So you’ve subscribed to your mobile carrier’s unlimited data plan and can now use your phone’s Internet apps 24/7. Congratulations! For heavy Internet users, this is more of a necessity than a luxury. Having unlimited mobile Internet access is part of the lifestyle you’ll lead as a power Android user – one that is not dependent on Wi-Fi hotspots wherever it may be available.
In a perfect world, your carrier should deliver the kind of mobile Internet speed they promise: 3G, HSDPA or 4G. If you’re an advanced user, or had a lot of experience with mobile Internet, you should know the difference between these speeds, and can instantly recognize when it is present – or not – in your phone’s Internet connectivity.
In reality, however, this may not be the case. Your browsing experience may slow down at certain hours of the day. If it comes to a point where you simply cannot get anything done, it’s time to check your actual connection speed. That’s when an app like Speedtest.net Mobile becomes handy.
Speedtest.net – the Android App
Ookla, a worldwide leader in network testing applications, has developed a mobile app of its website, Speedtest.net. The Android app, Speedtest.net Mobile, allows you to test your Internet’s current speed in three sub-categories: Ping, Download and Upload. Despite the earlier versions having issues (hangs when finding closest server) and an outdated user interface, the newer version has revamped its UI with smoother graphics and the app itself has considerably improved its accuracy and speed in performing tests. Speedtest.net Mobile is free in the Market, and requires Android 1.6 and up.
The interface is simple and straightforward. There’s no need to configure anything to start the test. The app finds the server closest to your location and you are then prompted to begin the test. All you have to do is check that you’re connected to your network and you’re ready to go.
The test is divided into three parts: Ping, Download and Upload. A progress indicator for each test is shown on the top of the screen. As each test completes, the result is shown on the middle box below the meter. For the download and upload tests, a graphical representation of the result is also shown real-time on either side (left side for download, right side for upload) until it completes – giving you a visual idea of your connection’s consistency.
After all three tests are done, the final results are shown where the progress bars used to be for each test. The default unit of measurement is in kbps (kilobits per second), but you may change this by going to Tools and choosing other options like Mbps (megabits per second). You can also go to this screen to change the server and the order the test history is shown.
You can view the test results history by tapping on the Results. The results are listed with the most recent one on top. You can get more details about an individual test result by tapping on it. Other than the actual speed test results, you can also view your phone’s network connectivity type, the server’s location, your phone’s internal and external IP addresses and location in latitude.
Interpreting the Results
So what do these figures mean to you as an end user? Although the running the test is a no-brainer, it does take a bit of know-how to understand the results. Here’s a brief description of the type of mobile network standards for Internet connectivity:
- 3G (third-generation mobile telecommunications) covers mobile Internet, video calls and mobile TV. Although speeds may vary, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) states that carriers should be able to provide at least 2 Mbps for stationary or walking users, and 384 kbps in a moving vehicle.
- HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) is a faster version of 3G, also called 3.5G, 3G+ or turbo 3G. Depending on your carrier, it can provide download speeds of 1.8, 3.6, 7.2 and 14.0 Mbps.
- 4G (fourth generation) is the most advanced standard for wireless communications, boasting of up to 100 Mbps for moving users and 1 Gbps for walking or stationary users.
Knowing these specs should give you an idea of what to expect with your carrier’s network speed service. Speedtest.net simply gathers data and it’s up to you to determine whether it’s acceptable based on your carrier’s specifications.
Of course, no network service is perfect and free of limitations. There are certain factors that prevent mobile networks to provide the best possible service they can to customers, such as network congestion at certain hours of the day. With Speedtest.net’s results history, you can at least track which hours your connectivity drops – so you know what to expect and when to look for a faster alternative.
In the Results screen, tapping on the wrench icon on the top right corner gives you two options: export the results in CSV format and e-mail it using your phone’s e-mail client, or delete all results. For individual results, you have similar options (although the results will not be exported to CSV) to send the data to e-mail, or delete it. Be careful with pressing delete, though, since it will not confirm the action and will delete the data right away.
For an application that’s simple, Speedtest.net is surprisingly insightful and a great tool for tracking Internet speeds over a period of time. The UI is intuitive and seamless, and the data is properly organized for easy navigation. Throughout the entire time I’ve used it, there has never been a problem with freezing up or force closing at any stage. Even in poor Internet speeds, the app itself functions normally, still providing results no matter how unacceptable they are by any standards.
There is not quite any other app out there that looks and performs as good. My search for a similar app in the Market didn’t really turn up any real competitors (one app only has a server in Korea, another only tests download and upload speeds). Furthermore, the fact that it’s developed by a reputable company like Ookla sets it apart from other similar apps.
If you’re looking for a reliable, sleek and simple way to track and test your Internet speed, Speedtest.net Mobile might be the only app worth trying – and sticking to.