Android vs iPhone performance: A quick note.

I’ve been spending some time doing research on the relative (perceived) performance of flagship Android phones compared to iPhones. I will probably not write the extended post I was planning to, as it seems that it’s hard to answer this question scientifically, and, perhaps more importantly, it makes people Very Very Angry.

I would still like to leave you with some interesting reading material. Hence this quick note.

From this discussion post (December 2016) by CodingHorror, aka Jeff Atwood, one of the two founders of the whole StackOverflow empire, where he measures the relative performance of his discourse web-app, the following choice quote:

Some Android users report up to about 29 score on very new late
2016 Android devices, depending on the vagaries of the browser
used. Still below the 2013 iPhone 5s which can be purchased used for about $150 these days.

That’s pretty amazing: Based on the browserbench speedtest, which is supposed to reflect quite realistically real-world web-browsing performance, the 2013 iPhone 5s outperforms 2016 Android flagships. Ouch.

My Snapdragon 808 does a measly 14.7 on browserbench. The iPhone 5s which is a year or two older does more than double that.

There are more sites where this discussion / flamewar is being continued. Google is your friend.

The core argument is that Apple long ago made the call that fewer, more high performance CPU cores would give the best subjective performance. In other words, to a user the phone would feel more responsive.

This does make sense: As a user, when I tap a button, I would like to see an instantaneous response. A single really fast core is going to help more with this than a higher number of slower cores.

Furthermore, programming single-threaded apps is significantly easier than programming robust and efficient multi-threaded apps. You can guess what the apps in the various stores look like in this regard.

The iPhone 6s had only two cores, whereas most mid- to high-range Androids had 6 or more cores when the 6s was released.

The iPhone 7 A10 chip has finally made the jump to 4 cores, two of which are lower power cores. Still, it turns out this chip again crushes all of its Android (read: Qualcomm) competition.

Here’s another relevant demo on YouTube where the same set of apps are started up in the same sequence, which is repeated, on both the iPhone 7 and the Samsung S7. All in all, the iPhone manages to get through the exercise more than twice as fast as the S7. This is definitely some indication of how users will perceive the responsivity of these devices.

The argument that multi-core was not a good choice for Android is weakened to an extent by this recent AnandTech analysis showing that these phones are actually pretty good at utilising all of their cores:

In the end what we should take away from this analysis is that
Android devices can make much better use of multi-threading than initially expected. There’s very solid evidence that not only are 4.4 big.LITTLE designs validated, but we also find practical
benefits of using 8-core “little” designs over similar single-cluster 4-core SoCs.

My personal experience with the Snapdragon 808 (6 core big.LITTLE) in my BlackBerry PRIV (late 2015 flagship) has been less than stellar. I love the phone for its screen, physical keyboard and other little idiosyncrasies, but the fact that I often have to wait more than a second after tapping an icon or a button before it responds, combined with the terrible Android security story (where the PRIV paradoxically does quite well), makes me wonder about the future smartphone landscape for Android enthusiasts.

5 thoughts on “Android vs iPhone performance: A quick note.”

  1. Disclaimer: I’m an iPhone user, and have little first-hand experience of Android (I’ve set up phones for others, etc., but nothing more).

    I think when debating this topic it is important to make a distinction between perceived speed and true throughput. Ultimately, it does come down to the effective use of the tin, but much of the user experience is a perception.

    I know this goes slightly off-topic, but many popular apps have become increasingly slow during start-up or switching and this is profoundly annoying (I’m not sure whether this is measurably true, or just my user experience, but either way the experience is true). To use a specific example: Facebook (I would love to hear whether this same perception exists among Android users). Even Apples’ less cores, fast-switching mechanism doesn’t help anymore.

    It would be great if both Apple and Google could clamp down on bloated, slow apps. I was excited when modern smartphones started with new hardware architectures and limited resources, as it took everyone back to the 80s and before to be really efficient and to rethink existing solutions to problems. I think the pace of the hardware development for smart devices have now swapped places with app development, meaning that app developers now assume devices will be more powerful with the next upgrade.

    Now that my rant is over, I do think going multi-core in the long run would be more beneficial, and take us towards a single device for all purposes. Think Ubuntu Edge: I think that concept is valid; they were just too far ahead of the curve.

    1. Yo Pieter!

      BTW, I wrote this note from the perspective of perceived speed. I don’t care about actual throughput, only how often I have to wait (or not).

      You make an interesting comment re perceived slowness on your iPhone. With what percentage of your iPhone usage do you experience this?

      1. Yo Charl and Pieter

        My experience with Android is very limited – mostly on a girlfriend’s outdated Galaxy S2, as well as my own disastrous experience with the fast-on-paper-but-horribly-laggy-in-real-life Asus TF700.

        As an owner of an iPhone 6 (previously iPhone 3G then iPhone 4), I also subjectively experience a slowness that I haven’t previously felt so keenly. Sometimes this is with app startup, but it is (in my case) most noticeable with App updates which seem to be excriciatingly slow, even with a fast internet connection. This may have something to do with the speed of the flash memory (especially when re-writing existing memory) more than the processor.

        Regards
        F

  2. Hey dudes, here are my anecdotal views:

    I have owned a Galaxy S3 and S4, and found them to be adequate, though filled with bloatware which is what I attributed the apparent slowness to respond to taps and scrolls. I “fixed” by S4 by sticking CyanogenMod onto it and nearly had a disaster by not saving the original modem drivers… another story entirely. However it did make it respond better. One primary function I do recall as the source of much frustration was the home button. This was some time ago so I don’t remember the details, but I had to unlink S-Voice from the home button because it was causing a delay while waiting for a double press or some similar action. I’d be interested if any of the non-Samsung Androids had similar issues.

    Then about 2.5 years ago I needed to use facetime because my business partners required it, forcing me to get onto the iPhone 6 train. It solved every problem I ever had with the Galaxy handsets. Admittedly I was not comparing it to the latest flagship Android model, but it was definitely the best phone I ever had. It did exactly what a phone should do, and was reliable and robust (and continues to be in the hands of my wife). My latest iPhone 7 upgrade is even better. Like the iPhone 6, it responds instantly, no scroll or tap/launch lag, and app installs remind me of when I first stuck an SSD into my Windows laptop. (Although I have heard of iPhones developing what they call “touch disease”, but I think this is a hardware fault and should be covered under warranty.) The i6 did have some lag on the home button fingerprint recognition, but the i7 has fixed that. I think from a response perspective, Apple have the better phone for the time being, and I can even see myself replacing my Galaxy Tab with an iPad at some point for many of the same reasons.

    1. PS: I had the 64GB model of iPhone. Francois, did you have the same? I never experienced any flash memory related lag, but I never exceeded more than 60% storage usage, so perhaps there are other factors. I imagine the smaller chips might be slower based on my knowledge of desktop SSD’s, and storage near capacity may also behave slower.

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