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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.
2021’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.
It looks like there’s a possibility these enthusiasts might get what they want in 2023. Qualcomm and Samsung announced a deal earlier this year that will see Snapdragon processors power Galaxy flagship phones “globally” as of next year.
More reading: A history of Samsung’s Exynos flagship processors
“And what I can say at this point is we were 75% on Galaxy S22 before the agreement (sic). You should be thinking about we’re going to be much better than that on Galaxy S23 and beyond,” Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon noted at the time. “It’s a multi-year agreement. And that’s probably what I can tell you. You should think about us powering their devices globally.”
Qualcomm’s wording does leave room for interpretation though, as it didn’t say that 100% of Galaxy S23 phones will have Snapdragon silicon. So it’s possible one or two markets might still get an Exynos version.
In any event, Qualcomm is gearing up to offer the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which is now all but guaranteed to power the Galaxy S23 series. We’ve seen a sketchy leak before, but we’re guessing Arm’s Cortex-X3, Cortex-A715, and Cortex-A510 will power the new processor along with an upgraded Adreno GPU.
It seems like a given that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 will power the Galaxy S23 series. But what about a potential Exynos 2300?
We’re not sure if an Exynos 2300 is in the works and will arrive in any Galaxy S23 models. But we’d expect a similar CPU as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. 2022 also saw the debut of an AMD GPU in a flagship Exynos SoC, so an Exynos 2300 will likely offer upgraded AMD graphics as well.
The AMD GPU lagged behind the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 when it came to classic benchmarks, but it supported hardware-based ray tracing. This was a first for a smartphone, but no games actually offered the feature. It’s possible that Qualcomm will catch up and offer ray-tracing support too, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
It’s also worth noting that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 offered 8K HDR support versus standard 8K support on the Exynos 2200. However, 8K HDR wasn’t available on Snapdragon versions of the Galaxy S22 series. So we hope a so-called Exynos 2300 catches up and offers this feature — if the SoC is indeed coming.
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.
Which one do you think will reign supreme in the latest chapter of Exynos versus Snapdragon? Let us know via the poll below.