We’ve yelled ourselves hoarse cautioning people to not look too deeply at benchmark performance, but for Best of Android 2018, we’re ignoring our own advice a little bit.

The problem with benchmarks is many people don’t have a good idea what all of those numbers mean — sometimes they don’t actually mean anything at all. In addition to all that, manufacturers cheating benchmarks this year means confidence in these metrics is at an all-time low. Beyond that, picking the “best” performance is a little sticky, given folks use their smartphones for drastically different things.

We’ll post our test results below with a little bit of context, and mark them against the 2018 average so you can see what’s the cream of the crop. A lot of phones do exceptionally well, and some even beat our pick in certain metrics.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s Kirin 980 has the best performance, with caveats

A photo showing the Huawei Mate 20 Pro's Kirin 980 chip, alongside the Android Authority Best of Android award for performance.

When it comes to silicon, for the moment you want Huawei’s Kirin 980 powering your smartphone. While there’s been a lot of hay made by tech bloggers about concerns shown with benchmarks, even Qualcomm is taking notes on this chip. Until Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 hits shelves, we won’t have another credible 7nm chip to compare the Kirin with. That might not be enough to satisfy you, so let me go a little more in-depth on how we determined our leaders in this competition.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is not the best phone in every benchmark we ran, it’s simply the best overall results.

We chose benchmarks for a decent cross-section of performance results… and to sidestep cheating

In all of our benchmarking, we unintentionally limited what kinds of performances we’d find by using almost only flagship phones. In truth, most results from device to device are much smaller than the numbers would have you believe, so it was tough to get a good cross-section of performances. If you were to add more phones like the Motorola Moto G6 or any bargain model outside of the Xiaomi Pocophone F1, you’d find a lot more separation between devices. Our battery of tests consisted of:

  • AnTuTu
  • GFXBench (T-Rex)
  • GFXBench (Manhattan)
  • Basemark OS
  • Jetstream
  • Geekbench (single core)
  • Geekbench (multi core)
  • Geekbench (single core stealth)
  • Geekbench (multi core stealth)
  • 3DMark (Slingshot Extreme)

If you’re wondering what that “stealth” version of Geekbench is, it’s a build of Geekbench that defeats benchmark detection on today’s crop of phones. We didn’t want to have to do that, but to find results more indicative of your actual use we have to keep manufacturers honest. We won’t shame companies outright with this, but we’ll only be listing results from the stealth app. We have the “regular” results too, but we’re more interested in what the phone actually gives its users.

...of the 30 phones that we tested, seven phones cheated so badly that the average inflation in Geekbench score was just under 3 percent.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro sits at a rather advantageous position, as its processor is an early entrant into next year’s generation of chips. Consequently, it boasts a number of advantages that will likely be eclipsed in the near future. Its GPU is limited by its display, which caps its video benchmarks at 60fps. Razer and Asus eclipsed the Mate 20 Pro here, as that benchmark isn’t limited by the displays, for example.

Performances were incredibly similar

After normalizing the scores in each category, we found much like the competition in displays: the differences between units were really nothing to write home about. Here are our rankings for the best-performing smartphones, all hitting marks within 2 points out of 100 of each other in our scoring. All of these phones will perform brilliantly, and you won’t likely notice anything different — outside of the Razer Phone 2’s higher frame rate, at least.

  1. Huawei Mate 20 Pro
  2. Asus ROG Phone
  3. OnePlus 6T
  4. Huawei Mate 20
  5. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  6. Samsung Galaxy S9+
  7. Samsung Galaxy S9
  8. LG V40
  9. Razer 2

All of these models lag severely behind the iPhone, but I’ll let Gary explain that one. In truth, smartphone processing power has never been more astounding than it is now. It’s one of the last things you should be concerned about.

The Mate 20 Pro holds its own in graphics processing

Most phones hit the 60fps limit in the first GFXBench test, so let’s also look at GFXBench Manhattan, where there was a lot more separation. This high-level test is brutal for GPUs, and relies on lots of difficult-to-handle tasks.

GFXBench T-Rex

Higher is Better

GFXBench Manhattan

Higher is Better

However, that’s a fairly limited test, and throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix yields slightly different results:

3DMark overall score

Higher is Better

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is still among the leaders in the pack, but not the best for graphics. The chip’s “weakness” in graphics is intense 3D rendering, but it still hangs tough with the top gaming phones. That’s not bad!

The Mate 20 Pro excels in OS-level benchmarking

Testing processors is a marathon, not a sprint, and how the OS does things is what most users will notice. The Mate 20 Pro wasn’t the best in Basemark, but it more than made up for it in the Geekbench and Jetstream tests.

Basemark OS

Higher is Better

Jetstream

Higher is Better

The stealth Geekbench results were far and away the best we tested this year, which makes sense, given the differences in chip architecture between the latest Kirin chipset and the Snapdragon 845.

Those advantages look pretty small when that chart uses a 0-scale, eh? Like I said, processors are so good and so similar now it’s really tough to tell the difference half the time. A full 9% improvement over something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9’s Snapdragon 845 isn’t anything to sniff at: taking only a year to do that is an achievement of engineering… even if for most people it won’t be all that noticeable. The only time you’d really notice any small change in performance is if you somehow find a magic outlier weakness of a chip, memory, or its task-scheduling. Still, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro posted a respectable advantage over its competitors, giving us a taste of what’s to come with more 7nm chips coming in 2019.

Stealth Geekbench, (Green - Single, Purple - Multi)

Higher is Better

These are the stealth, anti-benchmark cheating results. Because we can’t install the unlisted app on an iPhone, we can’t compare results here. If you were to run benchmarks on your own phones, you’ll almost certainly get different results than we did. In fact, of the 30 phones we tested, seven phones cheated so badly the average inflation in Geekbench score was just under 3 percent. Considering we want every phone on equal footing, I’d say it was very fortunate the folks at Primate Labs are so helpful and kind.

Final thoughts

If running through all these tests has taught us anything, it’s that the processors of tomorrow will probably focus more on battery performance improvements and other structural changes to achieve a more palatable smartphone experience. Many chips already do extraordinarily well compared to last year. In that light, Huawei’s Kirin 980 seems to be indicative of future trends in processing. If we’re going to be seeing processors with changing philosophies in the future, it makes sense that we’d see chips move away from focusing solely on raw performance.

Stay tuned for more Best of Android 2018 coverage: