Geekbench Chief: Android Stagnates While iPhone Soars

The go-to performance benchmark for phones is Primate Labs’ Geekbench 4, and the iPhone 8’s new A11 Bionic chip has produced scores that are so high compared to flagships like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 that it’s causing the benchmark company’s founder to question what’s going on with Android.

"The thing that I don't fully understand is why performance has seemed to stagnate on the Android side," said John Poole, founder of Primate Labs. "Where you don't see these big leaps forward. I don't understand what's happening there."

The A11 Bionic processor in the iPhone 8 and iPhone X is the fastest in a phone yet.

The A11 Bionic processor in the iPhone 8 and iPhone X is the fastest in a phone yet.

On the multicore portion of the Geekbench 4 test, the iPhone 8’s A11 Bionic processor scored 10,170. The fastest Android phone we’ve tested, the Note 8, hit 6,564. That’s 54 percent slower. The iPhone 8 also blew away the Android competition on the 3DMark graphics test and on our own 4K video-editing test.

MORE: iPhone 8 Is World's Fastest Phone (It's Not Even Close)

Today's top-tier Android phones use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor. We reached out to Qualcomm to comment about the performance gap between its chip and Apple's A11 Bionic, and we will update this story when we hear back.

So is the A11’s performance advantage overkill? Not when you consider how we’re now starting to use phones — and what’s coming next.

"At this point, you've got desktop-class performance in a handset. There's no way of looking at it any other way," said Poole. I wouldn't have thought to use my first-generation iPhone to edit video. I would've thought you were crazy."

But how will phones leverage this additional horsepower? Poole points to virtual reality, augmented reality and machine learning.

Older iPhones running an A9 chip can handle AR apps created with Apple’s ARKit, but the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X have been optimized for AR via the A11 Bionic processor, as well as the cameras, gyroscope and accelerometer.

Augmented reality is one area where the A11 chip can really flex its muscles.

Augmented reality is one area where the A11 chip can really flex its muscles.

If you look at the Geekbench 4 numbers, the iPhone 8 is technically faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 7th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, but is that really the case? Yes and no.

"Everybody looks at the A11 scores and they go, ‘Holy crap, this is . . . what does this mean? Are these even comparable?’ said Poole. "Well, yes, they're comparable, but at the same time, you're not going to use your phone to render a huge video because, simply, the form factor doesn't lend itself to it."

Poole is referring to the difference between burst performance and sustained performance. Laptops can keep up their speeds for a longer period of time because they have active cooling. With an iPhone or other smartphone, the processor will eventually generate more heat than the case can dissipate.

But that doesn’t diminish what Apple has accomplished with the A11 Bionic chip. Whether it’s for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, the performance gap between iOS and Android has suddenly widened. And when you’re paying $700 to $1,000 for a new phone, you want something that feels future proof.

"I think there are all sorts of other cool things that we're going to be able to do on our phones down the road that we can't even necessarily comprehend right now," Poole said.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.