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The fastest smartphone processor: a comparison

Update: Updated overview

When you buy a smartphone, you often ask yourself many questions. One question may be: which processor is the fastest? Whether or not benchmark results should sway your purchasing decision, in this article you can see which of the processors is the fastest and – most importantly – how these perform in everyday life.

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Smartphone processors: an overview

The processor is the core component of a smartphone, and also determines the working speed of a device. As a result, it's essential that it works quickly. But what is it that makes one processor faster than another? Here the clock rate and number of cores won't give you the full story. You'll find more in the chips than the meager data sheets you'll get in the smartphone store.

One chip systems (System on Chip - SoC) have several components. These include a central processor (CPU), graphics processor (GPU), LTE modem, multimedia processor, security and a signal processor. This variety of features makes it difficult to talk about "the fastest" smartphone processor.

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Processors have a heterogeneous architecture. / © Qualcomm

A comparison of the fastest smartphone processors

Below you'll find the results for the fastest CPU and GPU measurements, which will give you a rundown on which Android models currently have the fastest smartphone processors.

Processor Exynos 8890 Snapdragon 820 Kirin 955 Tegra X1
Test Device Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge OnePlus 3 Huawei P9 Pixel C Tablet
AndroidPIT-Index 100 Percent (Reference) 94,66 Percent 87,80 Percent 85,29 Percent

This index is made up of the combined results from 3DMark, Geekbench, PCMark and Octane.

The ARM CPU: the common donominator of smartphone processors?

The trick here has more to do with the composition than the clocking of the chips. The Galaxy S4 has made the big.LITTLE principle of the ARM in smartphones a success. This is largely due to the pairing of two different processor clusters in a single housing. The big cluster has four high-performance CPU cores, while the LITTLE cluster has up to four power-saving cores.

The efficient LITTLE quad core takes over the background tasks, whereas the energy-hungry big cluster only comes to life for short phases. As a result, even though the processors are faster, you'll still be able to maintain the life of the battery. 

That said, the fast quad core will step on the gas when you're using your device, so the smartphone will feel fast when you need it the most. Big.LITTLE processors are now the industry norm and some of them are already making their way into the mid-range market.

According to our measurements, we found the Exynos 8890 to be the fastest smartphone processor. Although it doesn't deliver the highest CPU performance, it functions well when it comes to complex game graphics and is close to the Nvidia Tegra X1 chip. The Kirin 950 in the low-priced Honor 8 turns out to be the fastest smartphone processor in PCMark's Office and Video Editing benchmarks, but doesn't provide gamers with a great graphics experience.

The graphics unit: big differences in gaming?

Chip manufacturer Nvidia offers the fastest graphics processor (GPU) for smartphones, and the number of games that are starting to adopt it is getting bigger and bigger. Nvidia has curated a list of Play Store titles that are supported by Nvidia's GPU.

nvidia shield package
Nvidia has the fastest smartphone GPU, giving games enhanced graphics. / © AndroidPIT

Android devices with the Nvidia GPU

The difference between fast and slow GPUs can only really be felt when you start a new game on an old smartphone. Unlike a computer the games (mostly) don't start to stutter, but the graphics are noticeably less detailed.

real racing graphic details difference
Real Racing 3 shows details like mirrors and dashboard lighting only with a fast processor. Above the Exynos 7420 in the Galaxy S6 Edge, below the Snapdragon 400 in the Moto G (2013) / © AndroidPIT
AndroidPIT Google Pixel C 8784
The Google Pixel C tablet achieves more than 40.000 points in Basemark X. / © AndroidPIT

According to the 3DMark Sling Shot graphics benchmark, the fastest smartphone GPU in a portable Android device are the US Snapdragon editions of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The Pixel C also comes highly recommended for those who don't want to give up good graphics.

AndroidPIT samsung S7 epic citadel 1271
The Galaxy S7, through use of the Game Launcher, be the player's tip. / © AndroidPIT
Amazon price for Samsung Galaxy S7
$569.99
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Lowest price: Samsung Galaxy S7
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The fastest smartphone processor: the Snapdragon 820 and 821

The Snapdragon 820 with four cores is faster than the Snapdragon 810 with eight cores. The secret lies, among other things, in the updated Hexagon digital signal processor and optimizations for machine-learning algorithms. These help to improve camera performance and increases the number of successful snapshots.

AndroidPIT Google Pixel Event2016 9894
Invisibly optimizes the images: The Snapdragon 821 in the Pixel. / © AndroidPIT

The Google Pixel is one of the first devices that makes massive use of these new features. In terms of benchmarks, even if its gaming performance is convincing, the chip itself doesn't provide too many surprises. Its real impact spreads into everyday tasks instead, like photography.

Samsung's Exynos 8: the processor is only part of the speed mystique

With the Exynos 8890, Samsung has succeeded again in producing the fastest smartphone processor. But that's not the only reason Galaxy devices feel so fast. The short loading times for apps is achieved only with Samsung's proprietary UFS 2.0 flash memory card, which is now also available other devices such as OnePlus 3 and the Google Pixel.

AndroidPIT OnePlus3 soft gold 6527
OnePlus opts for the fast Samsung memory. / © AndroidPIT

MediaTek Helio X30

Formerly known as a cheap chip supplier, the manufacturer MediaTek is gradually becoming a mature competitor to Qualcomm and Samsung. Details on its Helio X30 have now been presented on paper, but since we do not have any devices which carry this chip that we can test we will be reserving our judgement for now. 

The fastest smartphone processor: conclusion

Devices with the Snapdragon 820 and the Exynos 8890 in the Galaxy S7 are of comparable speed and quality. Huawei and Honor smartphones carrying HiSilicon chips are also great for everyday tasks, but are much less suitable for more demanding gaming.

In addition to the processors, flash memory is also a decisive factor in the perceived speed of smartphones. Here the Google Pixel, OnePlus 3, Samsung Galaxy S6, as well as the newer Huawei and Honor devices, will deliver the best value.

Are you interested in speeding things up on your current smartphone? Here are a few tips:

Is a fast processor something you look for when buying a new smartphone? Do faster processors really matter for how you use your smartphone?

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