Analyzing your Android device

Android users can access a variety of information about their phones, including the true signal strength and detailed battery life.

Apple may have mysteriously removed the Field Test mode from iOS4 and the iPhone 4, but Android users continue to have such information at their disposal. Though Android pros have no doubt discovered this option already, novice users may not know that it exists.

To start, access the main Settings page and choose the "Status" option under the "About phone" menu. There you'll find an assortment of useful facts like the battery level, the carrier and network you're using (such as whether you're on 3G or not), your roaming status, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth address, and the time since you last turned on the phone. For some reason, I find that steadily ticking clock on the last option particularly compelling.

Midway down the page, however, you'll find a field labeled actual signal strength in decibels (dBm). Compared with the bars on at the top of your display, this is a much more accurate measure of true signal strength. To read it correctly, just remember that the higher number, the better the signal. And since the measure is a negative number, higher numbers are those closer to zero. Around CNET's San Francisco offices, I average -65 decibels, which is pretty decent. In areas with poor coverage, however, I've seen it creep to the -80 decibel range. Try it for yourself as you travel around your neighborhood and commute.

Yet, Android doesn't stop there. By punching in a special "Info" code you can gain access to a treasure trove of information about your device. Some of it will be easily decipherable, while other facts may not make sense at all. I'm sure that some of you know about it already--it's particularly useful for app developers--but Android Atlas is here for all Android users.

To start off, go to your phone dialer and type "*#*#4636#*#*". You'll then go to a menu screen with the following options. I used the Motorola Droid X for this explanation, but keep in mind that the experience on other phones may vary slightly.

  • Battery information--You can get a detailed breakdown of your power level, your general battery health, the temperature and voltage, and the talk time since boot.
  • Battery history--Check out how long your handset has spent with the Wi-Fi running, with the screen on, and with the device in active mode. The "other usage" menu is the most useful option; for the other fields I couldn't make sense of the data.
  • Usage statistics--Look up the usage time of various Android applications.
  • Phone info--Here you'll find all sorts of data like the signal strength, your phone number, and your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) code. The remaining information, however, won't mean a lot to most people. Your carrier uses the IMEI to identify your handset on its network.

I love that Android serves up so much input, but Froyo may spell the end of the operating system's Info mode. While I was able to use the code on the Droid X and a Motorola Cliq, it didn't work on an updated HTC Evo 4G. According to some user forums, Froyo users will now have to resort to using the free Network app from the Android Market.

 

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