The big players in the smartphone processor market are definitely Huawei, Samsung and Qualcomm. Qualcomm is a supplier to most smartphone manufacturers, while Samsung and Huawei manufacture their own chipsets. Are one of these processors better than the rest?
What exactly are processors, anyway?
Smartphone processors always come as single-chip systems (SoC). This means that several processor types are lasered into a single piece of silicon, which significantly influences the working speed of the smartphone. The clock rate and the number of cores of the central processing unit (CPU) do not say anything about how fast the smartphone works in certain tasks.
An SoC consists of CPU, GPU, LTE modem, multimedia processor, security, signal processor, AI accelerator and often also units for Bluetooth and WiFi. This variety of features makes it difficult to talk about the one fastest mobile phone processor.
The top-range Android smartphones released in the first half of 2018 will pack one of the following three chips:
Smartphone processors in 2018
|Chipset||Snapdragon 845||Exynos 9810||HiSilicon Kirin 970|
|Date||February 2018||February 2018||October 2017|
|CPU||Kryo 385: 4 x ARM Cortex-A75 + 4 x Cortex-A55||4 x Custom-ARM + 4 x ARM Cortex-A55||4 x ARM Cortex-A53, 4 x -A73|
|CPU-Freq (max.)||2.8 GHz||2.9 GHz||2.4 GHz|
|GPU||Adreno 630||Mali G72 MP18||Mali G72 MP12|
|AI-Processor||Hexagon 685||GPU||AI NPU|
|WiFi||802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ad, 4,6 Gbit/s||802.11a/b/g/n/ac||802.11a/b/g/n/ac|
|LTE||Qualcomm X20 Modem: Cat. 18, 1.2 Gbit/s||Cat. 18, 1.2 Gbit/s||Cat. 18, 1.2 Gbit/s|
|Production process||10 nm||10 nm||10 nm|
|Extras||Spectra 280 ISP, Eye-Tracking and 6DoF for VR, security processor||Dedicated imaging chip, security processor||Dual-ISP|
Almost all smartphone chips use the ARM architecture for their CPU. ARM provides CPU classes of different strengths, which can be found in several variations in smartphone SoCs. The trick is the composition and timing of the chips.
The situation is similar with the graphics processors. Qualcomm uses the Adrenos to develop its own accelerators. Samsung and Huawei, on the other hand, use the Mali units from ARM. All of them are addressed by Android via OpenGL in different versions. The latest models also rely on volcano support. From the point of view of the game developers, this makes the chips largely interchangeable and their gaming performance comparable in benchmarks.
There is a difference between fast and slow GPUs in Android when you start a new game with a really old smartphone. Unlike with a Windows computer, the games do not (usually) jerk. Instead, they show less detail.
The new Snapdragon in 2018 saw a major graphics update, and Virtual Reality is clearly the focus here. The resolution and deferred rendering have been optimized. There are six degrees of freedom for motion tracking without external additional hardware. The chipset is not only expected in smartphones, but also in stand-alone VR headsets.
Unlike Huawei, Qualcomm still doesn't rely on a dedicated AI processing unit for its chipsets. The Hexagon DSP performs AI-specific tasks, but also serves as a sensor hub in the background.
Recently, the Sony XZ2 was released with the Snapdragon 845 under the hood, you can read all about its performance below:
The new Exynos 9810, which powers the Galaxy S9 (in European markets, the US received the Snapdragon version), got a biometric upgrade, as well as improved 3D face recognition. So far, neither Apple nor Samsung can satisfy their customers. The GPU responsible for this will be reduced from 20 to 18 arithmetic units. However, the resulting loss in performance can be compensated for by CPU clock rate.
Without the additional sub-unit for AI tasks, Samsung takes a different design approach than Huawei or Qualcomm. Due to the lack of benchmarks for AI and Deep Learning, we cannot yet say whether Samsung is making a mistake here.
With the Mate 10 Pro Huawei introduced its first chipset with an AI accelerator. When you look at the marketing of the new smartphone, it quickly becomes clear that the brand has put its money in AI. The chipset has hardly improved anything around it. This however was not a necessary move, as the Kirin 960 in the Mate 9 had already left competitors behind, with excellent graphic power and speed. Together with the new neural processing unit, however, Huawei should definitely be upping its game.
The Huawei-NPU is still seldom used. People are betting that Android will adapt, and that non-optimized apps will work with the NPU instead of the CPU. These would then be partly accelerated by a factor of 25 or require less energy by a factor of 50.
Is there one fastest processor?
The 2018 chipsets have strengths in different areas, so it's hard to say which is the best. Qualcomm delivers innovations, particularly in graphics, and is getting ready for stand-alone VR. At the same time, however, the brand is also mastering tasks for AI assistants that work offline. Samsung, specializes in more efficient and hopefully more accurate 3D face recognition. Huawei will not launch its new chipset until six months after, and hopes that it will reap the rewards from its investment in AI.
If you're phone is running slowly, we have some tips for you:
What processor does your smartphone have? How fast is it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!