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What's the fastest smartphone processor in 2019?

Update: Kirin 980 & Snapdragon 855
What's the fastest smartphone processor in 2019?

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 Wi-Fi. This variety of features makes it difficult to talk about the fastest mobile phone processor.

The top-range Android smartphones released in the last half of 2018 or start of 2019 will pack one of the following three chips:

Smartphone processors in 2018/19

Brand Qualcomm Samsung Huawei
Chipset Snapdragon 855 Exynos 9810 HiSilicon Kirin 980
Date December 2018 February 2018 August 2018
CPU Kryo 485: 4 x ARM Cortex-A76 + 4 x Cortex-A55 4 x Custom-ARM + 4 x ARM Cortex-A55 4 x ARM Cortex-A76, 4 x -A55
CPU-Freq (max.) 2.84 GHz 2.9 GHz 2.6 GHz
GPU Adreno 640 Mali G72 MP18 Mali G76 MP10
AI-Processor Hexagon 690 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 X24 Modem: Cat. 20, 2 Gbit/s Cat. 18, 1.2 Gbit/s Cat. 21, 1.4 Gbit/s
Production process 7 nm 10 nm 7 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.

AndroidPIT qualcomm snapdragon 835 benchmark event 144717
Qualcomm proudly presents its Adreno series in San Diego. / © AndroidPIT

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.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 855

The new Snapdragon for 2019 is a major update, and Virtual Reality and AI are clearly in 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.

On the key new features of the Snapdragon 855 is a new DSP. It's called the Hexagon 690 and features a new Tensor Accelerator, designed specifically for AI-related stuff. This is Qualcomm's entry in the AI-enabled smartphone chip race, of which Apple and Huawei are both involved. Qualcomm's AI chip achieves 7 trillion calculations per second, which is 2 trillion more than the A12 Bionic

No phones with a Snapdragon 855 have been released yet, but we expect the Samsung S10 line, which launches next week, to be some of the first in the world to feature this chipset.

samsung galaxy s10 plus triple camera
Is this the new Samsung Galaxy S10? / © Phone Arena

Samsung Exynos 9810

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.

AndroidPIT Samsung Galaxy S9 0871
The Galaxy S9 packs the Exynos 9810 in Europe, but the US version has a Snapdragon 845 / © AndroidPIT by Irina Efremova

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.

Huawei/HiSilicon Kirin 980

With the Mate 20 Pro Huawei introduced its first phone with the AI chipset known as the Kirin 980. 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, which launched at IFA 2018 in Berlin, made some big promises on stage. It was the first SoC in the world to be manufactured using a 7nmk process. It also has some big AI features that promise faster than ever performance, at lower power consumption.

huawei mate 20 pro 05
The Kirin 980 processor in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro gives an improved experience with AI functionality. / © AndroidPIT

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 and 2019 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, with its new chipset, is reaping the rewards from its investment in AI. 

If your 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!

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  • NEIL 5 months ago Link to comment

    ARM CORTEX HAS BEEN declined a Stage Position...all chips copy design from it.Cortex A7 ...is a real King.

  • You should have included MediaTek as well. MediaTek is giving a tough competition to these brands with high quality and inexpensive processors...

  •   16
    Deactivated Account May 21, 2018 Link to comment

    hate to say it... apple wins this one by a long shot.

  • The "fastest" doesn't really matter to me any more. Benchmarks, big whoop. Most apps run on 5.x and most people don't run complex 3D apps. Chrome, email, text, photos, streaming. Processor speed doesn't make a phone to me any more.

  • An interesting read but I would have thought that more processors would have been included. Such as some of the top chips from Mediatek, their x25 or x27 since those claim to be equivalent to Qualcomm snapdragon chip's.

  • As an Android bottom feeder with no use for and other things to buy than the best processor, my experiences with ARM and Intel have been quite good, but Mediatek on a recent tablet is a deal breaker. This mag would do some of us a service by benchmarking and comparing the processors available on sub U$150 devices.

  • All can say is the xzpremium is the fastest

  • The table in the article lists a percentage under each listed option. The percentage is labelled as the Android pit index. Since you haven't bothered to explain what this metric refers to within the article, nor how it is calculated, it's entirely unhelpful.

  • what about one plus 3t we all know that opls 3t is a lot faster than S7edge although I always buy samsung galaxy S series I've to admit that with almost have the money I can buy onpls3t which is in the top of benchmarks...S7edge is like 20th or even less..google pixel XL is also faster than S7edge, but it costs too much...onpls 3t is even better than Google Pixel XL less than have money price

  • Moto M has Helio processor. Now you can test and review it. MTK Helio P15 64-bit Processor

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