Which phone has the fastest performance?
The battle between Android phones and iPhones has also carried over to chips, and there are two big names in the industry in that game: Apple which designs its A series of processors, and then Qualcomm, the company behind the Snapdragon series of chips that power most Android phones out there. There are other chip makers in the game as well: Samsung's Exynos series of chips is a worthy contender, and MediaTek processors are also quite popular with budget phones in developing nations.
So what are the differences between these chips? This article aims to provide a bird eye's view at benchmarks without diving deep into the architecture of chips and it's meant to serve as a quick reference for readers to see the numbers and get a ballpark estimate of where a certain chip belongs in the growing and somewhat confusing hierarchy of mobile processors.
In the charts below, you will see scores from the Geekbench 5 test, a popular cross-platform benchmark, that allows an apples-to-apples comparison between Android phones of different classes and iPhones.
Snapdragon chips have become the de-facto standard in the Android flagship space, adopted by the fastest phones made by Samsung, LG, OnePlus, Sony, Xiaomi, Oppo and others.
The Geekbench scores above show clearly how mobile chips have progressed in time with newer chips sporting significantly higher performance.
Samsung has been a bit of an outlier, but the company has a continued effort in developing its Exynos series of processors and pitting them against the Android market leader Snapdragon.
The CPU performance of the latest Exynos 2100 series of chip has been very close to that of the Snadpragon counterparts.
Apple started developing its own chips early and the iPhone 5S was its first notable achievement. The phone was the very first smartphone to come with a 64-bit chip, the Apple A7. Since then, Apple has been perfecting its silicon design and has been leading the industry with performance speeds.
Most budget phones these days run on Qualcomm's 6xx and 7xx series of processors that are well optimized, but the performance is nonetheless a far cry from the power of flagship chips.
Since we have some big differences in on-screen performance between devices, maybe let's focus on off-screen tests here, suggested to run Aztec Ruins 1440p Offscreen and Car Chase 1080p Offscreen
Measuring off-screen performance allows us to see an apples-to-appples comparison of what the GPU units of modern phones are capable of, and it's no surprise that the flagship processors come out on top, but it's quite revealing to see the extent to which they are superior.
An interesting observation here is the place of the Pixel 5, a $700 phone, that miserably fails on these graphics tests and is definitely not a great performer in gaming. Curiously, the OnePlus Nord which ships with the same chip actually seems to do a better job and scores much higher on these tests.
Real-life use of the phone is not just about running a benchmark for a couple of minutes, it's often playing half an hour, an hour or sometimes more on your device. Using your phone for prolonged periods like that with games means you will likely bump into thermal throttling once the temperature of the chip inside hits a certain threshold. So what is that threshold? We test using the 3D Mark Wildlife benchmark which records results of a game simulation running 20 minutes, and it reveals some interesting facts about modern smartphone processors.
Apple's iPhones are capable of incredible bursts of power, but they also quickly throttle down to more normal working conditions. It usually takes about a minute or two until the performance of an Apple A series chip gets throttled but even then the baseline is pretty high and above most of the competition.
Curiously, Samsung phones differ by their chip, US models usually shipping with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, while overseas versions come with Samsung's own Exynos series of chips. We have noticed that the Exynos chip throttles faster and is less stable, while Snapdragon versions sold in the US usually perform better.
Also, it's very interesting to see how the form factor of a phone affects the performance of a chip. Basically, the smaller the phone the quicker it throttles as you can see in the graph above for the S21 which slows down just after 3 to 4 minutes of running the test, while the Plus version of the same phone is able to better deal with the heat and throttles only after 8 or 9 minutes.
A hot topic in 2021 is the difference in performance between the Snadpragon 888 chip (powering US S21 models) and the Exynos 2100 (powering Int'l S21 models), and we can see that the Snapdragon is indeed the faster chip that is able to better control itself under stress.