Our smartphones contain a lot of information about us. From who our friends are to what we are doing throughout the day, there’s a lot of data on these phones. Cyber criminals can run rampant with that data, so what’s the best way to protect it? Well, there’s no 100% method, but there have been huge advances in the past few years on how we can protect our data. Google took security very seriously when they developed Android 5.0 Lollipop. The operating system was announced to be encrypted on devices right out of the box.
The Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 were the first devices to ship with Android Lollipop and both were encrypted right on the first boot up. Some people saw this as a great thing, others, not so much. It wasn’t long after these devices hit the market that users and reviewers noticed that their Nexus 6 devices were running a bit slower than expected. After ruling out other options, Anandtech discovered something interesting, encryption was slowing down the device considerably. Tests revealed that read and write speeds on the Nexus 6 were far higher with encryption turned off then it was with encryption turned on. In fact, the tests showed that the phone was experiencing a 50% drop in write performance and a shocking 80% drop in read performance. That led to a user experience that, while still very quick, was far slower than it could be.
So why the big deal? Many users prefer encryption turned on due to the boost in security it gives. Others however prefer to get the best possible performance on their device and on the Nexus 6, that’s not possible with encryption. Now I’m sure you’re thinking “so why not just turn it off?”. Great idea, except you can’t.
On both the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9 encryption can’t be turned off. Other devices can have encryption turned off by performing a factory reset, but the Nexus 6 and 9 don’t have that option.
Now don’t think that this is just an Android 5.0 problem, it’s not. Android 5.0 turns encryption on by default, but on devices that have been upgraded to the OS, it doesn’t. If you get an Android 5.0 update on your phone, you don’t need to worry about being able to toggle encryption because you do have the choice. But what about new phones that run Lollipop out of the box?
2015 is going to bring us a lot of new flagship phones, so will they all be encrypted like the Nexus 6 is? The short answer, yeah, they most likely will. Now let’s back this up with some facts. First, let’s turn to Google’s own support documents. They specifically states that new Android 5.0 devices encrypted at the first boot cannot be unencrypted. It’s highly unlikely that many OEMs creating high-end flagships for 2015 will have any plans to release them on an outdated version of Android, so we can expect this year’s flagships to be encrypted from the moment we turn them on. For evidence of this, we’ll turn to the first flagship announced this year, the LG G Flex 2. This phone was announced at CES 2015 and falls into LG’s flagship lineup, shadowed only by the upcoming G4. The device runs their skinned version of Android 5.0 Lollipop and according to those who were able to try the phone hands-on at CES, they device will indeed come encrypted out of the box.
So what does this mean for 2015’s flagships? Will they all experience the same performance hiccups the Nexus 6 is prone to since they are encrypted? Possibly. OEMs might take this into consideration and optimize their devices accordingly, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens for that. In the end though, is this trade-off worth it for you? Would you trade some of your performance for a more secure device? Would you prefer that the choice to encrypt or not was left up to you? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.