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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  • tuxRoller - Friday, September 6, 2019 - link

    ?
    Qualcomm is unusually good in this area.
    Reply
  • MrCommunistGen - Thursday, September 5, 2019 - link

    Interesting overview. I like that there are a lot of explicit comparisons between devices -- which is admittedly the purpose of a piece like this.

    I know you already do a lot of work for reviews and there's a LOT of data with a roundup with this many devices, but I have a request:
    Battery Capacity Normalized Battery Life.
    It would help illustrate platform efficiency vs battery size.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Friday, September 6, 2019 - link

    What about with a case... Reply
  • pse - Friday, September 6, 2019 - link

    Hi, Andrei, excellent article, as usual. One question, perhaps I missed this in the article, but are the figures for the S10+ Snapdragon and Exynos the ones from the original S10 article, or have you retested it with the latest updates?

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • edsib1 - Saturday, September 7, 2019 - link

    It doesnt look like you are using the phones various gamespace modes

    My Oppo Reno 10x Zoom scores like your, but in gamespace mode it gets scores around 25% higher.

    Performance - 10564
    Web Browsing - 8257
    Video Edit - 6429
    Writing - 13638
    Photo - 22386
    Data - 8118
    Reply
  • antifocus - Sunday, September 8, 2019 - link

    Very nice to see more Chinese manufacturers coverage. Reply
  • tygrus - Monday, September 9, 2019 - link

    I would like to see more user controls to limit performance and allow better battery life. Some games hog CPU & GPU for no reason (static city/castle not fps), if I can force them to 15fps instead of 60fps then may be I can avoid the pocket warmer/fire-starter. Change peak MHz of the big cores or set an average power used over short to long term (30 seconds / 5 minutes / 1 hour). I don't want sudden power saving once battery is <20%. Better option if I can set the aim for 12 hours use at the start of the day and have the device limit power from the beginning. More RAM can enable users to keep more apps & data in memory to avoid the slower app startup cycles. I thought 3GB RAM would be great 4 years ago but that was quickly used up by larger OS updates & larger apps. An older phone had just 8GB storage which was swallowed up OS and a few apps.
    It's frustrating that not all the phones you mention are available in Australia & other countries. Grey imports are possible but do you risk getting a 2nd hand phone with no warranty? OnePlus models and Samsung Galaxy S10e with 8GB RAM are not available in Australia.
    Reply
  • peevee - Thursday, September 12, 2019 - link

    "Differences in system performance between devices with the same hardware chipset basically boil down to one aspect: software."

    You forgot Flash and RAM choice.
    Reply
  • peevee - Thursday, September 12, 2019 - link

    "Finally, in the overall score, the ZTE RedMagic 3 comes at the top alongside the Galaxy S10"

    In your list it is S10+. These are very different devices, and you cannot infer the performance of S10 from S10+.
    Reply
  • peevee - Thursday, September 12, 2019 - link

    GPU "performance" - test after test of OFF SCREEN "performance". Does anybody play off screen? Show the real thing, so everybody would see the real cost of those useless extra-invisible pixels, and real advantage or lack of thereof of "90fps" and "120fps" - COMBINED with the battery life effects of all these! Reply

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