LG G3 Samsung Galaxy S2 1200px

Smartphones are pretty quick these days, offering buttery smooth multi-tasking and packing enough grunt to push out plenty of pixels for high resolution gaming. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the world of smartphones was quite different not so long ago. So, let’s take a little time to appreciate just how far our little smartphones have come.

We could spend ages talking through every new chip, technological breakthrough and chip design under the sun, but I just can’t bring myself to type out that many model numbers, instead let’s talk performance. Although benchmarks might not be perfect, they’re not a bad guide to theoretical peak performance between devices running the same test. GeekBench is one of the more reliable and has achieves that go back quite a way, so we’ll be pulling some data from there.

Android vs iOS

There’s no better place to start than the old Android vs Apple grudge match, so let’s delve back in time to see who topped the smartphone benchmarks each year. Apple may have been the first on the market all those years ago, but it’s an advantage that Android has been very quick to close in on.

Android vs iOS GeekBench performance

Much as it did back then, Apple still has a heavy input into the design of its smartphone SoCs, while Android mostly relies on big market players to provide chips for a range of products. Perhaps not unexpectedly, it’s been a close run race for several years, but the past couple have seen an interesting trend emerge. Apple’s iPhone range has built a steady lead with single core performance, while the best Android phones have leapt ahead with multi-core performance.

We can directly correlate this large jump in performance to the introduction of big.LITTLE octa-core SoCs, while Apple remains more interested in per core performance. We have previously discussed how Android makes use of multiple cores and this is helping Android see notable performance gains in certain scenarios, as well as aiming to improve battery life in less demanding tasks.

Performance by brand

Android is a big place, so it’s only right to examine the broader competition. For this chart we’re looking at the major flagship releases each year from some of Android’s biggest global brands. It’s tricky to find data on every handset, but should give us a rough idea about where the competition has been.

GeekBench results by brandThis chart nicely demonstrates Motorola’s shift to and from the mid-tier market, while LG managed to keep up with the big players in the market thanks to its Nexus handsets. Samsung has consistently held a position at the front of mobile processing technology, partly thanks to its own range of Exynos Socs, as has Sony, for the most part.

We shouldn’t be surprised to see a close run race between all of the big Android players, as most smartphones have been making use of the same processors in each generation, many of them from Qualcomm. The only real performance differences tend to last a few months, as companies race to be the first to the next milestone.

Smartphone Processor Evolution

This past few years have been an interesting period in the mobile SoC arms race, as manufacturers leapt from the older Qualcomm S4 designs up to faster, quad-core chips and finally into the octa-core behemoths of today’s handsets, all in the space of just two to three years. Samsung managed to leapfrog the competition with its octa-core big.LITTLE Galaxy Note 4 at the end of 2014 and seems to have maintained a notable advantage this year thanks to its 14nm technology. Other companies have transitioned over to Qualcomm’s own Snapdragon 810 octa-core chip this generation, but is a tad behind on a 20nm manufacturing process.

LG has seen the slowest rate of improvement in the past few years, having been early into the Snapdragon 800 series with the Nexus 5 but then choosing to avoid the more recent 810 in favour of Qualcomm’s hexa-core 808 for its LG G4.

Bang per buck

One of the greatest things about technology is that it gradually become more affordable. You don’t have to pay top dollar for compelling smartphone performance these days, but that has not always been the case. Take a look at this next chart which plots performance against price over the past five years.GeekBench MC by price

As we would expect, today’s handsets cost half as much as they did a few years ago and offer up equal, if not improved performance.

As an example, the sub $150 Moto E second generation offers up similar performance to yesteryear’s $500+ Galaxy S2, and runs circles around this decade’s early and far more costly Android handsets, such as the HTC Nexus One.

Meizu MX5-4-2

These days, low cost octa-core MediaTek chips offer up competitive performance at a fraction of the price of Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragons

We can also spot an interesting dynamic that has played out between the very premium $500+ market and the mid-range game. 2012 and 2013 saw the gap between the high and low tier markets close thanks to the Nexus 4 and 5. This ended with the introduction of the pricey Nexus 6, but low cost brands from Asia have picked up the baton.

ARM Cortex A72 Scalable Platform

While low cost manufacturers are benefiting from scalable multi-core big.LITTLE designs, high-end devices are adopting faster core designs and smaller, more efficient processing nodes.

That said, there is now a more notable performance gap between the very high-end phones packing the latest octa-core chips and those which are still relying on older or cheaper SoCs. Samsung, Sony, HTC, and LG have a lead so far this year as first adopters, but this is already changing, as lower cost manufacturers gear up their own next-gen releases, such as the OnePlus 2 and the Moto X Style, which boast flagship performance with sub $400 price tags.

Another interesting trend can be seen when we look at the single-core performance of these same handsets.GeekBench SC by price

Turning to the sub $250 market, the trend looks quite similar to the premium market of five years ago. Single core performance has been close run between the two tiers, the performance gap has occurred as budget smartphones remained locked on old dual-core setups. However, falling prices in multi-core and more powerful core architectures has seen the $150-$250 price bracket really close the gap with more expensive handsets, thanks to low-cost smartphones like the ZTE Grand S2.

Today we’re left with a more evenly spread range of options for both price and performance than we had even two years ago, let alone five. The hardware that fits in our pocket has come a huge way in less than a decade and it’s going to be exciting to see where we end up.

Robert Triggs
Lead Technical Writer at Android Authority, covering the latest trends in consumer electronics and hardware. In his spare moments, you'll probably find him tinkering with audio electronics and programming.
  • I.. Still…. use a Samsung Galaxy s2….

    • Does anyone know if the new moto g is worse or better?

      • Ruturaj

        Just don’t buy one with 1gb RAM and 8gb storage.

      • wrkerr

        Yes. It’s better. Get the 16gb model and you’ll love it.

      • Vinay K

        Its actually great, has many advances over G2, some features have been added from Moto X. The look & feel is better than G2. I got a G3 with 2gb ram and 16 gb storage. it scored 26900 on antutu bench mark. Only only thing missing is a notification light.

    • Luke Woolley

      Moto G is just great. Bigger, faster, still really cheap.

    • Crazy

      I too am using a Galaxy S Advance! Hi5 bo.

    • JY

      Galaxy s3 here did a factory reset after two years for the first time with nova launcher and its great apart from the dated hardware only downside is android, buggy apps poor updates

    • coldspring22 .

      Galaxy S2 was the first very good android phone from Samsung. Sure you can keep using it as long as there are good custom roms for it.

  • Reed

    I’m just impressed with the trajectory of things. Quality keeps going up while prices keep going down.

  • Gio Rodz

    I was thinking about this yesterday… weird xD

  • OhStopItYou!

    nice post guys! I loved reading it! definitely a trip down memory lane

  • maen baker

    i’m using a samsung galaxy s3 mini running omni rom (android 5.1.1 ) smoothly.
    it has a dual core cpu@1GHZ and only .gb of ram.

    • Ruturaj

      My bro had same device, flashed cyanogenmod 12.1, feels much better now.

  • Germán Moreno Noséké

    The wallpaper of the g3… I want it

    • Kevin Verdesca

      Pretty sure it comes with nova launcher.

  • Kenneth R Leitch

    The Note 4 is 64 bit outside US. The US variant is 32 bit Snapdragon 805.

    • Ruturaj

      The cores are 64 bit but SOC is locked in 32 bit mode.

      • Kenneth R Leitch

        Good to know. So the graphic is wrong for that one small item but it is very nicely done. Just letting the authors know. ;-)

        • Ruturaj

          Agree, it’s a very nicely done SOC, On 20nm, using A57 and A53 cores. Samsung used mali T760MP6 in note 4 exynos model but increased it to 8 shredder cores T760MP8 in S6. SOC performed very well even Samsung just locked them in 32 bit for no reason, they should have made them 64 bit enabled when lollipop rolled out. Some developers were trying to get it in to 64 bit mode but didn’t had a good progress. After samsung launched tab S2 which has same SOC but in 64 bit things might change.

    • ibolito

      Even in Europe the Note 4 runs on the 32 bit S805. Only the Korean version has a 64 bit Exynos 5433 soc

  • Ruturaj

    It’s good that performance difference between low-mid-high range has decreased. I think $500 should be the price tag for 5 inch flagship devices and $550 for bigger ones. And may be $600 for those who offer extra functionalities with bigger screen (like note offers in software department + stylus). I hope A72 lives up to promise and give a bigger bump on performance, I wonder what developers will do with so much power.

  • I’d really like Qualcomm, MediaTek and Samsung to concentrate on the single-core performance as well. Apple’s single-core performance is stellar, and the only thing holding their devices back is the fact that they are still dual-core. If we’d have a big.Little Snapdragon/Samsung with a single-core performance that matches the iPhone 6, the devices being powered by those SoCs would fly at warp 9.985.

    • Ruturaj

      Core A72 and kyro will change that, right now all three companies are using ARM’s design (A57 and A53 cores). ARM’s A72 which they announced this year, mostly will be ready by next year (in SOC and actual devices), I think they will reach close to 2,000 in geekbench for single core performance. Kyro is scoring around 1600 in leaks of 820.

    • chris pinkston

      exynos 7420 in s6 nearly matches apple’s single core performance though at a higher clock speed. The next wave of chips will match or beat apple’s single core performance and continue to pull away in multi core unless apple adds more cores to iphone.

  • Quite interesting how dual-core only chips never panned out well.

  • Christopher A Ryan

    You forgot about HTC 6700/6800 running Windows Mobile with a pullout keyboard. :(

  • Rooney-

    This post takes my memory to LG Optimus One(P500)… :)

  • catt4u

    Altough I’ve got the S6 Edge 128GB as my daily driver, I’m still in love with my Nexus5 and Note 2 ;-)

  • Cakefish

    Here’s my personal SOC history;

    Exynos 4210 (Galaxy SII, 2011) -> Snapdragon S4 Pro (Nexus 4, 2012) -> Snapdragon 800 (Nexus 5, 2013) -> Snapdragon 615 (Moto X Play, 2015)

    • Lauge Feierskov

      Was the change from the Nexus 5 to the Moto X Play worth it? I’m considering doing the same thing.

      • Cakefish

        It becomes available this Friday 14th August here in UK so I’m yet to find out. I’ve seen a hands-on comparison to the 2014 Moto X where it was said that general system responsiveness is essentially identical between the 615 and 801. So I have high hopes. I definitely plan to buy as soon as it becomes available :)

  • Kamalnath Kanthimathinathan

    It’s a good read….
    I liked the comparison of performance Vs price range over the years….