The Best Mobile Development Reference Devices

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We all know that at some point in an app development process we should start testing on real hardware. An emulator gives a good indication of how an app will look and feel, but nothing beats the real thing. Acquiring handsets to test with can be a costly business for small developers. Each operating system has a standard or ‘reference’ device that your app should work on at least. What are these devices? Below we present the devices and useful hardware specs for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Firefox OS so you know how to get started.

iOS – The iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s

You may be wondering, “Why not the iPhone 6?” The answer is simple. Until recently the iPhone 6 didn’t have the enormous user base the 5s model has.

The display is a 4’ 1136 x 640 retina with 326ppi. It’s not the best panel on the market, but the colors saturation, contrast, brightness and vision angle are some of the best you will find.

The main camera on the 5s has an 8 Megapixel sensor, with a f/2.2 Aperture and a new technology called Flash True Tone. This technology is 2 LED Flashes that have different light Temperatures, resulting in more natural pictures. It can record videos at 120 fps at a max Resolution of 720p. For those of you developing the next selfie app, the front Camera has a 1.2 Megapixel sensor with a 1.9micro Aperture.

The iPhone 5s has four hardware buttons – Power, Volume, Silence and a Home button that doubles as the Touch ID sensor for authentication.

For those of you developing apps at a very low level, the iPhone 5s runs on an A7 ARM Dual-core processor at 1.3 GHz. It is the first Phone Processor running on 64-bit technology and adopting an ARMv8 architecture. It has a M7 coprocessor to process the data coming from the movement sensors.

Apple A7 chip

The iPhone 5s only has 1GB of RAM and supports up to LTE bands. The iPhone 5s cannot be expanded in any way.

It’s battery is integrated, non-removal and 1570mAh. It averages about 8 hours of usage.


Of course even with a physical iPhone you will still need a Mac to run Xcode. If you are looking to develop on Windows or Linux, there are alternatives not officially supported by Apple, for example Dragonfly SDK on the Windows side, or Forge on the Linux side.

With the release of the iPhone 6 you are likely to find an increasing amount of iPhone 5s models for sale at good prices.

Android – The Nexus 5

The very nature of Android makes picking a reference phone fairly hard, but typically the last model in the Nexus line is the ‘official’ device and will provide the most ‘authentic’ Android experience.

Nexus 5

The display is a borderless 4.95“ inch LCD IPS Panel and is Full HD with 445 ppi. The display has an impressive definition and brightness overall, but doesn’t feel so ”full” as an AMOLED Panel would be in its place.

The camera is a 8 Megapixel camera, taking pictures with a 3264×2448 Resolution and armed with Autofocus and stabiliser. The front camera is 1.3 Megapixel.

For any hardware developers, the Nexus 5 has a magnetic ring around it’s main camera that enables you to attach extra gadgets, such as those made by Photojojo.

The Nexus 5 has two hardware buttons – Volume and Power button, all others are soft buttons.

Its processor is a Geeks dream, a Snapdragon 800 Quad-core Processor clocked at 2.3 GHz, coupled with the great Adreno 330 GPU.

The Nexus 5 ships with 2 GB of Ram and full LTE band support. This leads to impressive performance and a smooth feel for many high requirement apps. However this could lead you to believe that your app is better architected than it really is. The Nexus 5 cannot be expanded in any way.

It’s battery is an integrated and non-removal 2300 mAh battery that lasts for about 12 hours of average usage and supports wireless charging.

Nexus 5 Teardown

The Nexus 5 currently costs about $300, but with the imminent launch of the Nexus 6 it is likely to be heavily discounted soon.

Windows Phone – The Nokia Lumia 930


The Lumia 930 was the first phone created by Nokia after its purchase by Microsoft and the first smartphone to be running Windows Phone 8.1.

Nokia took a different approach to building the 930 and in my opinion it is the best Lumia made so far.

The display is a 5” AMOLED full HD Display, at 441 ppi. The display is high quality and maintains high visibility even in full sunlight.

The Lumia 930 possesses similar specs to the Nexus 5 with a Snapdragon 800 Quad-core Processor clocked at 2.2 GHz, an Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB of Ram and full band support. It can’t be expanded in any way.

Photography has always been something Nokia is known for and the Lumia 930 is no exception. It has a Carls Zeiss Optics Camera using PureView technology, 20 Megapixel 4992×3744 pic resolution, an aperture of 2.4micro and mechanical stabilisation, plus a Dual Flash System and a 1.2 MP front Camera.

The Lumia 930 has three hardware buttons – Power, Volume and a dedicated camera button, all others are soft buttons.

The 2420 mAh non-removable battery offers about 12 hours of charge on average usage and has wireless charging.

Pricing is about $450.

Firefox OS – The Flame

Flame Phone

Considered by Mozilla as the reference phone for the mid-range tier of their future products, the Flame will appear to have far lower specifications that other phones in this round up, however its target audience and development methodologies are very different.

Produced by Alcatel, it is made mostly out of plastic, but doesn’t seem too cheap.

The display is a 4.5″ inch FWVGA Multitouch display running a 854×480 resolution. Even if it doesn’t sound like anything special, it’s responsive, full-colored and vibrant.

The main camera is 5 Megapixel, armed with Autofocus and a single Flash. On the front is a 1.2 megapixel.

The flame has three hardware buttons – Power, Volume and a Home button.

The Flame runs on a Dual-Core Snapdragon MSM8210 clocked at 1.2 GHz with 1 GB of Ram. It includes 8 GB of internal memory and the possibility of expansion with a microSD Card to a maximum of 32 GB. The phone It has Dual-SIM support, with the first supporting 3G and the second 2G.

Flame Dual Sims

The 1800 mAh battery, combined with the lightweight system will provide well over a days charge for average usage.

The Flame costs $170.

Elio QoshiElio Qoshi
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Elio is a open source designer and founder of Ura Design. He coordinates community initiatives at SitePoint as well. Further, as a board member at Open Labs Hackerspace, he promotes free software and open source locally and regionally. Elio founded the Open Design team at Mozilla and is a Creative Lead at Glucosio and Visual Designer at The Tor Project. He co-organizes OSCAL and gives talks as a Mozilla Tech Speaker at various conferences. When he doesn’t write for SitePoint, he scribbles his musings on his personal blog.

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