Most people don't know or care what processor is in their phone, and that's good
The debate over what processor you should expect in a smartphone has picked back up in 2020 after a couple of years of seemingly taking a back seat in people's hierarchy of needs. It seems to be mostly driven by increasingly-expensive high-end phones saddled by the extra cost tied to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865, and the subsequent decision by some companies to step down and use Qualcomm's 700-series processors typically used in less-expensive phones.
Every time one of these arguments over processors springs back up, I need to remind everyone that the vast majority of people simply don't care what processor is in their phone — in fact, most people don't even know what processor they're using. And even those who do know which processors are in phones probably shouldn't put so much emphasis on them when buying their next phone.
Research shows that average consumers simply don't factor the processor into their buying decision. A Global Web Index report shows the top four purchase upgrade drivers are that their current phone lacks in battery life, storage size, speed, and camera quality. Don't get "it's too slow" (speed) confused with "its processor is bad," though — people just want a phone that's quick and consistent, they don't actually care about the specifics of the processor. And as many of us know, overall performance can have just as much to do with software optimization (and what apps the user has installed) and the amount of memory in the phone as it does the processor speed.
The same study says that for buyers of premium phones, over 50% are loyal to their smartphone brand. Some statistics show brand loyalty to be even higher, and can be one of the biggest purchase drivers — with Samsung owners choosing another Samsung phone nearly 65% of the time and Apple owners sticking with Apple 75% of the time. So before you even get to the point of deciding between phones based on specs, you're most likely to be narrowing your search based on brand alone.
We've seen this play out time and time again, particularly in the realm of less-expensive phones. There's a reason why inexpensive phones often have big screens, big batteries, more cameras, and flashy exterior designs: those are the things that sell phones, not the individual line-item specs inside. If someone can buy a phone with a bigger screen and longer battery life, they're going to focus on that rather than something as boring as which processor is inside or how much memory there is. From a cost of manufacturing standpoint, it's also often much cheaper to scale up the size of a screen or battery than it is to move up to the next tier of a processor — that's a win-win.
Samsung is a perfect case study for whether people care about what processor is in their phones. Its $350 (or equivalent) Galaxy A51 was the best-selling phone of Q1 2020, and it racked up those sales with its basic Exynos 9611 processor — on top of that, reviews regularly listed performance as a problem. Nobody knew what processor was in it, and performance was known to be weak, yet it still sold incredibly well.
The company doesn't actively market its Exynos processors, to the point where it will simply list "quad-core processor" or "octa-core processor" on any product listing with an Exynos, because it knows the name doesn't matter. But lest you think that's just something common in the lower end, it even does the same in marketing its $1000+ Galaxy S phones that appeal to the masses and phone nerds alike — splashy marketing about the design, cameras, display, battery life, and not a peep about the processor. On its Galaxy S20 website (opens in new tab), even diving deep into the specs pages, still says "7nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor."
Over the years, Samsung has consistently used both Qualcomm processors and its own Exynos processors in different markets around the world, with the rest of the phone being completely identical. (And it actually used Exynos processors worldwide in the Galaxy S6 series.) Yes, enthusiasts know that Samsung uses its own Exynos processors in some areas — and it's even known that they, in some ways, perform worse than the Qualcomm equivalents in other models. And yet, the Galaxy S line continues to be accepted in these markets.
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Only true enthusiasts know about the intricacies of different processors and even let the processor begin to influence their phone buying decision. While it's true that those enthusiasts are early adopters of phones and can steer the direction of the early popularity of a phone, ultimately, the preferences of the masses will take over. And it continues to be proven that overall, people buy phones based on so many other factors than the processor.
Phone enthusiasts know when they're not getting the best of the best processors and automatically translate that to being a bad thing — even if, like the rest of the buying public, they realize the actual experience of using the phone is no different. Oddly, though, somehow these phone enthusiasts are fine accepting less-than-the-best specs in other parts of the phone, like a dimmer display, fixed-focus front-facing camera, missing wide-angle rear camera, poor haptics, missing wireless charging, or any other individual feature. Apparently, they just can't handle having a Snapdragon 765 instead of an 865, but can understand the nuance and grey areas of other parts of the phone.
But the reality is that it's no longer reasonable to expect every high-end phone to have the biggest and best processor out at the moment. Just like every other component of the smartphone, there's going to increasingly be nuance in what processor companies choose. Processors are so powerful now that there's less of a tangible benefit to using a higher-end chip — often, it's there just because it's the "best" available. Component prices are steadily getting more expensive, putting pressure on the phone companies to the point where it doesn't make sense to include a higher-end processor for the branding alone; there has to be a specific feature or capability it adds that's sellable to the end consumer.
This isn't to say that the processor isn't an important component of a smartphone. We care about many of the things that the system-on-chip (SoC) influences and enables, such as display refresh rate, gaming performance, connectivity options, camera features, and battery life. But this is a reminder that if the experience of using the phone is good, people won't care about what name is attached to that SoC or what the line-item specs of size, cores, or clock speeds are. And that these SoC names and brands never convey their actual capabilities or explain why you need one over the other.
Don't buy a phone with the processor that has the biggest numbers attached to it and assume it's the best, and don't look away from a phone you otherwise may like because it has a lesser processor. Buy the phone that brings you the best overall combination of features and capabilities.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
Just for an experiment, I played Alto's Adventure on six different phones today. It played like garbage on the Note 3, but you know what? It was the same on my iPhone 5S. So many glitches and frame drops that it was distracting to play. It was a poor experience on the iPhone 6S as well, and only slightly better on the iPhone 7. You know what it DID play smoothly on? An HTC M8 from 2014. So tell me Beno, why does a 7 year old Android work better than a 5 year old iPhone? Especially when "iPhones are better for gaming"?
Is it going to slow down? Will the charge last all day? That's all they care about..practical stuff.. Android 7? 8? 9? If the update wasn't there no one will really care.
I think that's the largest segment of smartphone buyers.. The rest are Android central readers and the teckies etc who may know more and may demand more that the others... That's why I say big deal about the iPhone se.. It's a trap of old parts with AC pushing the new cpu as the end all of end alls. I went back to my galaxy S7 for a week and noticed no difference besides the obvious from my note 9. Cod mobile and all my apps worked the same.. I didn't see any slow down.. Of course I didn't have 10 apps open at the same time..
For my phone, I know the SoC and RAM and Storage because that will affect me down the road.
I also know the iPhone SE is last year's processor dumped into leftover parts that are several years old.
I use my phone every day for the 'usual' stuff like some social media, g mail, reading the news and a few info apps like AC, check the weather, binge on YouTube along with actually using it as a phone (shock!) to make calls and text and WhatsApp etc. So I guess that's what I'd call being an 'average' user, certainly not a power user (whatever that phrase actually means) and a also play a few games that from what I've read on tech sites are considered graphically intensive like the asphalt racing games and real racing etc along with some 5bn stuff like lost lands and new York mysteries etc. I can play any game I download on full graphics and speed etc and they all play without a hiccup.
I'm not trying to say it's the best or fastest phone and I'm sure if I was to use it alongside a phone with one of the very latest high end processors it would show its age but my point is it hasn't slowed down except for the occasional stutter when it reaches full memory but deleting some stuff always sorts that, and I don't have tons of apps open in the background, maybe one or two if I'm jumping between a couple of things at once but most importantly it still feels plenty fast enough for everyday use after 5 years of daily use on Android 6 mm. Oh yeah I'm not a big camera user but the 13 MP camera for me takes fine photos in decent light but I have to admit night shots and the 2 MP front camera definately do show their age against modern camera setups. The dual flash makes a great torch though which I probably use more than the camera.
My point in writing this is simply that there's no denying year on year phones definately improve, get faster, better cameras etc but it doesn't make an older phone on an older OS version suddenly obsolete and unusable. I still thoroughly enjoy using the Moto X and I also have the means to buy a decent modern phone but many people simply want their phone to work and be reliable on a daily basis and very often reading too many articles on the latest tech can lead people to believe they carrying a piece of junk in their pocket when it may actually be a perfectly good device for 90% of what they want. I'm all for reading up on stuff and making an informed decision when buying new stuff but if something does what I want, even if it's missing a couple of the latest features I'm happy to carry on using it till I actually need to purchase a newer model. Peace ✌
which I'll admit I was guilty of doing myself but until recently i thought I'd never come back to iPhone but I realised that I was hasty getting rid of my iPhone 6s Plus, but iOS 11 and "battery gate" forced my hand and having used Android for 2 years, I'm bored of it and realised I'd have to still fiddle with my phone when transferring data from my old Android phone to my new one with only OnePlus doing the best job of transfering all of my data from my Nokia 8.1 to my OnePlus 7T but they aren't the best with updates which is very important to me and Google's backup/restore is rubbish because most of my game data isn't restored or custom ring tones saved by they have what I'm looking for in updates (but I want software support to be as long as Apple) but the optimisation still isn't as good which is an Android issue even though apps on Android aren't as bad anymore but the social media apps are still better on the iPhone and those reasons along with the better app quality, optimisation, better accessibility (I'm visually impaired) 5 years of software support, better ecosystem and so on, if not for me liking stock Android or near stock Android along with Android being useful for apps I can download to watch TV shows like Supergirl, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash along with Dynasty then I'd drop Android completely. So why Apple will be my daily driver from August when I get my iPhone 11 and iPad 2019, I'll have an Android phone for the reasons I stated as a backup (secondary) phone
Really the only people I know that care this much are my friends that are in to tech and on the cutting edge. We use features that others don't know or care to know.