If you didn’t know how easy it was for hackers to grab information off of your smartphone before, you should now.
The Intercept reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the British equivalent spy agency GCHQ had allegedly hacked into and stole information from millions of SIM cards produced by the Dutch company Gemalto. This may have given both agencies access to phone communications around the world and should serve as a warning to all that we need to protect our smartphones.
The good news is that the technology already exists to protect your text and phone messaging data. “Encrypted text messaging and phone systems are so easy to protect that we all have an obligation to secure ourselves,” American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Chirs Soghoian told TechCrunch over the phone.
Soghoian believes it would be irresponsible to tell people the government might be hacking into their private information and then not give them the tools to protect themselves. So he hopped on the phone with me to go through some of the free tools we already have at our fingertips to protect our private information.
Apple doesn’t market iMessage or FaceTime this way, but according to Soghoian, both are very secure means of sending information. “FaceTime is portrayed as a tool to talk to your kids at night before they go to bed, but it’s actually pretty secure for audio and video use,” he says. The other Apple product Soghoian recommends is iMessage. “Apple encrypts the iPhone to iPhone messaging to the point where it can’t un-encrypt the data. So even if the government wanted that information and demanded it from Apple, Apple doesn’t have it,” he says.
Apple supported Soghoian’s recommendations and confirmed with TechCrunch that it has built-in privacy and security measures on both FaceTime and iMessage, but also iCloud data.
Soghoian recommended WhatsApp as an alternative secure texting platform for those with Android phones, but said the same security measures did not exist on WhatsApp for iPhones (we have reached out to but not confirmed this with WhatsApp). “[WhatsApp] isn’t perfect, but it’s about 90 percent there,” he says.
The senior policy analyst wasn’t very positive on most of the other technology tools out there, but Signal was an app that stood out for him. This is an open-source, secure text messaging system that was developed on tax payer dollars and built on the Open Whisper Systems, the same system that was used for the Android app technology behind WhatsApp.
Signal, also known as TextSecure on Android, is a free app and one of the few that works across platforms. It is also, in Soghoian’s opinion, easy to navigate and the most secure. When Signal is used with an app called RedPhone it can also encrypt your phone calls from end-to-end. RedPhone works the same way with TextSecure.
But even with greater encryption, nothing is 100 percent secure. “If someone wants to target you, be it the NSA or your boyfriend they can hack into your device,” Soghoian says.
The idea isn’t to rely on one app to encrypt all data and call it good, but to know the risks, not put things on any device you don’t want getting out somehow, and to make it a lot harder for hackers to get your information. For Soghoian, the point is to make it too difficult for the government to hack into the wide swath of readily available information of innocent civilians and instead focus its energy on the bad guys.
“These tools aren’t bullet proof but they are a million times more secure than what the phone company offers,” Soghoian says.
With new smartphones launching each week and prices falling due to competition, the market landscape has shifted yet again. It's time to take a fresh look at all the smartphones available in India today and pick the best ones at each budget level. Whether you're picking up your first entry-level device or upgrading to a top-specced flagship, we're here to take the confusion out of sorting through the hundreds of models available. We have the latest pricing information and have come up with a definitive guide to help you get the best possible value for money today.
We've divided the market into a number of price bands, based on current trends and the amount a buyer can usually stretch his or her budget by after having identified a reasonable model. Generally, the phones in each price band will be comparable in terms of features and capabilities. We've also considered current street prices, as opposed to MRPs, since these prices do drop over the course of a device's life, and what really matters is the price right now.
The cheapest smartphones that are still usable sell for between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000. From Rs. 10,000 up to Rs. 15,000 you can buy a modern smartphone with all the important features in place, that offers a pretty good user experience.
Between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 30,000, we are firmly in mid-range territory. However, due to the massive difference between devices at either end of this band, we've subdivided it even further. Budget-friendly options now include models with quad-core processors and reasonably good cameras, and Indian and Chinese brands muscling in on the territory formerly dominated by brands like Samsung and Sony. You also have a wider range of platform options. A number of smartphones that were top end just a year ago - and are still perfectly serviceable - make up the higher end of this band.
Above Rs. 30,000, we have a variety of models including flagship-level phones that are due to be replaced in a few months' time. These still represent tremendous value for money, since they have been on the market for less than a year. Flagship devices and those with extraordinary high-end features sell for between Rs. 40,000 and Rs. 65,000. In this range, you'll find more recently launched models. The upper reaches of this category are made up of variants with more storage capacity. Of course, if money is no object, there are phones even more luxurious that you can splurge on. Some of these have designer touches, or are built out of exotic materials, driving prices higher and higher.
Here are our top picks in each category:
Under Rs. 10,000
This has probably been the most hotly contested market segment over the past year. Till recently, Chinese upstart Xiaomi had a solid grip on this territory thanks to its Redmi 1S (Review | Pictures) and Redmi Note (Review | Pictures), two well-built products with excellent features compared to everyone else. Recently though, Micromax's Yu Yureka (Review | Pictures) has managed to steal the spotlight.
This phone undercuts the Redmi Note 4G by Rs. 1,000 and still delivers class-leading features. The primary problem with it is restricted availability, thanks to the recent flash sales trend. In case you can't get your hands on a Yureka, or if you would prefer a smaller screen, the Redmi 1S is a worthy alternative. Both devices are only available through flash sales, and if that proves to be too frustrating, you can opt for the Asus ZenFone 5 (Review | Pictures), which received a price drop very recently.
Rs. 10,000 - 15,000
The original Motorola Moto G was our favourite in this segment a few months ago, and its own replacement, the Moto G Gen 2 (Review | Pictures) occupies that spot now. It's an improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way - the lack of expandable storage has been fixed and the screen is larger, but the near-stock Android experience has stayed unchanged.
This is a utilitarian phone and should withstand quite a bit of rough usage. If you're looking at alternatives, the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime is a bit more modern, and only slightly more expensive. The Samsung has a lower screen resolution, but a bigger battery, and there are a few other feature tradeoffs you'll need to see. Between the two, you'll have to choose which features matter more to you, though our pick is the Moto G Gen 2. If on the other hand you'd prefer a Windows Phone device, the Nokia Lumia 730 (Review | Pictures) fits into this budget segment too.
Rs. 15,000 - 20,000
This is a tough category, since it's really tempting to step up just a little bit and buy some of the excellent phones that cost just over Rs. 20,000. The most obvious choice is the 16GB version of the Xiaomi Mi 4 (Review | Pictures), with its impressive spec sheet that includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, full-HD screen and 3GB of RAM.
If availability is a problem, we find that the Huawei Honor 6 (Review | Pictures) is a fairly good alternative. It has a big screen, performs well, and offers pretty much all the features anyone could wish for.
The Asus ZenFone 6 (Review | Pictures) is also an alternative worth considering if you want a bigger screen, or if you like Asus' Zen UI Android interface.
Rs. 20,000 - 30,000
There can be no doubt about it - the OnePlus One (Review | Pictures) destroys everything in its path when it comes to raw performance and value for money. It's a big, ungainly phone and not everyone will like its looks. It also fared poorly in our battery life tests. However, there really isn't anything quite like it, and if you get an invitation to purchase one, you'll feel like you've won a lottery. The OnePlus One puts up a strong fight against phones that cost much more, which is why it's difficult to recommend anything else under Rs. 30,000.
However, if you'd like a more polished device with additional features, you can find the the Motorola Moto X (Gen 2) (Review | Pictures), with its neat gesture and voice command features, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S5 (Review | Pictures) with its fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor, and TouchWiz software enhancements. If you're looking for a killer camera above all else, you should also consider the Nokia Lumia 830 (Review | Pictures).
Rs. 30,000 - 40,000
The HTC Desire Eye stands out primarily because of its 13-megapixel front camera. This is the phone to get if you're selfie-obsessed, and its performance isn't bad either. The Vivo X5Max on the other hand is ultra-slim and caters to those who love to show off. It isn't the fastest phone in this price band, but that's the price you pay for being stylish.
Here's where most of the flagships that launched for over Rs. 50,000 less than a year ago currently lie. We like the LG G3 (Review | Pictures) for its superb performance and its QHD 1440x2560-pixel screen, which is the sharpest of the lot.
If you can get used to the buttons on the rear, you'll be more than happy with the price and performance you get. Android warriors will be happy to know that the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Review | Pictures) is now available within this price band. The combination of S-pen stylus and TouchWiz apps let you do all kinds of neat things on the go. For those with dramatically opposite tastes, the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (Review | Pictures), as its name suggests, will fit nicely in one hand and has tons of power as well as a great camera.
Rs. 40,000 - 50,000
You're in luck if you like the stock Android experience provided by the Motorola Google Nexus 6 (Review | Pictures). It's a big phone but has power to spare - and of course, Android 5.0 Lollipop, which is yet to make it to many of the others on our list.
Sony's current flagship offering hasn't fallen as far in price as the others have, and so the Xperia Z3 (Review | Pictures) is still priced above Rs. 40,000. However it's still great value for money, considering its fantastic camera, battery life and performance. Plus, it's water- and dust-resistant too.
Another interesting candidate in this price band is the BlackBerry Passport (Review | Pictures). It has an imaginative design and a hybrid keyboard that will keep QWERTY warriors happy. Its construction quality is top-notch and it has a great camera, speedy processor, and excellent battery life. The only real downside is that Android apps aren't guaranteed to run well.