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Samsung Galaxy S series: Why Exynos versus Snapdragon is such a big deal
Samsung’s Galaxy S series phones offer top-notch screens, class-leading image quality, and expected premium features (e.g. IP68 rating, wireless charging). When you combine these factors with global availability, it’s easy to see why Samsung’s flagships are among the best-selling high-end phones around.
But one constant source of contention is that a Galaxy S phone in one region can have worse performance, battery life, and image quality than the same device in another market. This discrepancy exists because Samsung usually offers two different chipsets in the Galaxy S series, depending on the region.
The US tends to receive phones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, while until very recently, EMEA markets and India received devices powered by Samsung’s own Exynos chipsets. In 2022 though, Europe is the only region still getting Exynos models.
The long running Exynos vs Snapdragon rivalry continues with the Galaxy S22.
However, Snapdragon and Exynos flagship processors aren’t made equal. Sometimes one chipset is better than the other, offering improved battery life and/or superior CPU/GPU performance, effectively creating two tiers of Galaxy S customers. We’ve seen significant differences in all of these areas in the past, and 2022 sees Samsung’s Exynos 2200 differing from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in a couple of crucial areas too.
A short history of Exynos vs Snapdragon
A recap of some of the biggest Exynos vs Snapdragon discrepancies is in order before we get into what’s likely to stir the pot in 2023. So here’s a rundown of some of the more important differences in recent times.
2020’s Exynos 990 in the Galaxy S20 series was considered the low point for the Exynos family from a performance perspective. Our own testing showed that the Snapdragon 865 variant offered better multi-core CPU performance and much better graphical performance, while the two were virtually tied in single-core benchmarks. We can trace similar performance differences back as early as 2012’s Galaxy S3. Benchmarks at the time showed that the Snapdragon version was able to beat the Exynos model in CPU tests, despite the Snapdragon model offering a dual-core CPU versus the Exynos variant’s quad-core design.
Last year’s Galaxy S21 series was available with either a Snapdragon 888 chipset or the Exynos 2100, and we saw the gap narrow between the two SoCs. In fact, our testing found that the two were neck and neck when it came to CPU performance, but Qualcomm’s variant still reigned supreme in the GPU category (albeit with a reduced gap). The Snapdragon model has been the better choice for gamers in recent years.
2022 saw the Galaxy S22 series debut with either a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor or the Exynos 2200. The latter is the first Exynos chipset with an AMD GPU, but the Snapdragon processor blitzed it in graphical benchmarks according to our own testing. The two SoCs were similarly matched in terms of CPU performance, with the Snapdragon variant edging ahead for single-core performance and the Exynos model pulling ahead on multi-core scores. However, we found that the Exynos model offered better sustained performance in some tests.
The big takeaway with the Galaxy S22 series though is that the new Snapdragon and Exynos chipsets generally don’t offer a huge horsepower improvement over the previous year’s processors.
The situation seems to be more favorable for Exynos variants when it comes to endurance. The Exynos 990 may have been the nadir of Samsung’s mobile chip efforts, but our testing found that Galaxy S20 series variants equipped with this chipset beat the Snapdragon 865 variant (albeit by between 15 and 30 minutes). This is likely due to the Exynos chipset throttling back in the name of endurance, sacrificing performance for battery life, but it’s still notable anyway.
The Exynos 2100 version of the Galaxy S21 Ultra repeated this feat, lasting almost half an hour longer than the Snapdragon 888 version in our Speed Test G endurance test. In saying so, we also found that the Exynos variant throttled performance sooner.
We briefly tested the battery life of the Galaxy S22 Ultra variants as part of our stress test, finding that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 version lasted for 222 minutes versus 211 minutes for the Exynos 2200 variant. Our own Rob Triggs suggested that the difference between the two figures was close enough to be within the margin of error. So it looks like you shouldn’t see a major battery life discrepancy here.
Another area that sees differences between Exynos and Snapdragon variants is camera quality, as Dxomark and YouTuber Danny Winget showed that the Snapdragon-powered Galaxy S21 Ultra has better image quality than the Exynos model.
The Exynos and Snapdragon variants also differ somewhat when it comes to image and video quality.
This difference isn’t readily apparent during the day and the two variants seem to trade blows when the sun is out. But the Exynos variant definitely shows plenty more noise in low-light scenarios when you look a little closer. Check out a comparison by Winget in this screenshot.
Dxomark tested both Galaxy S22 Ultra variants and dished out the same overall score. However, the Snapdragon device earned slightly higher marks for the photo category while the Exynos model delivered slightly higher scores for zoom and video.
Finally, the chipsets aren’t made equal when it comes to video recording. One of the most prominent examples was the Exynos 8895 inside the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 supporting 4K/60fps recording while the Snapdragon 835 lacked this feature. Meanwhile, the Exynos 9820 inside the Galaxy S10 series supported 8K recording before the equivalent Snapdragon chipset offered it.
Unfortunately for Exynos users in both cases, the Exynos variants didn’t officially implement their higher-quality recording capabilities in devices. Instead, Samsung waited for the Snapdragon chip to catch up and support those capabilities before adopting it in both models.
Another example of video differences between variants is AV1 support, as the Exynos Galaxy S21 variant supports the new codec standard. This standard promises the same video quality with smaller file sizes, with Netflix already supporting this more efficient format. Unfortunately, the Snapdragon 888 inside US Galaxy S21 phones lacked this support. This trend continues in 2022, as the Exynos 2200 inside European Galaxy S22 models support AV1 video decoding while the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 does not.
What to expect in 2023?
These differences, especially in recent years, have resulted in enthusiasts urging Samsung to offer versions with the Snapdragon chipset in more markets. These calls are understandable too, as the differences can (and often do) have a real-world effect. For example, the Galaxy S20’s Exynos 990 chipset struggled with some advanced games compared to the Snapdragon variant. It’s even led some enthusiasts to post a petition calling on Samsung to either ditch the Exynos variant or sell it at a reduced price.
More reading: A history of Samsung’s Exynos flagship processors
The differences look set to continue in 2023, as Qualcomm is expected to offer the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 while Samsung is tipped to offer the Exynos 2300. We’re expecting both companies to adopt Arm’s new-generation CPU cores. A recent leak even suggested that Qualcomm will opt for one Cortex-X3 core, two older Cortex-A710 cores (ostensibly to maintain 32-bit support), two Cortex-A720 cores, and three Cortex-A510 cores. There’s no word on what Samsung will offer next year, but we’re looking forward to details in this regard.
Moving to the GPU front, 2022 saw the debut of an AMD GPU inside the Exynos chipset. Unfortunately for Samsung, this debut coincided with Qualcomm offering a big graphical upgrade on paper for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Our own tests showed that the Snapdragon model was indeed superior to the Exynos variant when it came to GPU performance. We hope Samsung and AMD are able to truly flex their graphical muscle with their sophomore chipset in 2023.
The Exynos/AMD partnership didn't get off to an earth-shattering start, but we're interested to see what comes next.
It’s also worth noting that the Exynos 2200 supports ray-tracing for better reflections and lighting. We haven’t seen any games making use of this tech on the Galaxy S22 series, so we hope this situation changes next year with the new Exynos chipset. You can be sure that Qualcomm is investigating the tech too, but we’re not sure if it’ll debut next year.
Qualcomm does, however, have a feather in its cap in 2022 as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 supports 8K HDR video recording while the Exynos 2200 lacks this feature. It doesn’t look like the Snapdragon S22 phones support this feature though, presumably due to Samsung wanting to ensure feature parity. We hope the next Exynos processor offers this feature so both phones gain 8K HDR capabilities.
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One other potentially major differentiating factor is the choice of foundry or chip producer. Samsung’s foundry manufactured both the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Exynos 2200 this year, but Qualcomm turned to TSMC for the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1. This Plus chip offers huge efficiency gains on paper, presumably due to TSMC’s manufacturing process. So 2023’s Snapdragon chipset could be superior to the Exynos 2300 if Qualcomm opts for TSMC again.
Then again, there’s also a wild rumor out of Korea suggesting that Samsung will skip flagship Exynos chipsets in 2023 and 2024 in favor of releasing a major in-house chipset in 2025. That would be unprecedented if true, so we’d take it with a healthy dose of salt. Furthermore, Samsung’s semiconductor division told us that “no specific decision” has been made just yet.
Which one do you think will reign supreme in the latest chapter of Exynos versus Snapdragon? Let us know via the poll below.