Through my work at Best Mobile Contracts, I’m required to test and evaluate a wide range of Android-powered devices. That’s really just the official-ish way of saying, “I’m lucky enough to play about with smartphones and tablets and call it work”, but the point is that a good number of these devices have passed through my hands
In the past, I’ve always found benchmark systems like Quadrant or AnTuTu to be useful tools in assessing mobile devices. I’ll be the first to admit that they’re not perfect, but largely benchmarks can give you a good impression of how well devices hold up against each other in performance terms.
So it was with some surprise that I realised I had never bothered to run any benchmarks on our Google Nexus 7 tablet, some two months after it first arrived at the office and we eagerly prised it from its packaging. Naturally I wondered why not, so I’ve been trying to work it out. Like all things Android, it comes down to a combination of hardware and software factors.
Let’s take a look at the hardware side first. As many of you will know, the Nexus 7 is equipped with a quad-core Tegra 3 chip. It’s actually the T30L unit, which has the lowest specification and cost of the trio of Tegra 3 chips that Nvidea offer, but this doesn’t seem to have much impact on performance: It’s fast. Very Fast.
Because the chip is so cutting-edge and because it’s Tegra 3, and therefore widely supported, I haven’t yet encountered a single thing on the Play Store that troubles it. A spot of game stutter or a lagging app are common prompters for me to run a benchmark, but these things just never happened with the Nexus 7.
It’s software that I think is really the key factor here, though. Anyone who follows the development of the Android OS at all will know that Jelly Bean is a big step forwards. It simply cannot be overstated how much smoother and more responsive the UI feels with Google’s ‘Project Butter’ on board.
With older versions of Android there was always a slight choppiness about the interface. It was sometimes barely noticeable, but it left me with a sense of vague dissatisfaction. I think it was that dissatisfaction that often had me reaching for the benchmarks. I was checking if the hardware was up to par, when really it was the software that wasn’t quite fine-tuned enough.
With Jelly Bean on board, though, the interface glides along at 60 fps and everything is silky smooth. That vague sense of dissatisfaction is gone and I never feel that I need to benchmark the device, because everything feels right.
So that’s how the Nexus 7, with considerable help from Jelly Bean, made me forget about benchmarks. I imagine that as Android app developers harness and challenge the capabilities of quad-core chips I’ll find a use for the benchmarking apps again but for the moment we have an Android device that runs everything and does it well.