"Slow and laggy": After Apple and Google, time for Samsung’s cheaper phones to get flagship chips

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
"Slow and laggy": After Apple and Google, time for Samsung’s cheaper phones to get flagship chips
Although it might not look like it, Samsung is under pressure, and (surprise, surprise) the two reasons for that are Apple and Google.

It all started back in 2016 when the company from Cupertino decided to release the first mid-range iPhone ever. If I had to describe it, I'd say that the original iPhone SE was the best Apple phone the world never knew it needed...

  • iPhone SE was the only $400 phone that runs iOS, attracting budget buyers who'd otherwise choose an Android phone for the first time ever
  • iPhone SE took good photos and excellent videos (probably better than any Android flagship at the time) thanks to Apple's everlasting lead in the video department
  • iPhone SE was noticeably smaller than all other phones on the market, including iPhones, Androids, budget phones, mid-range phones, flagship phones - you name it 
  • Most notably, the iPhone SE featured Apple's flagship (for 2016) A9 chip - the same one from the much more expensive iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, taking performance on mid-range phones to a whole new level

All that being said, the elephant in the room is that Apple's "vintage" take on the iPhone SE might make the phone look dated and less appealing for Android enthusiasts, and if that's the case - well, the SE isn't the phone for you.

However, what's interesting is that ever since 2016, Apple remained the only company that dared to trade looks and modern features for a flagship processor, as far as mid-range phones are concerned. The iPhone SE (2020) was the eight best-selling phone in the world last year, so this is a recipe that's paid off quite well for Tim Cook & Co, but never tried by the competition... Until now!

That's right! The already-announced Google Pixel 6A becomes the first phone since the original iPhone SE from 2016 that manages to incorporate the same flagship processor used in the company's more expensive phones into a mid-range device. Which made me wonder why Samsung, the other major player in the smartphone market, has decided that mid-range phones must stick to using mid-range chips... 

So, let's talk about the benefits of a flagship processor in affordable Apple and Google devices and why Samsung might need to switch gears if the South Korean company wants to stay competitive in the future, especially in the Western market.

iPhone SE 2016, 2020, 2022 - Apple shows how to make a long-lasting mid-range phone

My iPhone SE 2016 is still in my drawer. I didn't buy the phone at launch but a few years later.

Anyway, this six-and-a-half-year-old phone performs staggeringly well in 2022! Yes, it's noticeably slower than in 2016, but Apple knows how to optimize an old phone and which new iOS features to give it without making it slow down significantly due to software that's too hard to handle. 

Speaking of iOS, seeing a phone from 2016 that runs the latest software version of the OS is simply too good, even as per Apple's own standards... As it stands, the iPhone 6S and iPhone SE are the longest-supported iPhones ever.

To sum it up for you, the price, software support, and flagship chips (that enable the continuous software support) are the things that make the iPhone SE an iPhone SE. And there's no reason to think the iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone SE (2022) won't follow in the footsteps of the 2016 model (with 5-6 years of software updates and remarkable performance in the long run).

Google Pixel 6A - a new era for mid-range Android phones has begun (if Pixel is available in your country)

With this, we move on to the Google Pixel 6A - Android's iPhone SE.

Putting a flagship chip in its mid-range phone is a big step and a big surprise on Google's part. Not because we haven't seen great mid-range devices come out of Mountain View (shout out to the Pixel 3A, Pixel 4A, and Pixel 5A) but because we weren't expecting Google to move so swiftly with… Tensor.

Tensor - Google's first in-house processor debuted with the long-awaited Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro back in 2021, and although the two flagships have received mixed reviews due to a bunch of software/hardware issues, Tensor remains Google's most significant hardware achievement as far as mobile technology is concerned.

For those who'd like to know more, I took a deep dive into Tensor’s performance with my 7-month Tensor review, where I discussed whether Google's chips bring flagship or upper mid-range performance to the Pixel.

But if we go back to the current story, the important bits are that:

  • For the first time ever, Google will use the same Tensor chip from its flagship phones on the budget-friendly Pixel 6A...
  • Despite falling behind Apple's A15 Bionic in terms of raw performance, Tensor is still noticeably faster and much smarter than most mid-range chips found in other budget phones...

This is a much bigger achievement for an Android device than you might think, and I believe it'll become evident with the next few comparisons I've put together. Of course, all of this leads me right into the next important topic, which is Samsung's mid-range phones themselves...

Galaxy A53 (5G) - Samsung's seemingly perfect mid-range phone gets "slow and laggy", according to users from Reddit and Twitter

When the Galaxy A53 (5G) was released in April of this year, I was blown away by how feature-rich this affordable Android phone was, which made me enthusiastic about recommending it to friends and family.

The A53 (5G) looks modern; it has a 120Hz display and a massive 5000 mAh battery - it seemed like the perfect replacement for my mum's Galaxy S9. But as it turns out it's the performance department where this excellent device starts to show how Samsung's managed to hit the $400 target price.

What's interesting is that this year, for the Galaxy A-series of phones, Samsung decided to use a selection of its own, in-house-made Exynos chips and some Qualcomm-made Snapdragon processors. Anyway, right in the middle of the A-series pack stands the Galaxy A53 (5G).

However, while the A53 seems to be the best value phone Samsung sells right now, the Exynos 1280 chipset inside it it's arguably inferior to last year's Snapdragon 778G, used in the Galaxy A52s (5G) and certainly light years behind Apple's and Google's flagship chipsets used in the iPhone SE and Pixel 6A.

Samsung's mid-range phone falls behind the competition from Apple and Google in terms of performance; "gets laggy during normal use"

According to Geekbench 5 and Antutu 9, the Galaxy A53's Exynos 1280 is roughly 135% less capable in the CPU department and nearly 100% slower when it comes to the GPU compared to the A15 Bionic chip used in the iPhone SE (2022). But that's no news!

Samsung's actual challenger and a real threat in the Android phone world will be the Tensor-powered Pixel 6A, which should be nearly 50% more capable when it comes to CPU performance and 75% more powerful than Samsung's Exynos 1280 in the GPU department (Geekbench 5 & Antutu 9 numbers based on the Pixel 6).

And just when you think to yourself that "this doesn't mean anything" and that benchmarks don't translate into real-world use, Galaxy A53 users from RedditTwitter and XDA forums have started to report slowdowns and stutters when the A53 is under normal-heavy load. This includes animation lag when scrolling through the UI, opening the camera, taking photos etc.

Sadly, all of this isn't exactly surprising given how chock-full of features OneUI 4.1 is, compared to iOS or even Android 12 on Pixel. However, it's also a valid reason for concern. No one likes a laggy phone, and as of now it doesn't seem like the A53 will be as smooth and lag-free as an iPhone or a Pixel at the same price point, which is a shame.

Of course, unless Samsungs manages to iron out the A53's performance hiccups via software updates. This would be surprising, but not impossible.

Apple, Google, and Samsung's understanding of a mid-range phone: What are budget phone buyers really looking for?

Apple's iPhone SE isn't perfect, but it shows us what really matters when it comes to a mid-range phone, especially if we consider the nearly 7 year-old iPhone SE, which still performs extremely well for its age.

It's not about throwing in an unnecessary 2MP macro camera alongside another 2MP depth camera that makes a $400 phone worth it. In my opinion, it's also not about the 90-120Hz displays that some phones from Samsung, Xiaomi, and OnePlus offer. That's because 60Hz iPhones are still incredibly smooth and much smoother than any other 60Hz Android phone.

If we think about what the average Joe is really looking for, we'll find out that longevity and performance matter more for budget buyers who want to get the most for their cash. However, most doesn't necessarily mean as many features as possible. In this case, it rather means "the most use out of one device".

A faster processor  can also help you take better photos and videos

Furthermore, the processor affects other areas of the phone experience, too - probably most notably the camera performance, where phones like the Google Pixel 6A will excel when compared to mid-range devices from Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, etc. That's because of Google's incredible computational photography, which, of course, requires power. Power that Tensor manages to deliver to a $900 Pixel 6 Pro and a $450 Pixel 6A.

Another example of how the processor affects image quality is the video-taking capabilities of the iPhone SE. The A15 Bionic is the reason the iPhone SE takes better videos (especially in good light) than any Android phone on the market, regardless of price. And it does so with a very old camera sensor - the same one used in the iPhone 8.

It's time for flagships chips in mid-range Samsung Galaxy phones

If we accept that Apple exists in its own world, mostly because the company's phones don't run Android, in my book, it's time for Samsung to incorporate truly flagship-grade processors into its $400 mid-range phones because:

  • They need it
  • Nowadays, people keep their phones for longer
  • Google's Pixel 6A has challenged Samsung in the mid-range department

The only notable feature missing from the Pixel 6A is a 90-120Hz display. In exchange, you get Tensor, and while having both would be ideal for an Android device, Google's final decision is understandable (60Hz for Pixel 6A, 90Hz for Pixel 6, 120Hz for Pixel 6 Pro). And I don't see why Samsung can't pull it off too.

All that being said, I still believe Samsung's mid-range phones deliver excellent value and will sell like hotcakes. Also, the South Korean company deserves credit for its extended software support, which on a phone as affordable as the Galaxy A53 is 4 years for OS updates and 5 years for security patches.

As of now, that's one extra Android update compared to a Pixel, which is both bizarre (for Google) and great news for Samsung fans. On the flip side, updates for Pixel and iPhone will arrive on your phone much quicker, which is why Samsung doesn't exactly win the update war.

So, yeah... The Pixel 6A wins over any mid-range Samsung phone. Of course, if you live in one of the 12 countries it will be sold in. Yep. That's the catch. Google at it again.

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