General Purpose Performance

Section by Anand Shimpi

Apple's philosophy on increasing iPhone performance is sort of a mix between what Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 7/8 and what the high-end Android smartphone makers have been doing. On the software side Apple does as much as possible to ensure its devices feel fast, although I notice a clear tendency for newer iOS releases to pretty much require the latest iPhone hardware in order to maintain that speedy feel over the long haul. When it comes to hardware, Apple behaves very much like a high-end Android smartphone vendor by putting the absolute fastest silicon on the market in each generation of iPhone. The main difference here is that Apple controls both the software stack and silicon, so it's able to deliver a fairly well bundled package each year. It's a costly operation to run, one that is enabled by Apple's very high profit margins. Ironically enough, if Apple's competitors would significantly undercut Apple (it doesn't cost $599 - $799 to build a modern smartphone) I don't know that the formula would be able to work for Apple in the long run (Apple needs high margins to pay for OS, software and silicon development, all of which are internalized by Apple and none of which burden most of its competitors).

Good cross platform benchmarks still don't really exist on smartphones these days. We're left describing experience with words and trying to quantify performance differences using web based benchmarks, neither of which is ideal but both of which will have to do for now. The iPhone 5 experience compared to the 4S is best explained as just being snappier. Apps launch faster, scrolling around iOS Maps is smoother, web pages take less time to load and the occasional CPU/ISP bound task (e.g. HDR image processing) is significantly quicker. If you're the type of person who appreciates improvements in response time, the iPhone 5 delivers.

How does it compare to the current crop of high-end Android smartphones? I would say that the 5 generally brings CPU performance up to par with the latest and greatest in the Android camp, and in some cases surprasses them slightly. It's difficult making cross platform comparisons because of huge differences in the OSes as well as separating out tasks that are CPU bound from those that simply benefit from a higher rendered frame rate.

I took a cross section of various web based benchmarks and looked at their performance to help quantify where the iPhone 5 stands in the world. First up are the RIABench focus tests, these are javascript benchmarks that focus on various compute bound tasks. I used Chrome for all Android devices to put their best foot forward.

RIABench Focus-tests

This first test shows just how slow the 800MHz Cortex A9s in the iPhone 4S were compared to the latest and greatest from Qualcomm and NVIDIA. At roughly half the clock speed of those competitors, the 4S was just much slower at compute bound tasks. Apple was able to mask as much of that as possible with smooth UI rendering performance, but there was obviously room for improvement. The iPhone 5 delivers just that. It modernizes the iPhone's performance and inches ahead of the Tegra 3/Snapdragon S4 platforms. Only Intel's Atom Z2460 in the Motorola RAZR i is able to outperform it.

Next up is Kraken, a seriously heavy javascript benchmark built by Mozilla. Kraken focuses on forward looking applications that are potentially too slow to run in modern browsers today. The result is much longer run times than anything we've seen thus far, and a very CPU heavy benchmark:

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

The standings don't change much here. The iPhone 4S is left in the dust by the iPhone 5, which steps ahead of the latest NVIDIA/Qualcomm based Android devices. The Apple advantage here is just over 10%. Once again, Intel's Atom Z2460 pulls ahead with the clear lead.

In our iPhone 5 Performance Preview we looked at Google's V8 javascript test as an alternative to SunSpider. The more data points the merrier:

Google V8 Benchmark - Version 7

Here the iPhone 5 manages to hold onto its second place position, but just barely. Once more, the Atom based RAZR i maintains the performance lead.

Google's Octane benchmark includes all 8 of the V8 tests but adds 5 new ones including a PDF reader, 3D bullet physics engine and portable 3D game console emulator all built in javascript.

Google Octane Benchmark v1

The 5 pulls ahead of the HTC One X here and maintains a healthy 31% lead, but once again falls short of the RAZR i.

We of course included our SunSpider and BrowserMark tests, both of which show the iPhone 5 very favorably:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

BrowserMark

Performance obviously depends on workload, but it's clear the iPhone 5 is a big step forward from the 4S and tends to outperform the latest ARM based Android smartphones. As the rest of the ARM based SoC players move to Cortex A15 designs they should be able to deliver faster devices in the first half of 2013.

Intel's current position when it comes to CPU performance is interesting. A move to a dual-core design could be enough to remain performance competitive with 2013 ARM based SoCs. Remembering that Atom is a 5 year old CPU core that performs at the level of a 10 year old mainstream notebook CPU puts all of this progress in perspective. Intel's biggest issue going forward (other than getting Atom into more tier 1 phone designs) is going to be improving GPU performance. Luckily it seems as if it has the roadmap to do just that with the Atom Z2580.

Six Generations of iPhones: Performance Compared GPU Analysis/Performance
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  • medi01 - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - link

    Try to do it in a darker environment.
    If you still don't notice that AMOLED black is actually, cough, black and "iphone"'s black is actually gray, you probably should visit a doctor.
    Reply
  • darwiniandude - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    Who cares about black being 100% black when all the colour accuracy is terrible? The galaxy note looks like is has cellophane over the screen next to an iPhone, the white doesn't look white. You take a photo of a hill side and all the trees and grass is the same over saturated shade of green. It's because of this that I'd only consider the HTC one X excuse it has an accurate LCD. I've personally never found an Amoled screen so far I can put up with. Each to their own, if black is more important to you than the rest of the spectrum, then enjoy it. Reply
  • bpear96 - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Well obiously, there PPI's are almost the same, because of the size difference.
    If you had a 4.8" 1136 x 640 display, next to a 4" 1136 x 640 the 4.8" would not look nearly as good as the 4" because it would have a lower PPI (pixels per inch) since the GS3 is larger it needs a higher res display to be on par with the 4" iphone 5 display.
    Reply
  • bpear96 - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    type - obviously * Reply
  • star-affinity - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    The difference (in my opinion) being that the Galaxy S III has over saturated colors which is quite bad.

    http://www.displaymate.com/Smartphone_ShootOut_2.h...
    Reply
  • GabeA - Saturday, January 05, 2013 - link

    Sorry, you're comparing a poor screen technology (PenTile subpel matrix) with a top-of-the-line LCD. The comparison is flawed because the effective resolution on text is only ~82% in either direction (something like 1050 x 590 on sharp, black text) due to the interpolated, non-RGB subpixels.

    A good comparison would absolutely involve the One X series by HTC. In fact, holding the SGS3 and the One X side by side on this page shows an obvious difference in text clarity in favor of the One X.
    Reply
  • rocketbuddha - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Don't you know that every iPhone comes with the halo of the RDF (Reality Distortion Field) :D

    Thus things that other things have been having for months/years in other models appear antiquated/vanish once iPhone comes near ;-)
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, October 19, 2012 - link

    So having the fastest hardware in any smartphone ever, the iPhone 5 was late to the party?

    Or was it the fact that it's the thinnest that you're claiming they copied from Android. Or lightest, or thinnest, or shortest, or battery life.

    I wonder when any Android phone (bar the Razr Maxx which lets face it is a brick) will catch up?
    Reply
  • A5 - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    So you want a Droid Razr HD Maxx, then? Reply
  • webmastir - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Yep. That should be the #1 choice at the moment. Reply

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