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected before you download.
  • Turn off your device’s NFC connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use NFC payment stations with caution; you might end up paying for someone else’s purchases.

Will you be replacing your wallet with an app? If so, which one? Let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Smartphones

Walt Mossberg: Apple Made a Big Misstep With Faulty iPhone Update

The personal tech columnist spoke on fastest-changing technologies

Walt Mossberg famously began his first tech column for the Wall Street Journal in 1991 by writing, “personal computers are just too hard to use, and it’s not your fault.”

Twenty-three years later and now working at his own tech site, re/code, Mossberg doesn’t see the situation as having changed that much.

“People still have guilt that they’re dumb,” Mossberg said at the Nantucket Project on Saturday, “because they pick up their smartphone or tablet and can’t get it to work, so they think they’re idiots.”

This is one of his biggest concerns about the tech landscape. He points out that even Apple, to his mind the most user-friendly company, made a big misstep in pushing an iOS 8 software update this week that caused some iPhones to be unable to make calls or send texts. Facing thousands of customers furious over the flaw, Apple apologized, and hastily released a fix a day later. “That’s kind of basic,” Mossberg says.

Nevertheless, Mossberg thinks Apple has finally begun to show new momentum under Tim Cook, who took over as Apple’s CEO following Steve Jobs’ death in 2011. He expects Apple is the company that stands the best chance to revolutionize digital payment in the next two or three years, thanks to its existing credit card database and its promise never to send users’ real credit card numbers to the cloud.

With so much changing so quickly, Mossberg says, artificially intelligent “assistants” like Siri and Cortana (Microsoft’s Siri competitor) “are all excellent for what we have now. [But] they’re all going to look ridiculous in not 10 years—four years.”

Outside of AI and sensors (Mossberg says “we’re still in the first inning of wearables”), he predicts two technologies must—and will—change drastically in the next few years.

One is cars. In terms of in-cabin electronics, he says, “until a few years ago, when you opened the door to your car, it was like stepping into a time machine to 1957.”

The other: television. Every tech company knows how to redesign the current interface, which he says is the worst of any that we use—“That’s low-hanging fruit.” That is, until you get the networks and distributors involved, which is where Apple, Intel and other tech companies making a go of things in TV have had to hit pause.

TIME Smartphones

See Which Parts of the Country Have the Most iPhone Users

The coasts are iPhone zones, while the country's heartland is Android central

Ever wonder if you live in iPhone country or Android country? Wonder no more: The blue areas of this map shows you the parts of the country where people are most likely to own an iPhone, whereas red areas denote Android fandoms.

iPhone strongholds bracket the east and west coasts and grow patchy towards the nation’s interior. States like Texas, Oklahoma and New Orleans leaning heavily Android outside major cities, whereas California, New York and New Jersey have heavy iPhone-using populations.

But the most intriguing differences emerge along county lines, where wealthier counties appear to have true blue iPhone fans while low income counties are relative deserts. Zoom into New York City, for example, and the Bronx stands out as an island of red in a sea of blue.

Of course, this is only a proxy measure of ownership, but other proxies, such as this map of tweets traced to various smartphone brands, tell a similar tale of two cities, where the haves tend to have iPhones, and the have nots opt for other, likely cheaper phone brands.

MONEY Shopping

The Creepy New Way Macy’s Tempts You to Make Impulse Purchases

A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York.
A view of a Macy's flagship store in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

Macy's is outfitting stores with the ability to detect shoppers' exact locations—and then make ads and coupons magically appear on smartphones so they'll buy the merchandise in front of them.

The Shopkick app was born as a combo rewards program and location-based coupon dispenser, in which users accumulated points (or “kicks”) for doing things such as activating the app inside stores, scanning barcodes of specific items, or merely walking inside a participating retailer location. The app works with tons of national retailers, including Best Buy, Sports Authority, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s and was a hot topic in the news a couple of years ago, when Target made Shopkick available for use in all of its stores around the country.

From the get-go, retail experts anticipated a time when such technology would be fine-tuned and pushed to the next level. Instead of the app displaying basic coupons and deals the moment the customer walks through the doors, more precise location-based offers and promotions would appear based on where the shopper is standing inside the store.

During the upcoming holiday shopping season, this futuristic vision of retailer marketing will arrive in a big way at Macy’s. The Washington Post reports that over the next few weeks, Macy’s is installing 4,000 special devices inside nearly 800 stores, with the purpose of detecting the exact location of shoppers—and then sending them special tempting offers accordingly.

The devices, developed by Apple, are called iBeacons, and some people have already described them as “creepy.” Macy’s began testing how Shopkick and iBeacons would work together during the 2013 holiday season. Apparently, the retailer was happy enough with the experiment to roll out the technology to all of its U.S. stores.

How exactly will the tech play out in a real-world situation? Say you’re “in the housewares department standing next to our display of KitchenAid mixers,” Macys.com president Kent Anderson explained. “The ability to transmit to you information — a video about the quality of this product, the accessories that we have as part of our assortment that you may not see there — rich content that may, and should, help us close the sale, is where we potentially see the beacon technology going in our stores.”

Presumably, if the mixer was on sale or part of some other promotion, that information would also appear on the smartphones of those using the Shopkick app. Macy’s says that “more personalized” offers—based perhaps on one’s history of purchasing or browsing in stores and online—could pop up as soon as next spring, though that may depend on how the new program plays out during the upcoming season and how welcoming (or not) shoppers are to the retailer using even more of their personal data.

Macy’s maintains that it will proceed cautiously concerning how often specific location-based ads and promotions will be sent to shoppers in stores. Going to that well too often could prove to be, quite literally, a turn-off in that shoppers could wind up turning off the app. “There is the opportunity to overload them” with special deals, Anderson said, “and I think that the balance has to be found.”

TIME Software

How to Fix iOS 8’s Most Annoying Features

Whether you’ve got a new iPhone 6 or you’re happy holding on to your iPhone 5 or 5S, Apple’s mobile operating system update iOS 8 is great. There are a ton of useful new features like family sharing, swipe-to-respond notifications and the data-aggregating health app. But not everything about the update is sunshine and gumdrops – there are some annoying new features, too.

Thankfully, many of these annoyances are just new default settings. You can switch a lot of these defaults back to the way they were in iOS 7, and without much effort. Here are five of the most common complaints people have with Apple’s mobile operating system update, and the five best ways to fix or work around them.

Turn Off Handoffs

If you have an Apple iPad, iPod Touch or MacBook that uses your Apple ID, you may start to automatically get phone calls on all these devices. You can easily turn this off on some or all of them if you choose. Just enter into each individual gadget’s Settings menu, tap FaceTime and then turn off iPhone Cellular Calls.

Hide Recent Contacts

Personally, I like the upper row of friends and family pictures that come up when I double tap my home button. It provides easy access to your Favorites and those you’ve contacted recently. But if you don’t want people snooping on whom you’ve been calling and texting recently or you prefer the old iOS 7 version without those circular pictures, you can shut it off from the Settings menu. Just tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then tap Show in App Switcher (under Contacts). Turn off both toggles.

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Apple

Deleting Your Photos No Longer Actually Deletes Them

The Photos app in iOS 8 now comes with a Recently Deleted folder, which houses the snapshots you’ve chosen to delete for 30 days before they’re completely deleted from your device. This is nice to save you from accidentally deleting important photos, but terrible if there’s a photo you want deleted completely and immediately. Once you delete a snapshot from your main folder, be sure you also go into the Recently Deleted folder to select it and then delete it for good.

Stop Voice and Video Messages from Self Destructing

Sending and receiving short audio messages via iMessage is a lot of fun, but due to file size restraints, those items are quickly auto-deleted from your phone. You can change this to save those messages indefinitely by default if you’d like. Enter your phone’s Settings, tap Messages and then tap Settings. Tap Keep Messages, then change the Audio Messages and Video Expiration time to never.

But before you do, I’d urge you to strongly consider signing up for free cloud storage from a secondary provider to iCloud. I like the 30 GB free allotment currently offered by Microsoft OneDrive. It’s the best way to keep all that media, plus your own personal photos and videos, saved indefinitely without needing to pay for more iCloud storage or pay more for a phone with a larger drive.

Turn Off Predictive Text

I found the new Predictive Text feature to be a lot of fun in the first few hours of iOS 8, but its novelty wore off quickly when it proved more distracting than useful. Thankfully, it’s easily turned off. Enter your settings app, tap General, then tap Keyboard. Toggle Predictive off, and the deed is done.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Smartphones

Apple Releases iOS Update It Says Will Fix New iPhone Problems

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
A member of the media inspects the new iPhone 6 during an Apple special event in Cupertino, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2014 Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Apple's anticipated fix to its faulty iOS 8 was released Thursday evening

Apple released an update to its iOS 8 late Thursday that it says will fix the numerous bugs with the original operating system.

The iOS 8 had a number of serious issues, and users widely reported an iOS 8.0.1 connectivity issue that caused dropped calls on their cellular network, affecting primarily iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users. The update also disabled the Touch ID function, which allows people to unlock their phones with fingerprints.

Apple’s widely anticipated iOS 8.0.2 fixes connectivity issues, repairs a bug so that the touted HealthKit apps can be made available on the App Store, among other glitch fixes.

Check out the full list of bug fixes below:

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 Smartphones

Apple Offers Fix for iPhones Affected by iOS 8 Problems

It's a process the company typically doesn't officially endorse

Apple posted an official fix for iPhone owners affected by problems with Wednesday’s iOS 8.0.1 update, which many users reported caused a total loss of cellular service as well as issues with Touch ID on iPhone models that support the feature. The tech giant pulled the update after complaints about those issues quickly spread over social media, but for many users it was too late.

Apple’s fix is essentially a way to revert affected iPhones back to iOS 8.0.0, a process the company typically doesn’t officially endorse.

From Apple’s support website:

Follow these steps to reinstall iOS 8.0.

  1. Make sure that you’re using the latest version of iTunes.
  2. Connect your iPhone to iTunes.
  3. Back up your iPhone in iTunes on your Mac or PC. iCloud backups won’t restore to earlier versions, including iOS 8.0.
  4. Download the file below that corresponds to your device:
  5. Select the file you just downloaded by doing one of these in iTunes:
    • Mac: Press the Option key and click Check for Update.
    • Windows: Press the Shift key and click Check for Update.
  6. Press Update to install iOS 8 on your iPhone.

The Health app won’t work in iOS 8 after these steps. It will be fixed in our upcoming iOS 8.0.2 software update.

The iOS 8.0.1 problems seem to only affect the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices. TIME installed the update on an iPhone 5C and experienced none of the reported issues. Apple told The Verge that it apologizes “for the great inconvenience experienced by users,” and promised to quickly issue an iOS 8.0.2 update that would fix the issues addressed by 8.0.1 without causing new problems in turn.

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