End iOS envy: How to make your Android phone work better than iPhone

iPhone users love to brag about their phones. They line up around the block and stand in line for hours when a new one is released. Yet, for many users, Android is clearly the superior platform. Yes, its Achilles’ heel is a big one: security. Android’s openness and large market share mean that it’s a juicy target for attackers.

Yet, Android’s openness also providesserious benefits. It allows formore customization; its apps are usually cheaper and various handsetmanufacturers are able to offer significantly different form factors,such as the smartphone-tablet hybrid, the Samsung GalaxyNote.

With a little tweaking, you can speed up and optimize Android in waysthat will make iPhone users’ heads spin. Here are10 ways to makeAndroid faster, more productive and more secure than iPhone:

1. Get a better browser.
One of the major benefits of using the popular browser Opera Mini isthat its cloud engine compresses data by as much as 90%. It featurestabbed browsing, support for widgets and the ability to set advancedprivacy features, such as the ability to automatically clear passwords,cookies and browsing history.

The advantage for Android users: the ability to use Opera Mobileinstead of Opera Mini. Opera Mobile supports Flash and 3D graphics, hasan HTML 5 engine and has a device-side web rendering engine for higherfidelity browsing. You can set up the rendering engine to work locallywhen on a Wi-Fi network and default to the cloud-based rendering enginewhen on a 3G or 4G network to minimize expensive data usage (if you’renot on an all-you-can-eat data plan). It also allows you to access yourcamera from your browser. Expect cool new widgets to start using thisfeature soon.

2. Install an Android optimizer. Apps like AndroidBooster and AndroidAssistant give you the power to automatically kill apps thatrun in the background, gobbling up battery life and draining CPU. Youcan set a monthly data limit and monitor exactly how much data you’vedownloaded over 3G and 4G networks, and you can purge your cache,history, etc.

3. Conserve your battery.
Nothing slows you down more than a dead battery. One advantage Androidphones have over iPhones is that you can swap out your battery. Butproper power management can save you from that trouble. Apps likeJuiceDefender and BatteryStretch help you regulate your power use.

With more than 7 million downloads, JuiceDefenderis the most popular of these apps. It offers three different profiles:”Balanced,” “Aggressive” or “Extreme.”

The Balanced setting is the default and requires no configuration onyour part. If you bump it up to “Aggressive,” the app willautomatically disable data connections when the battery is low. Ifyou’re really worried about a dead battery, the “Extreme” settingdisables data connections by default. You can turn them back onmanually, and you are able to whitelist apps that you want to haveconnectivity.

4. Dig deeper into which apps hogdata.
If you constantly go over your data limits, an app like AndroidAssistant may not be enough. Sure, you will be alerted when you arenearing your limit, but what exactly is causing the problem?

Is it Facebook, podcasting software, theMLB Gameday app? Who knows?

Well, with Onavoyou can find out. The main menu displays statistics on your data useover the prior month, and it fingers the apps hogging the mostbandwidth. Many of these are obvious, such as any video or streamingapp, but I was surprised to see how much data Google Calendar used withits constant synching, and after consulting with Onavo, I decided tosynch less frequently

You’ll also discover the apps that go online even when they haven’tbeen launched. Don’t be surprised to see that many games do this, so ifyou haven’t played them in a while, you might want to get rid of them.Otherwise, those free Android games may end up costing you money ifthey push you over your data limit.

For international travelers, Onavo can help you avoid (or limit) costlydata roaming charges.

And Onavo is actually an app that has more octane on iPhone, for whichit will also compress data. (On Android, this feature is currentlylimited to Ice Cream Sandwich users.)

5. Tether your phone.
So you’ve signed up for an expensive all-you-can-eat data plan, yetwhen you try to tether your laptop to your phone to use that 4Gconnection you paid a premium for, you are stymied. Carrierswill tryto charge you $20 or $30 a month for tethering privileges, meaningthey’re trying to charge you twice for network access that you’vereally already purchased.

For most people, this is more of a nuisance than anything. Wi-Fi isavailable everywhere, but if you are using your laptop for business,wouldn’t it be smarter to stay on a 4G network rather than connectingto an open Wi-Fi one?

On iPhone, tethering is a no-go. On Android, tethering may technicallyviolate your user license, but you can do it, and you no longer need toroot your phone. Apps like Clockworkmod’s Tetherwill have you up and running in a few minutes.

Tether isn’t a free app, but at $4.99, one stay in a hotel that stillcharges for Wi-Fi will make this app a no-brainer.

6. Pick your own keyboard.
Siri has been getting all kinds of press lately, and, sure, it can beamusing to try to get Siri to say off-color things. Yet, when I’m usingdata on my phone, I prefer text-based input.

For years, one of the main reasons I’ve considered iPhone inferior isits hostility to apps like Swype.On Android, you have the ability to choose your own keyboard. (Well,iPhone users can jailbreaktheir phones to get Swype, but that fact reinforces my point.)

Many Android phones come with Swype pre-loaded, but it’s not usuallythe default keyboard. Just press any text entry area for a few secondsand a menu will pop up. Select “Input method” and then choose “Swype.”That’s it.

I used to avoid texting like the plague because I hated entering dataon my phone. That all changed with Swype, which lets you drag yourfinger across the screen from letter to letter. Its predictive enginefigures out what word you are going for (it gets better the more youuse it), and you just keep chugging along.

I can’t Swype as fast as I type, but I’m a fast typist. Scroll aroundthe Inter-webs a bit, and you’ll find plenty of people claiming toachieve 40 or 50 words per minute with Swype. And now that Swype hasbeen acquired by Nuance, you should have even more input options comingyour way soon.

7. Turn on screen lock, but don’tuse a pattern.
The easiest screen unlocking method is to trace a pattern on yourscreen. It’s easier and more convenient than entering a PIN orpassword. However, if you lose your phone or it is stolen, you betterhope you just cleaned your screen.

The oil on your finger will leave a distinct pattern on your screen.Unless you wipe it down religiously after each unlocking, the patternlock will only deter the stupidest criminals.

8. Install anti-virus software.
Why have you not done this already? Malware writers are flocking toAndroid. We’re seeing much of what happened in the desktop world beingrepeated with smartphones.Android is more open, has a larger market share and is a juicer target.

IPhone is a closed ecosystem and may eventually, like Mac, benefit fromsecurity through obscurity (though I doubt iPhone will ever shrink toMac-like numbers). For iPhone users, this is good-news, bad-newsscenario. Yes, Appledoes more to lock down apps and prevent third-party software fromexploiting key system resources, but you are trusting one company foryour security. If Apple screws up, all iPhone users are in trouble.Exhibit A: the Pathprivacy fiasco.

Android, on the other hand, may be less secure due to its openness, butit’s welcoming to third-party security tools. There’s no excuse not tohave anti-virus software on your phone. There are plenty of freeoptions, such as Lookout,and with a simple download, you can significantly reduce your risks.Most of these antivirus apps also allow you to remotely lock and wipeyour phone if it is lost or stolen, and some even allow you to set offan obnoxious alarm, which will either help you find the device if itstucked behind a couch cushion or convince a thief to toss it.

Of course, we’d like to see handset OEMs and the carriers bakeantivirus into their various Android versions. It’s a simple step thatwould benefit them, carriers especially, saving bandwidth, protectingagainst fraudulent charges and so on. We would also like to seecarriers adopt network-based mobile malware scanning, such as thesolution from KindsightSecurity Labs.

9. Avoid app stores you don’t know.
Google has taken steps to tame the Wild West that was its Market. Itnow has a “Bouncer” that scans the Market for malware, and despite whatApple apologists may claim, Android was designed from the get-go tomake malware less disruptive on phones than it is on PCs by sandboxingapps and forcing apps to ask for permissions (yes, the same permissionsthat everyone just ignores, but at least they tried).

The trouble is that Android users can download apps anywhere. Don’t belured into doing this. If you aren’t using Android Market, make sureyou are in a store you know and trust, such as Amazon. Most Androidmodels come with the default setting that doesn’t allow you to downloadapps from “unknown sources.” If you’ve fallen for social-engineeringattacks in the past, it’s best to leave that box checked.

When you download an app, try to get into the practice of checkingpermissions. If a game wants to send out SMS messages, for instance,that should be a red flag.

10. Stay away from mobile payments.
Mobile payments are starting to take off, especially in Europe andAsia, and consumers should be wary. The problem with mobile payments isthat they are often simply added to your mobile phone bill, and if youfind a suspicious charge, your liability will vary from carrier tocarrier.

In contrast, if a hacker gets your credit card number and goes on aspending spree, under federal law, your maximum liability for creditcard fraud is $50. In other words, credit card fraud is not yourproblem, it’s the bank’s. Until you have that level of protection formobile payments, it’s probablysmarter and safer to stick with thecredit card.

Based in Santa Monica,Calif., Jeff Vance is the founder of SandstormMedia, a copywriting and content marketing firm. He regularlycontributes stories about emerging technologies to this publication andmany others. If you have ideas for future articles, contact him atjeff@sandstormmedia.net or http://twitter.com/JWVance.

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