Most people don't know or care what processor is in their phone, and that's good

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 reference design
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 reference design (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

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.

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

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.

Screen size, battery life, design, and features sell phones — processors just don't factor in.

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.

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

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.

These are the best Android phones you can buy

Only true phone enthusiasts know about the intricacies of phone processors.

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.

It's no longer reasonable to expect every high-end phone to have the best processor.

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.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

44 Comments
  • People won't care about something they're ignorant of.
  • People who don't comment on Android blogs don't care about having the latest and greatest specs in their back pocket. That's you and a few others here. Phones are like cars: they just need to work and be reliable. I have yet to meet a regular Joe or Jane who stresses over a patch or an Android update. If the camera and battery are up to par, and if it's not a grand to buy, then it's a go. And that's just fine!
  • Additional reminder: most people don't care what software version or security patch their phone is running.
  • So very true,
  • Touche my friend, touche.
  • We get to do all that worrying for our family, since they don't care but we do.
  • Really? I must truly be a geek.
  • All very true. It's easy to forget with we (of Android Central) are a very, very tiny minority of users. Most people don't care about what OS level they are on, the processor, the RAM or anything else really. I do, everyone reading this does, but it is important to remind folks just how small a percentage of the overall smartphone population we fanatics are :-)
  • I totally agree, the tech geeks know? But the average consumer could probably care less? Their mostly concerned with cost as opposed to specs. Most will buy a 200.00 hundred dollar phone & say goodnight, not caring about ram or processer? But I do think consumers have gotten smarter in 2020!
  • The latest processors are more than good enough. The constant craze for a faster chip yr after yr is one of the big reasons why phones are getting absurdly expensive. Personally, having the latest chip is no longer a factor in my purchase decision.
  • Flagship SoCs yes but for gaming, the midrange SoCs still fall short and that is what's great about the iPhone, because iPhone users don't have such problems because Apple's A series chips are so powerful that even a 5 year old iPhone 6s can still perform really well, even the 7 year old iPhone 5s will perform better than an Android phone from both those eras thanks to Apple's advantage of making both the hardware and software along with why Apple can support their phones as long as they do.
  • The incremental upgrade speed on chips are so small and insignificant that most people couldn't tell the difference between a chip made in 2015 and today!! So you got to wait a half second more. Big whoop.
  • Oh no... An article appearing to prep the masses for a Pixel 5 with a 7 series chip.... Personally, I do care, a bit. But I'm the minority in my house.
  • For me, phones have been 'good enough' for the past 4 or 5 years. I just finally got rid of my S7 a couple months ago for an S10. They have been fast enough with a good enough screen and good enough camera for me. None of the new updates are enough to entice me into upgrading biannually or quicker like it used to be when there were huge improvements to be had with new versions of phones. I'm at the point now that I am only going to upgrade when my current phone bites the dust, and then I will buy an year or so old phone at a discount. That is why new processors aren't a huge deal for me. Nothing I do on a phone can't be done with the processors out today or 4 years ago. It is nice that web pages load a fraction of a second faster than it used to, but not something worth sinking $1K into on an annual basis for me.
  • My thoughts exactly.
  • This article tells us what we already know, most people don't care what processor their phone is running, or how much RAM their phone has or the number of cores, they care that the phone is fast and has a great camera along with it looking good and that the phone is made by a well-known and respected bramd so that leaves pretty much every Android OEM out except Samsung but because I hate their software that rules them out and I've decided I'm going with Apple for brand recognition and they will have my money because they offer me what I want overall (simple, easy to use software, great quality apps selection and the Aplp store is the best, great ecosystem, longest software support of any vendor) and the Pixels offer what is important on the Android side which is consistent and quick updates and being first in line for the latest version of Android.
  • Brand recognition? Really? So, instead of a Pagani Zonda or McLaren F1 or Ferrari 308, you would rather have a 2007 Ford Focus because... brand recognition? And as far as longest software support is concerned, is it really a benefit when the hardware can't keep up?
    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"?
  • The thing about iPhones is that your don't necessarily need the latest iPhone to get good performance, especially gaming performance, due to how powerful their A series of chips are and that is impressive to me than Android in which you need s top tier Qualcomm SoC just to be just about on par with an iPhone thanks to Apple's better optimisation with their big advantage of making both the software and hardware of course a 5 year iPhone won't be as good for gaming but it is still better a 5 year old Android phone and remember the 5 year old 6s crushed it's Android competition back them and I'll admit I loved it at the time when I hated Android due to my awful experience with Lollipop. PS: I honestly couldn't tell you why a 6 year old Android phone performs better than a 5 year iPhone, to be fair, the HTC One M8 was a really good phone and one of the last great HTC phones.
  • The Ford focus would get better gas mileage... And cheaper insurance premium..
  • I personally don't consider the cpu that a new phone has when I buy one but I do care about storage and RAM.
  • midrange phones today are running processors as fast as flagships 5 years ago. Which begs the question.... why aren't flagships from 5 years ago able to run the latest OS? Why are they stuck 2-3 versions behind? It's not the processor. It's not the memory. So...... PS. This is why Apple phones maintain their value and trade-in\resale compared to Android.
  • Hence why I'll be sticking with Apple (iPhone 11 and iPad 2019) as my daily driver from now on after over 2 years of using Android after switching back and forth for 2 years prior the that after using iPhones from 2013-2015 before not knowing what I wanted until now and I've made my choice I'm sticking with Apple because they tick all the boxes for me overall and Android doesn't (unless it's a Pixel for which updates are very important for me) it's lost it's appeal for me now.
  • Geez did you notice now? I think most smart phone owners don't know anything about what's ticking I side their phones... Does it look nice, does the screen look nice, does it take good pics, does it have tiktok? Does it work with my selfie stick?
    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..
  • Bwhaahaha, put your Galaxy S7 against the iPhone 6s Plus and it will destroy your S7 in gaming even back when both were the current flagships and let's not even get started with multitasking where most Android phones except for OnePlus, lost out to the iPhone in multitasking despite having half the RAM. Which made me laugh at the spec nerds boasting of more RAM.
  • Those people are fools.
  • Because why? They only need a phone to text talk look at FB. Pretty sure the last thing they care about is 16GB RAM.
  • I guess I'm one of the outliers then. Most people don't know what engine is in their car, while I know the head bolt torque specifications, know the weight distribution is 51/49, and know not to lift throttle when going sideways at 70 mph with front wheel drive 😉
    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.
  • And yet the iPhone SE will be one of hottest selling phones because nobody cares.
  • Apple is the only one that truly understands that most people don't care what is in their phone hence why they never reveal how much RAM or the clock speed of their latest A series chip.
  • Most people not caring about the processor in their device is something I've told folks for quite some time. Some do care sure, but most don't. They don't push their device enough, they're an average user not some type of power user what have you. So long as its stable, runs fast enough that it seems to fly or as it ages takes only a second and does everything they want of it the type of processor isn't that big a deal... So says a guy running still a mid-range device from 2017 that didn't have the fastest, best chip in it even then and it still flies like no tomorrow...
  • I have been saying this on every iPhone SE article! Nobody cares, it is a very outdated design with a small outdated screen!
  • And yet the iPhone SE will outsell every Android mid range and flagship phone.
  • 2014 Moto X user here who isn't a techie but does take an interest in specs and I do know my phone runs on an 'old' 32 bit SD 801 processor with 32 gig internal memory and a whopping 2 gig of ram and has a measley 2300 mah battery with a full hd screen.
    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 ✌
  • The 801 was a good processor... almost like a classic Ferrari 😊
  • I've asked on this site a few times now which modern chip would be comparable to the 801 but haven't had any response. Anyone offer any suggestions, my guess without having used them would probably be something like a 632 onward maybe. The 801 still seems to handle stuff really well though.
  • The Snapdragon 801 was decent but still fell short of the Appr A series equivalent, the Apple A7 Iin Performance.
  • Towards the end of 2018 I had to replace my flagship HTC 10 due to a terrible, possibly defective battery. I went with a new midrange Moto X4 which was released a full year earlier. The HTC had a SD820 processor vs the SD630 in the Moto X4. There was absolutely no difference in my usage between the two phones and to this day I am still using my Moto X4 (an Android One edition still receiving security updates). I knew I was getting into a midrange phone but was surprised at the performance. Due to the performance and having an NFC chip (not all midrange cellphones have NFC and I have to have that feature) I found it a little less painful making the switch. I only wish I had as good a camera as on the HTC 10.
  • Smartphones are like laptops now. Even the basic ones are more than fast enough for all the day to day tasks. Spending more than ~$300 on a phone anymore is just vanity.
  • This is something I (and many many others) have been saying for years. My whole family on my wife's side (there are around 50 of them; big family) are iPhone users and they have no clue what their phone is running on (couldn't tell me the hardware or the software) and couldn't care less. They didn't even know that Apple separated iOS and iPadOS not long ago; they thought it was all the same. I am not picking on them so please don't misunderstand. My point is the general public (I'd venture to say 90% +) just don't care. They want a stable, snappy, secure (the three S's) experience. Experience and UI make a difference but not much to the general public. I pay attention to specs but in the end don't really care since I just want what I want.
  • After reading the comments on Joe Maring's article on why he won't buy Samsung phones, I've come to the conclusion that most Android enthusiasts are Pro Samsung and are not respectful of the opinion of Joe Maring's article and I'll admit I have no respect for the pro Samsung users who are the biggest Android snobs with comments like iPhones are for grandmas and kids" and Joe wrote a Galaxy Tab S6 Lite review and for which he was accused of "liking iPads" when he suggested people buy an iPad over the Galaxy S6 Lite which h gave his resources for which I agree with (I'd never buy an Android tablet as they suck)
    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
  • I will not buy a Samsung for myself, I will not buy an iPhone for myself.
  • It's funny to hear about you railing on about snobs and people being disrespectful, and then gush over the iPhone. Apple users (the ones who are diehard like the Samsung Knights as you referred to them elsewhere) are probably the most snobbish and disrespectful of the entire smartphone industry. Don't believe me? Look at what happened when Instagram was opened up to Android users. They were calling Android users trash and predicting it was the end of Instagram, some even quitting the platform because of it. Then there's the whole blue bubble thing with messaging, with some saying they hate it when they see a blue bubble come up, some even ignoring the post completely. But my personal favorite was the "You're just jealous because you can't afford an iPhone" that I saw a lot when I was looking to get into smartphones. I've seen you be pretty disrespectful of people in these articles who don't share your view as well. Not everyone has to like what you do, and that's ok, because your needs are not theirs. You seem to be surprised that people wonder why you're cheerleading for Apple on an Android centric site. So let me ask you, do you see a lot of that on Apple sites? I know, you're still interested in Android, yet by your comments I can't understand why. If Apple is as great as you say, you'd be an idiot to use Android. My problem with Apple isn't their hardware, they're spot on in that regard, except for maybe battery. My problem with them has to do with iOS itself, their business practices, and their narrative that everything just works. I have an iPad Mini, and hate it. We got it so my Dad can FaceTime with some of his relatives who can't be bothered to download Duo, so instead we had to shell out hundreds of dollars to placate them. Using it does have one benefit though. It cements my decision to stick with Android. If I had to use an iOS device as my primary, my usage would go way down. As for their business practices, when I was a diehard Apple guy (around 10+ years ago) they screwed me over financially (to the tune of around $150) for something that was their fault. And so we parted ways before I ever got an iPhone. Sure they made $150, but think of the money I would've spent on their phones and tablets, and probably their laptops if I got fully indoctrinated into their ecosystem. That $150 pales in comparison, but they assumed that I'd just take it with a smile. Finally, their "Everything Just Works" mantra isn't remotely true. Go to their support sections and it doesn't look much different than any Android support section. Any OEM producing hardware and software is going to have issues, that's reality and Apple isn't immune. BTW, it'd be real helpful if you could let us know what your next device will be, I don't think you've ever mentioned it.
  • I'll admit I used to be snobbish when I was am iPhone user but I've grown up about that but I stand by my statement that there's a lot of snobbery in the Android world and yes I've not respected people's opinions and preference either but that's because they're not respecting the preferences of Joe Maring's article on why he won't buy a Samsung phone with snide remarks like "*the rantings of a secret Apple fanboy" or "he likes iPhones and iPads" both from Android "fan" who have attached his said article and the Galaxy S6 Lite review because he suggested people by an iPad over it. That's unreadable to me and it's making me ashamed to be an Android user (currently) who's switching back to iPhone after over 2 years away because I realise there is a lot of things that I miss about iOS which Android doesn't offer me, f full featured app which are better quality, a superior backup and restore system which saves all my app data, much better family shaking, iMessage (you cannot send pictures with any messaging app experience except WhatsApp) even then the picture is compressed quality) and facetime, the ecosystem (I'm getting an iPad along with my iPhone 11 and want an Apple Watch) and the king software support as most of my family and people I know use iPhone so it'll be easier for me and apart from iOS 11, I have had nothing but positive experiences with Apple products, I'm sorry for your bad experience with Apple but I and the majority of Apple users have and continue the be happy that's why they continue to stay with Apple. I like Android but it's starting to lose it's appeal for me, I don't customise my phone beyond setup and apart from apps like TeaTV, (from outside the Play Store), HD movie time (from the Play Store) the novelty of Android has warm off.
  • Absolutely right. My father, mother, brother, friends (most) and my wife could care less what processor is driving their phones or what OS version or patch they have. Hell, I have to constantly pester my wife to update her phone, tablet and computer. She ignores them for months. The normal person doesn't care. They want it to work and for it to work for how they use it.
    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.