Closing Thoughts

Pitting 8 devices built around same SoC against each other ended up being an interesting exercise for us. In many ways it served as validation of some of the observations we made earlier in the year with the review of the first Snapdragon 855 devices, while also showcasing some rather surprising behaviors, particularly the gaming performance of the pair of gaming-oriented devices we tested today.

CPU Performance Remains A Software Matter

Back in January when we had the pleasure to test Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 reference device, we observed that that some benchmarks behaved a little odd and didn’t quite showcase the larger performance boost over the Snapdragon 845 that we had initially expected. These concerns were largely alleviated once we got our hands on the commercial Galaxy S10 with the S855, which showcased notably improved CPU performance thanks to a more reactive scheduler and DVFS configuration.

Over the months, I continued to see difference between the Snapdragon 855 phones, with some phones behaving well, while others showcased some rather conservative performance. Having 8 different phones at hand now I can pretty much say that some vendors delivered their S855 devices with more matured and fine-tuned software stacks than others.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 remains the phone with the most responsive and fastest software tuning, having the fastest CPU ramp up amongst our tested devices. The OnePlus 7 Pro as well as the ZTE RedMagic 3 closely followed as the snappiest devices.

In terms of AI performance, we have come to the conclusion it’s also mostly a matter of software, this time in drivers. We saw some phones today that lacked the most up-to-date or best performance drivers, so even though again it’s the same chipset for all the phones, we've observed that performance can be different depending on the workloads. Some S855 phones even lacked the proper drivers altogether, and thus we couldn’t even complete the full machine learning inferencing test suite.

What is clear, however, is that none of the devices today were in any way bad performers. All the phones were able to offer excellent device experiences, and Qualcomm still largely maintains its leadership in this performance aspect, only really facing competition within the Android space from Huawei’s Kirin chipsets.

GPU Performance Is About Heat - How To Dissipate it And How Hot It Gets

Meanwhile, when it comes to the GPU performance, the performance of the phones ended up ranging rather widely.

At the very top of the charts we found the OnePlus 7 Pro alongside the OPPO Reno 10x. Both devices don’t exhibit any notable thermal throttling at all on the GPU, and thus are able to squeeze out the most out of the Adreno 640 in the Snapdragon 855. These high levels of performance however don’t come for free; both devices get exceedingly hot, with peak skin temperatures reaching over 50°C. The OPPO even interrupted our testing session with a device overheating warning – something we’ve seen quite a few times on Snapdragon phones over the last 2 years.

The rest of the devices ended up at various points on the performance curve, being heavily influenced by their physical thermal dissipation ability as well as their software thermal throttling configuration. In general, depending on environmental conditions, one can expect anywhere from a 20% to 40% degradation in performance over longer (30+ minutes) playtime sessions – that is to say if the game you’re playing is fully stressing the Adreno 640 GPU.

The most surprising results overall came from the GPU performance of the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 – and unfortunately things didn’t quite end up where we expected them to for the gaming phone. While the phone is advertised as being gaming-focused, it posted the worst sustained performance characteristics of all the Snapdragon 855 phones, barely showcasing much improvement even over last year’s original Black Shark.

We’ve also seen that different phones have different thermal limitations for the CPU and GPU. For example, Sony’s Xperia 1 clearly has a very aggressive CPU throttling mechanism; however it gives the GPU quite a lot of thermal headroom, ending up performing quite well in our set of benchmarks. Samsung’s S10 ended up in the lower half of the pack, performing below average.

Overall the clear winner in terms of representing the best Snapdragon 855 gaming performance goes to the OnePlus 7 Pro, as its hardware design is the best in terms of distributing the SoC heat throughout the whole body of the phone, and thus being able to maintain the highest performance even at a cost of higher skin temperatures.

Today’s test results reinforce a notion that I’ve been trying to spread over the last couple of years, and that is the better your power efficiency is, the better your performance will be. Over the last few generations Qualcomm’s rate of improvement seems to have slowed down, and our data shows that Apple’s SoCs now power the best-performing devices. Among the Android vendors however, Qualcomm has maintained a measurable lead both in terms of performance as well as the user-experience. Qualcomm’s strength here is the software, and although we’ve seen some differences today with the various Snapdragon 855 implementations, hopefully we’ll see more harmony in then next generation of chipsets.

Battery Life
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  • cha0z_ - Monday, September 9, 2019 - link

    Actually the exynos is more EXPENSIVE! Note 9 when released costed 1100 euros in Europe vs 1000 dollars in US, you can check the conversion yourself as 1000 euros are over 1100 dollars. The fact you got a samsung device for cheaper is nothing exclusive to you nor China - there are super big discounts in US too for the qualcomm variants. Reply
  • s.yu - Monday, September 9, 2019 - link

    Actually I look before I buy, the SK version is the cheapest anywhere, I had the option of buying the HK version(on SD) of the same tier for ~$100 more but I decided against it thinking it's not worth the premium.
    A friend in the US also bought a Note 8 at the time and went for an HK version because getting it from HK is still cheaper than in the US and he preferred SD. I don't know how there are significant discounts in the US but suspect they're bound by contracts.
    As for the high price in Europe that should come as a surprise to no one. Most electronics are more expensive in Europe, it's not specific to Samsung.
    Reply
  • 1nterceptor - Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - link

    I agree, would be really great if we could see exy9825 vs exy 9820 vs sd855+ vs sd855. Why exy9820 and sd855 you may ask, well because of the software updates, i wonder if and how much difference does it make now after 6 months on the market and couple of firmware updates... Reply
  • 1nterceptor - Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - link

    ...although, i believe exy9825 is not by any means much faster/better than the "old" 9820, it is probbably more efficient on the other hand... Reply
  • jrocket - Thursday, September 5, 2019 - link

    Since many of these phones vary in price significantly, it would be interesting to see a "performance per dollar" value comparison. Reply
  • IUU - Friday, September 6, 2019 - link

    Would be if it was not so trivial. I mean , if one phone costs 400 dollars and another one 800, there you have straight away your performance per dollar. All are sd 855s , so there is nothing more to consider. One could argue about camera, screen, battery life, but these are irrelevant to performance. Reply
  • flyingpants265 - Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - link

    It says right in the article that the performance differs depending on software implementation. Reply
  • Wardrive86 - Thursday, September 5, 2019 - link

    Excellent article as always! I would like to see which version of Android each phone has in the system performance tests to see if some of the older device performance data is up to date and also see which Opengl and Vulkan drivers each device has while testing was done...however even without that data still the best tech site there is. Thanks! Reply
  • Wardrive86 - Sunday, September 8, 2019 - link

    For example:
    LG G7 Android 9 opengl driver : 331.0
    Slingshot Extreme Unlimited OpenGL ES 3.1
    Physics peak : 3486
    Physics sustained : 3392
    Graphics peak : 5467
    Graphics sustained: 5326
    (5 runs, 20 minutes, Room temp: 78F/25.6C)

    Immediately followed by Work 2.0
    Performance : 8146
    Web : 6588
    Video : 5701
    Writing. : 9554
    Photo : 15830
    Data : 6314
    Reply
  • yacoub35 - Thursday, September 5, 2019 - link

    Aside from battery life, the things I would care most about in a phone comparison are:
    Does it have stereo speakers?
    Does it have a headphone jack?
    Does it use vanilla Android (or how close to vanilla is what it uses)?
    Does it get all of the Android updates and security patches in a timely fashion?
    How is the camera performance (speed to load the app and take a photo, image stabilization, low light performance)?
    How much RAM does it have?
    How much internal storage (excluding the OS) and how much expandable, if any?
    Reply

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