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How We Test Phones

Smartphones are smart. They’re also phones. Here at PCMag, we try not to forget both halves of that equation when we’re testing voice phones, smartphones, and mobile carriers–which we do to the tune of around 100 handsets each year.

We submit all the phones we rate to a string of tests in our labs. For carriers, we rely on annual national drive tests to 30 cities in our Fastest Mobile Networks[1] project, and a reader survey that results in the PCMag Readers’ Choice[2] awards. To prevent reviews from running overly long, we don’t always include all of our test results in every review.

But rest assured, they’ve each been thoroughly tested in the following categories:


Even if handsets are on the same carrier, reception can be different for each one. We have identified locations throughout our testing lab where each of the major wireless carriers has very weak signal. In those locations, we attempt to connect and listen to three one-minute calls.

For a limited number of flagship handsets, we work with the consulting firm Cellular Insights to analyze reception strength using Rohde & Schwarz test measurement equipment.

Call Quality

With psychoacoustics playing such a large role in call quality, a trained ear is the best guide–and our reviewers have listened to hundreds of cell phones. We make calls to automated voice-recognition systems and landline answering machines, from a room where we have simulated traffic noise playing. Then we listen to our messages to gauge sound quality.

We listen especially for the quality of background noise cancellation, both incoming and outgoing. We also measure maximum speaker volume at six inches with a decibel meter, using a test call to a recording of a man reading a book out loud.


We take the phones outside in full daylight to gauge screen reflectivity and brightness in difficult conditions. We compare screen quality to a benchmark, high-quality phone, currently the most recent Samsung Galaxy generation.

Battery Life

We measure battery life by streaming a wide-screen, 1080p video that we created, over the phone’s LTE network, from YouTube, with the screen brightness turned all the way up.

The idea is that this simulates the most stressful possible common use case of the phone.

Third-Party Application Benchmarking

We run PCMark (the Work 2.0 and Storage workloads), Geekbench, and GFXBench to test the performance of smartphone hardware. We also launch and play high-end games (currently, Grand Theft Auto) to check frame rate, control fluidity, and jitter.

Music and Video Playback

We have a test suite of music files in MP3, AAC, OGG, WAV, and FLAC formats at various bit rates. We play the music through the phone’s built-in speaker and both wired and Bluetooth stereo headphones, if possible.

Our video test suite consists of MPEG4 and H.264 videos in resolutions up to 1080p. For phones that advertise audio quality, we use high-quality headphones such as the Meze 99 Classic[3] or Bowers & Wilkins P7[4].


We check the received speed of a 5GHz Wi-Fi network at 10 foot intervals from a Verizon FiOS router with a 150Mbps symmetrical connection using the Ookla app. In our building, 2.4GHz noise levels are so high that tests on that band can’t deliver good results.

Note that Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.

Still and Video Cameras

To test camera capabilities, we use an abbreviated set of our tests for digital cameras[5].

Other Phone Features

We analyze controls, ports, and storage, along with voice commands, ringtone volume, and the strength of the vibrating alert. We test microSD card slots using a 256GB card. Once all of these tests have been completed, we combine the data with experience from our actual everyday use, compare the results with other similarly priced phones, and assign a rating.

For more on mobile device testing, check out How We Test Cellular Modems and Hotspots[6].

Also head over to our list of The Best Phones[7] for our top 10 picks currently on the market.


  1. ^ Fastest Mobile Networks (
  2. ^ PCMag Readers’ Choice (
  3. ^ Meze 99 Classic (
  4. ^ Bowers & Wilkins P7 (
  5. ^ our tests for digital cameras (
  6. ^ How We Test Cellular Modems and Hotspots (
  7. ^ The Best Phones (

Hyperspektiv is a photo app that produces glitchy, psychedelic images

I love a good photo app, but there are so many in the App Store that it’s hard to know where to begin. If you’re looking for a photo- and video-editing app that does something a little different than the standard Instagram-like filters, a glitch-inducing app called Hyperspektiv might be a nice alternative to play around with.

Hyperspektiv has been around for a few years, but it’s recently gained traction after being featured in the App Store. The app adds random distortion effects, such as colorful glitches and floaty mirroring to a kaleidoscope twist.

There are plenty of options to experiment with in Hyperspektiv, which makes it worth £1 price. There are 30 filters in total, including a Wild Card option you can repeatedly tap to generate randomized effects.

The app is pretty easy to use, you just load it and swipe through to choose the filter you want. The filters are applied in real time, and you can watch what you’re capturing and adjust accordingly.

The nifty part about the app is you can customize how the filters are applied by dragging your finger up or down and side to side. The movements allow you to control how strongly the filters are applied, the way they move, and to change the hues.

The app is best used for video as the motion is what really makes the visuals pop, though still photos work, too. The app shoots HD 720p video.

You can apply the filters to videos you’ve already taken (it has support for videos up to 1080p in this case), but you can’t edit existing photos, which is disappointing. The developers say photo editing will come in the next version “very soon.”

Hyperspektiv is only available on iOS at the moment. If you’re keen to try out more, other iOS options for glitch photo apps include Glitch Wizard, Glitche (which apparently Pharrell and Kim Kardashian use), and Luminancer.

If you’re on Android, there’s Onetap Glitch, Glitch Camera, and Glitcher.

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