Samsung Galaxy Note 4 delivers poor graphics performance vs. Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Posted:
in iPhone edited November 2014
While boasting an "Octa Core" Application Processor option and an extremely high resolution display, Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 falls flat in running GPU intensive apps and games--particularly in comparison to Apple's iPhone 6 Plus.

iPhone 6 Plus vs Galaxy Note 4


The first benchmarks showing off the actual performance users will get from the new Note 4 highlights that Samsung appears to be making the wrong engineering choices, and that the conventional wisdom about Samsung's advantages in operating its own chip design and fab are also wrong.

Bad Engineering Choices

Samsung has pushed screen technology ahead of its own processor capabilities, resulting in extremely poor performance in high definition.

In an apparent effort to win the "spec war," Samsung began aggressively cranking up device resolutions on its most expensive premium flagships after Steve Jobs demonstrated iPhone 4's Retina Display back in 2010. Prior to that, Samsung was internally focused on smaller devices, not larger, higher resolution displays.

In contrast, Apple has only changed its flagship iPhone resolutions every two years since, making iPhone 5 taller and the new iPhone 6 & 6 Plus both larger and more pixel dense in the move to "Retina HD" displays.

iPhone resolutions


The most obvious result has been that iOS app developers have had a much easier time managing the changes in resolution, so they can focus on new apps and features rather than testing across a broad range of configurations. That's apparent in the fact that nearly all new apps and games appear for iOS first, and only arrive on Android later after they've proven to be broadly popular in the App Store.

However, there's also another problem: by pushing resolution numbers so fast (and without any regard for whether having more pixels actually makes a discernible, qualitative difference), Samsung has pushed screen technology ahead of its own processor capabilities, resulting in extremely poor performance in high definition.

Earlier, AppleInsider noted that Apple's own leap to a Retina HD 1080p screen on iPhone 6 Plus resulted in graphics that were in some cases slower at their native resolution than last year's iPhone 5s: rendering a challenging OpenGL ES 3.0 3D scene dropped frame rates from 24.4 to 19 fps. Samsung's new Exynos-powered Note 4 drops down to 10.5 fps--almost half that of iPhone 6 Plus-- in the same test

Samsung's own even-higher resolution Note 4 (or equally high resolution Galaxy S5 flagship) both turn in benchmarks far lower than Apple's new 6 Plus--and less than half that of last year's iPhone 5s. In terms of fps, the latest benchmarks show that Samsung's new Exynos-powered Note 4 drops down to 10.5 fps--almost half that of iPhone 6 Plus-- in the same test.

Looking at the fairly decent, low level theoretical scores of the GPUs Samsung uses (combined with much higher clock rates and more RAM), it appears that the company's devotion to extremely high resolution numbers is a spec list checkmark (rather than a real feature that benefits users) and is a primary contributing reason for poor real life scores in rendering 3D OpenGL scenes.

In other words, the chips Samsung is choosing to use could theoretically match Apple's latest iPhones if they were not also driving tons of additional pixels that contribute little to no benefit to users. Think of it as a reasonably powerful engine installed into a monster truck with massive wheels it can barely turn.

Samsung itself has been marketing Note 4 to less sophisticated buyers as a "for the colorful" device along the lines of Apple's iPhone 5c ads, in a series of "Love Notes" spots.



However, even for a consumer device, Samsung appears to have picked the wrong screen resolution for Note 4, given the horsepower of its own Exynos 5 Octa Core Application Processor, or even Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805, which Samsung will use in most international markets.

Of course, at the same time there are also a variety of other Android devices with the same 1080p resolution as iPhone 6 Plus, and they don't score as well either. That's a fact we earlier blamed on Google's Android, particularly its shoddy implementation of OpenGL that squanders the capabilities of faster chips with more cores and more available RAM.

Apple's iPhone 6 A8 GPU destroys Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, Moto X & Nexus 5 /w fewer, slower cores & much less RAM $AAPL pic.twitter.com/SMgPqoYYrC

-- Daniel Eran Dilger (@DanielEran)

Samsung falling behind in Application Processors

Samsung is still scrambling to bring its Note 4 to market in the wake of iPhone 6 Plus, but initial GPU details of the Note 4 are already available on Kishonti Informatics' GFXBench website.

What they show is not just an underpowered leap to an "even-higher resolution" screen; they also show that Samsung is continuing to license basic ARM Mali graphics for use in the Exynos Application Processors it is putting into its own premium devices despite expecting the same price from consumers as Apple's iPhones, but for a less powerful, less responsive device.

At the same time, Samsung is marketing its Eyxnos 5 chip as "Octa Core," as if the number of cores are a meaningful frame of reference in terms of power or capacity. The CPU (also a stock ARM design) is only intended to use four cores at a time; there are two sets of cores, four that run at top power, and four baby cores that coast along very efficiently when the device is in standby. Running all eight doesn't even make sense.

Specifically, the Note 4's Exynos 5433 is an ARM "big.LITTLE" design that pairs together sets of four A15 and four A7 cores, each pair designed to work at different clock speeds. Calling Samsung's Exynos "8 core" is like calling a truck "4 wheel drive" when it can effectively only power two wheels at once.

In contrast, both Apple and Qualcomm have purposely avoided ARM's stock big.LITTLE architecture in their own Cyclone A7/A8 or Krait Snapdragon core designs, both of which use fewer cores and more advanced core management to deliver better performance at lower power consumption than the stock ARM technology that Samsung is using.

The Y of Exynos

However, the reason Samsung develops its own Exynos Application Processors is so it can eventually replace Qualcomm; currently that's not possible because Qualcomm holds patents on CDMA, LTE and other advanced carrier technology.

Both Apple and Samsung use Qualcomm's baseband chips to handle wireless modem features while their own proprietary Ax or Exynos Application Processors run the rest of the phone or tablet. This creates a smoke and mirrors marketing charade for Samsung to trumpet features of its "Octa core" Galaxy phones while actually shipping something completely different

At some point, Samsung (and likely Apple, too) will want to integrate their own baseband modems into their own Application Processors rather than paying Qualcomm for a separate chip, but that's currently not feasible. Samsung's Exynos is experimenting with Qualcomm-competing designs in limited markets, both in products that either use Intel's LTE baseband chips or Samsung's own modem-integrated packages.

This fragment of the market (excluding most major markets in North America, Japan, Korea and Japan) is what Samsung addresses with its Exyno-powered Galaxy devices, with the rest of the world getting the same brands of Galaxy devices powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chips. This creates a smoke and mirrors marketing charade for Samsung to trumpet features of its "Octa core" Galaxy phones while actually shipping something completely different.



Read Samsung's marketing doublespeak press release that Shara Tibken loosely edited for CNET and you get a sense of how strategically perfect this sort of muddled, non-specific mess of billowing specifications works to confuse rank and file tech journalists incapable of critical review.

On the other hand, when Samsung shipped defective Exynos Galaxy S4 devices last summer with what AnandTech described as "a broken implementation of the CCI-400 coherent bus interface" with "implications [that] are serious from a power consumption (and performance) standpoint," the news was rarely reported, in part because "neither ARM nor Samsung LSI will talk about the bug publicly, and Samsung didn't fess up to the problem at first either - leaving end users to discover it on their own."

Galaxy S4 chip cost


Last summer, iSuppli reported (above) that Samsung's Galaxy S4 equipped with its own Exynos 5 Octa was substantially more expensive than the North American version of the same phone shipping with a Qualcomm Snapdragon (and both were estimated to be more expensive than iPhone 5).

Samsung's problems with defective Exynos designs (despite using off the shelf ARM technology), paired with chips that are not only more expensive to build but also lack the economies of scale that Apple's A7 and A8 have enjoyed--across tens of millions of iPhones and iPads--makes it easy to understand not only why Apple is more profitable, but also why its Application Processor technology is rapidly evolving faster than Samsung's.

Apple gets Ax series for effort

Samsung's design choices to use ARM's inferior Mali GPU and ARM's big.LITTLE CPU architecture are informative because Samsung isn't struggling (like HTC) to gain access to chip fabs or silicon design expertise. Thanks in part to its decade of partnerships with Apple to develop chips for high volume iPods and iPhones, Samsung is now one of the top chip fabs in existence.

However, having the ability to build the best chips doesn't mean Samsung has the desire to. That's no doubt a contributing reason why Apple began building its own in-house chip design team around five years ago. The "A4" used in iPhone 4 and the original iPad was the first major delivery.

Since then, Apple has rapidly outpaced the rest of the mobile chip design world. Using its volume sales of iOS devices to drive investment in better and better chips leveraging economies of scale, Apple has managed to deploy the first 64-bit mobile processors in a volume product, which also happened to be the highest volume product of last year.

A8


While Samsung ships samples of Exynos devices in some markets, the majority of its smartphone and tablet volumes pay for the development of Qualcomm Snapdragon chips. Yet even Qualcomm insiders noted last year that in its move to 64 bits, "Apple kicked everybody in the balls with this. It's being downplayed, but it set off panic in the industry."

Other chip makers (including many who were sitting on advanced technology) have been left behind in the mobile space because they partnered with hardware makers who couldn't sell their chips. Every generation of Nvidia's Tegra chips, for example, have been installed in loser products ranging from Microsoft's Zune HD to KIN to Surface and Nvidia's own Shield.

Intel and AMD have made very little progress in courting business from mobile devices, and TI's OMAP processor family was abandoned when the company pulled out of the consumer mobile industry (after powering a series of low volume flops including Amazon's Kindle Fire, Nook, BlackBerry Playbook and the Google-Samsung cobranded Galaxy Nexus).

Pedal to the Metal

On top the economies of scale driving (and financing) rapid advancement of Apple's Ax series of Application Processors, the company has also developed its own Metal API as a superior performance alternative to the more general purpose, cross platform OpenGL ES and OpenCL for general computing on a GPU.

Because Samsung doesn't standardize on a single Application Processor family (using both its own Exynos and Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips in the same models) or even a single GPU architecture (using a mix of ARM Mali, PowerVR, and Adreno GPUs across even its latest devices), it can't replicate Apple's Metal in a way that would benefit its own products.

Metal is already seeing adoption just days after iOS 8 became available to consumers; top App Store games have been ported to Metal before even getting to Android.

Using Metal, developers can achieve higher frame rates (and animate more details at any target frame rate) on the same hardware, allowing games on iPhone 6 Plus to further outpace competing devices in its category, widening the nearly 2x performance gap it already enjoys over Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 in generic OpenGL benchmarks.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 246
    Right now, Apple is unmatchable in mobile semiconductor design. Only Intel comes close, but their insistance on using their own GPU designs is a limiting factor.

    nVidia is trying with Project Denver, but a 25W TDP is insane.

    The benefit of this is that A7 and A8 powered devices should serve their owners for quite a long time.


    And, TBH, I get the feeling that Apple's semiconductor team is seeking to compete with Intel's "big iron", so to speak, not their Atom chips. The A7 took a lot of features from Haswell, and the A8 leapfrogs it with h.265 support.

    Not saying we'll see a Mac Pro with an ARM chip any time soon, but the question becomes...when an Ax chip (or a pair) delivers "good enough" OS X performance, will we see them, in consumer grade products? Because I don't think Windows compatibility is nearly as important as it once was, and Microsoft has a [I]very nice, very nearly feature complete[/I] version of Office 2013 that runs on ARM thanks to Windows RT...which I'm sure Satya would love to sell to Mac ARM users to recoup development expenses.
  • Reply 2 of 246
    I will say that the Note 4 display on the demo units at best buy are something else. Are they much better than the Plus screen? No, but they are probably the best mobile screen I've ever seen. Bright, black blacks, crazy viewing angles, and sharp even when 6 inches away. More power efficient apparently as well.

    I didn't think that tech would ever match LCDs but it has. I really think the iPhone 7 will have an OLED screen.

    If you don't 3D game on your phone, it's pretty great. If you do, you'd be better off with a 1080p phone until SOCs catch up.
  • Reply 3 of 246
    kibitzerkibitzer Posts: 1,113member

    Once again, DED fills his analytical chamberpot and dumps it out the window onto Samsung's head.

  • Reply 4 of 246
    calicali Posts: 3,495member
    ...but you won't see Apple making a commercial about this.

    I tried the iPhone 6 yesterday for the first time. Boy is that screen clear and colors are rich and real. Looks so good it almost looks fake. I guess my eyes have adjusted to low quality screens over time.
  • Reply 5 of 246
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by cali View Post

    Boy is that screen clear and colors are rich and real. Looks so good it almost looks fake. I guess my eyes have adjusted to low quality screens over time.

     

    I’m ruined for every other screen I own now. Worst part is that I’d need an entirely new computer to get the Retina Cinema Display.

  • Reply 6 of 246
    mr0cmr0c Posts: 4member
    I’m ruined for every other screen I own now. Worst part is that I’d need an entirely new computer to get the Retina Cinema Display.
    Snap, same here :-)
  • Reply 7 of 246
    The Galaxy Note 4 has clearly better resolution (as measured by ppi and most neutral reviewers). Given the higher resolution it makes sense that it would take more to drive the graphics. The real world difference between them in display quality and performance is probably negligible or dependent on individual preferences.
  • Reply 8 of 246
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    Oh for goodness sakes, I have no love for Samsung but there isn't a game on the market right now that the Note 4 couldn't play, these graphics chips in the current line of mobiles are going to waste. What exactly does this article prove, it's a business phone for goodness sakes. Once the new line of 64bit chips come and if one happens to be faster then the A8, there is a good chance that a few will be, the same comments I just made about the Note 4 will be said here about the iPhone. This is just a silly pissing contest at this point, the current range of chips are fast enough for pretty much anything that you could possibly through at them.
  • Reply 9 of 246
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,394member

    FYI: Galaxy S5 LTE-A (not shown in the table) scored higher than the iPhone 6 Plus.

  • Reply 10 of 246

    hahaha suck it Samsung.

    The iPhone 6 Plus performance 'issue' is getting way too much time around here. There is none. It flies. The only time it hiccups are 3rd party apps that are not optimized, which is not Apple's fault, and undoubtedly that will be sorted soon. 

  • Reply 11 of 246
    I'm not a serious gamer, nor do I try watching movies on the smaller screen. (Remember when TVs were the [QUOTE]small screen[/QUOTE] in contrast to movie theaters?)

    Graphics I *DO* care about are about stabilizing & editing my own videos. Those need a fair amount of graphics horsepower, too. But especially now that Apple's Metal interface bypasses a lot of the overhead associated with the OpenGL libraries, the modest-seeming differences are probably more like 4:1 in favor of the iPhone for in-house graphic creation/editing apps.

    Likewise, somewhat more hard-core graphics fans will want games that are tuned to the phone's capability; with Samsung alone having dozens of resolutions and capabilities, tuning could be ahem, modest. I spoze most game sites don't want to appear to shame developers, or encourage them to cut back their Android efforts, but with Apple's market share in higher-end markets, the big titles could enjoy a LOT more love from their devs, again making the differences rather more than these scores suggest.
  • Reply 12 of 246
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    cali wrote: »
    ...but you won't see Apple making a commercial about this.

    I tried the iPhone 6 yesterday for the first time. Boy is that screen clear and colors are rich and real. Looks so good it almost looks fake. I guess my eyes have adjusted to low quality screens over time.

    It's really nice isn't it, crisp, beautiful colors but the best display I have seen as of yet has to go too the Samsung S5, at twice the resolution of the iPhone 6 and AMOLED, there is quite nothing like it. Everything else about the phone blows though, I hate that cheap plastic feel, would take an iPhone 6 over it anyday but Samsung knows how to make displays, there is no denying that.
  • Reply 13 of 246
    512ke512ke Posts: 771member

    I'm sure the Note 4's graphics are totally adequate for the limited number of advanced games available on Android.

     

    Kidding.  Kind of not.  Not really.

     

    If this were reversed, MAN would Samsung be making noise about it.

  • Reply 14 of 246
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    waltfrench wrote: »
    I'm not a serious gamer, nor do I try watching movies on the smaller screen. (Remember when TVs were %u201Cthe small screen%u201D in contrast to movie theaters?)

    Graphics I *DO* care about are about stabilizing & editing my own videos. Those need a fair amount of graphics horsepower, too. But especially now that Apple's Metal interface bypasses a lot of the overhead associated with the OpenGL libraries, the modest-seeming differences are probably more like 4:1 in favor of the iPhone for in-house graphic creation/editing apps.

    Likewise, somewhat more hard-core graphics fans will want games that are tuned to the phone's capability; with Samsung alone having dozens of resolutions and capabilities, tuning could be ahem, modest. I spoze most game sites don't want to appear to shame developers, or encourage them to cut back their Android efforts, but with Apple's market share in higher-end markets, the big titles could enjoy a LOT more love from their devs, again making the differences rather more than these scores suggest.

    There isn't a video editing program that utilizes Metal yet, there really aren't that many games yet either, that should all change hopefully next year. It's not OpenGL that will help video editors but OpenCL which OS8 finially supports.
  • Reply 15 of 246
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    I'll take speed, accurate colors and better sunlight visibility, over garish OLED colors and perfect blacks that never matter for readability and can only be seen in dim light :p
  • Reply 16 of 246
    It's not completely clear to me, but it seems these benchmarks are based on the "Exynos" variation of Samsung devices, which are not actually sold in many markets, right? In fact, it is the Snapdragon hardware which consumer in Europe, US and Australia are actually going to encounter, I think.
  • Reply 17 of 246
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    nagromme wrote: »
    I'll take speed, accurate colors and better sunlight visibility, over garish OLED colors and perfect blacks that never matter for readability and can only be seen in dim light :p

    That's fine but the S5 is very readable in direct sunlight due to it's high nit count. I'm just saying that it's the only thing I like about it, the iPhone is very nice too. No need to defend it, everyone here already has one or is getting one.
  • Reply 18 of 246
    Single-Core benchmarks by Toms Hardware agrees with these benchmarks. However, Tom's actually went a step further and tested graphics performance using mult-core. GPU performance on the Samsung S5 went from about 1,000 on the single-core to just over 3,000 on multi-core.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/samsung-galaxy-s5-specs-benchmarks-review,26426.html

    Of course, there are arguments that most games do not yet support multi-core and, on the other side, that current performance is more than good enough.

    That being said, few people use their cell phones for anything more demanding than watching HD trailers on YouTube.

    For those who do care about this stuff, get the best phone for you.

    For those who just want to say that the iPhone 6s is better, you have 6 months of crowing before the Samsung S6 drops with an even faster CPU/GPU... And the cycle begins again... (grin)
  • Reply 19 of 246
    macbook promacbook pro Posts: 1,605member
    [IMG ALT=""]http://forums.appleinsider.com/content/type/61/id/50164/width/350/height/700[/IMG]


    Notably, Samsung Galaxy S5 continues to use a PenTile arrangement of sub-pixels due to the inefficiencies of OLED displays. Such sub-pixel arrangements continue to offer lower performance (less sharpness) than LCD for displaying text thus requiring ultra-high pixel counts to provide similar quality to LCD displays.
  • Reply 20 of 246
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Relic View Post



    Oh for goodness sakes, I have no love for Samsung but there isn't a game on the market right now that the Note 4 couldn't play, these graphics chips in the current line of mobiles are going to waste. What exactly does this article prove, it's a business phone for goodness sakes. Once the new line of 64bit chips come and if one happens to be faster then the A8, there is a good chance that a few will be, the same comments I just made about the Note 4 will be said here about the iPhone. This is just a silly pissing contest at this point, the current range of chips are fast enough for pretty much anything that you could possibly through at them.



    All DED is pointing out is that the octacore processor Samsung is careful to market is not as powerful as a dual core processor Apple barely talks about.

     

    Which begs the question, why use an eight core processor in the first place? The only logical answer is either their engineering team sucks, or they want to trick people into thinking an octacore processor is better than a dual core processor.



    Much in the same way every 12mp camera is better than an 8mp camera.

     

    I'm all for an article pointing out specs do not mean performance.

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