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Geekbench 4 is currently free: why benchmarks don't matter

Geekbench 4 is currently free on the iOS App Store, and Geekbench 4 Pro is currently free on the Google Play Store. So what are you waiting for? Go get it, download it, and benchmark your phone if you so choose. But I am making a claim: benchmarks do not matter anymore. Phones have gotten so fast and operating systems so efficient, there is not a noticeable performance delta between two phones that may have vastly different benchmark scores. This is true, with one slight exception: video-heavy applications. When it comes to 3D rendering, modern processors still struggle with optimized applications or raw speed. To render a 4K project in Premiere using a cellphone is one thing, to render a 3D 8K project from Cinema 4D or After Effects is a completely other thing. Of these two examples I just mentioned, rendering 4K projects in Premiere is possible, but there is a noticeable performance delta between processors. If I were to render such a project on the iPhone X, which hosts the A11 Bionic chip from Apple and scores over 10,000 in multithreaded workloads, it would be much faster than phones with a Snapdragon 835, which only scores around 6,000 in multithreaded applications. When it comes to comparing previous-generation processors, like the A10 Fusion chip or the Snapdragon 820, performance deltas get even worse. True strides have been made in ARM processors to be more efficient. However, you still can't run x86 or x86_64 instruction set applications on ARM processors due to the poor virtualization support. (Technically, it's possible, but not usable.)

Geekbench 4 Pro is free on the Google Play Store

But alas, I'm not giving you reasons why benchmarks matter. I need to give you reasons why they don't matter. In fact, I'm going to argue even 2 year old phones and $100 phones at this point are completely acceptable. Why? Because most of the time, between day to day usage, the difference is not noticeable.

My text messages

Opening your messages? Opened! Opening photos, contacts, email, camera, settings, or maybe some other app? All opened! Phones are so fast your $100 phone will take about the same amount of time as your $1000 phone (*ahem* a post on how expensive the Note 8, iPhone X, and Pixel 2 is coming soon). Sure, from a cold start there's that small, but noticeable difference, and my three year old Android phone running a custom OS and a battery half dead also sees a noticeable difference, but unless you're opening these apps from a cold start every time, there is not a noticeable difference.

Promotional material for the Xiaomi Redmi 5A

I recently considered getting a cheap phone, like the Redmi 5A pictured above. At 599RMB ($90USD) it was a steal. Great performance, great battery life, and more. I just had a one issue with the phone: the camera wasn't so great. Don't get me wrong, the camera is absolutely phenomenal when you consider the retail price. But I wasn't really looking for price-to-performance here, I was looking for a better camera than my current phone. (As a side note, I'm now waiting for prices of the LG V30, Note 8, and the Mate 10 to drop in the used market. Patiently. There's no way I'm getting an iPhone, the ones with good cameras will not be dropping in price as far as I'd like them to.)

Promotional material for the Honor 6X

Xiaomi isn't the only one making cheap phones. If you want a phone that gives you a US warranty, Huawei has brought the Honor line of phones to the US. For $200, this phone is great too. This isn't just a discussion about cheap phones, though.

A blurry photo of an iPhone X Geekbench score

Benchmarks don't affect real-world day to day usage.

If they did, we should all run out and buy the iPhone X right now. If the performance delta was that noticeable, I would be considering it too. But I'm not waiting minutes to check my notifications. I'm waiting milliseconds. To shave off milliseconds at the price of $1000 isn't worth it to me.

We're talking featureset now.

There are several topics of featureset that I want to talk about, some will be saved for a post in a later date, some will be talked about today.

BlackBerry software update

OS, carrier, and app updates: coming soon! While important, this deserves a post of its own. I can write lengthy arguments why the iOS update system is better, or why the Android update system is better (although I would generally side with iOS on this one), or why both of them are bad or good. But it's hard to summarize the main points on this, so I can leave it for another day.

Samsung's Bixby Vision

Camera features: our cameras in our smartphones are great. We can take great pictures, process photos in RAW, take videos in RAW with full manual controls, etc. But what if we want the simplicity, or features that don't exist? Samsung recently introduced Bixby Vision with their newest Galaxy line of phones, where you can identify objects by holding up your camera. Google is also rolling out Google Lens, with the same feature, and works with photos already taken, and will be coming out to all Android phones running Android Oreo or later. iPhones can now scan QR codes with iOS 11. Google's ZSL HDR+ camera computational photography brings about stunning photos. All of these require modern day processors, but not the absolute fastest ones. Google's ZSL HDR+ camera has been modded and ported to nearly every device running 64-bit Android 6.0 and has support of the Camera2 API. It does wonders with phones that have bad cameras, and even though you can't fix bad hardware with good software, it's proved you can definitely improve it. I'll write more on why processors matter for the camera in the future, but suffice it to say that the ISP on many processors isn't fully there yet, but many features that are being added today don't need it.

Other day-to-day usage scenarios: this isn't meant to go on so long, but there are many features that don't exist, and don't require a fast processor. Grouped notifications by app is missing from iOS 10 since Apple removed it from iOS 9, and other small things, like customizing your phone's theme (unavailable on iOS and stock Android 7.0) are also missing. These don't require fast processors at all. Heck, my sister's $20 Walmart phone has both of these features. But there are many more, and unnecessary to dive into. I think I've gotten my point across.

Thank you,

Gideon Tong