There are a flurry of reports on Monday morning detailing extensive benchmarks for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile platform, the chip that will power some of the best Android handsets this year including the Galaxy S9.
I immediately thought of all the previous years when Qualcomm would come out with test results for its flagship chips ahead of launches. The company would round up a few media outlets, provide them with reference devices packing the latest Snapdragon hardware and allow them to publish their findings well before the first handsets to pack that chip were actually released. Wait a minute… that has never happened before today!
Yes, Qualcomm would unveil its next-gen mobile platform before the Galaxy S model that would use it was even official. And yes, we would see benchmark tests pop up before the phone launched,
but they were never official. This means Qualcomm is dying to tell the world how fast the Galaxy S9 will be. So what changed?
UPDATE: Qualcomm reached out to BGR to point out that it had conducted similar public benchmark tests for the Snapdragon 835 and 820 in previous years before the first commercial devices were launched in stores — see the full update at the end of this post.
Well, for starters, Qualcomm isn’t in the same position anymore as in previous years. It has to fight a bunch of battles that may all be affecting its bottom line.
The most critical conflict is the legal war with Apple over chip exclusivity deals and royalties. Tied to it are various investigations from regulators in markets around the world. In those cases, Qualcomm is facing fines of around $1 billion, give or take a few hundred million. The most recent penalty comes from the EU region, but there are plenty of others.
Then there’s increased competition from the likes of Samsung and Huawei, which are coming up with their own alternatives to Apple’s and Qualcomm’s best chips. Finally, there’s a possible takeover from Broadcom that just won’t go away.
With all that in mind, we shouldn’t be surprised to see various tech sites dedicate ample time to Snapdragon 845 and its performance. Stories in Android Central, Android Police, and CNET are a few examples. We’re looking at thorough tests that show how fast the Snapdragon 845 is compared to the Snapdragon 835. They’re great, if you’re into benchmarks. They also have a particular type of narrative that almost sounds like an apology.
Of course it’s fast! That’s what we expect from every new Snapdragon generation, to be faster than the chipset it’s replacing.
But all these reports are quick to point out that benchmarks do not tell the whole story, and that synthetic scores will not always result in the same smooth experience. Just look at last year’s plethora of Snapdragon 835-powered devices. They all score similarly in benchmarks, yet not all of them are able to deliver the same performance, and it’s usually the iPhone that wins, including older models. The same thing will happen with the 845-powered phones this year.
This isn’t even about the iPhone X at this point, although I will point out that, in light of Qualcomm’s decision to allow the media to publish benchmarks, the best Snapdragon chip from 2018 is nowhere near as powerful as the best iPhone chip from 2017. This is about Qualcomm’s fears.
A report last week suggested that the US version of the Galaxy S9 will be slower than the international one. Guess which one has a Snapdragon 845 chip inside and which one comes with an Exynos 9810 chipset under the hood. The newly published benchmarks confirm that the leaked Snapdragon 845 Geekbench screenshot was accurate. The chip averages around 2,400 and 8,200 in single- and multi-core tests, respectively. Compare that to over 4,200 and 10,000 for the iPhone X and 8 in the same test.
Remember, again, this isn’t about the iPhone, though none of these Snapdragon 845 benchmark reviews mention Apple’s A11 processor, which happens to be Qualcomm’s main rival right now. Isn’t that convenient?
If the Exynos 9810 chip that Samsung just made is significantly faster than the Snapdragon 845, as rumors suggest, Samsung won’t be able to really show it this year. The company has to offer the same Galaxy S9 experience around the world. But who’s to say that, come next year, the Galaxy S10 will still use a flagship Snapdragon chip? If Samsung is getting that good at making smartphone chips, Qualcomm is in a world of trouble. Because Samsung might be looking to sell those chips to Android device makers who would usually ink deals with Qualcomm.
All of that would explain why Qualcomm is dying to tell the world how incredibly fast the Snapdragon 845 is with less than two weeks to go until the Galaxy S9 launches.
UPDATE: Qualcomm reached out to BGR to point out that it had conducted similar public benchmark tests for the Snapdragon 835 and 820 in previous years before the first commercial devices were launched in stores.
The Snapdragon 835 performance reviews were released in mid-March last year, a few days before the Galaxy S8 was unveiled. The benchmarks were performed more than a month later compared to 2018, but the Galaxy S8 was announced only in late March 2017, more than a month later than the Galaxy S9’s launch schedule. Here are some of them: AnandTech, Android Police, and CNET. This explains why I could not find any Snapdragon 825 reviews from January or February 2017, and my own memory wasn’t at all helpful.
The same goes for the Snapdragon 820, whose early performance reviews were published in mid-December 2015, about a month before the Le Max Pro was unveiled at CES 2016 — that was the first Snapdragon 820 phone to be announced. Here’s AnandTech’s take on the chip’s performance.
In light of all that, I do have to slightly alter my initial opinion. Qualcomm may indeed have a harder year ahead than usual, both when it comes to legal problems and more pressure from competitors. An Exynos 9810 benchmark leak that hit the web after my original post went up seems to reinforce the idea that Samsung might become a tough Qualcomm competitor in the near future. Furthermore, Qualcomm may be dying to tell you how fast the Galaxy S9’s Snapdragon 835 chip is. But when it comes to allowing the media to test its latest mobile platform before it hits the market, Qualcomm did not change a thing.