Does the processor found inside your mobile device really matter? The average consumer doesn’t care what CPU is featured inside their smartphone, but it’s always a popular topic among the hardcore crowd. Today’s hottest mobile chips are NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4, so we put them through a round of benchmarks and experiences to see which came out on top. The results might surprise you, so read on for the full details.
Finally, we have both the Snapdragon S4 and Tegra 3 version of the HTC One X. We wanted to keep things simple, so we only used three devices. I decided to go with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as the third device since it is currently Google’s flagship Android device.
Note: Our international HTC One X just received the 1.29 firmware update as we were working on this post, so we will update the benchmarks scores with new results if we find anything differs.
For this round of testing, we used most of the popular Android benchmarks that are freely available in the Google Play Store. We decided to exclude Vellamo Mobile Web Benchmark since it is developed by Qualcomm. Linpack was also excluded because it’s a benchmark intended for use on supercomputers and it doesn’t produce consistent results on Android. Finally, for all browser benchmarks we used the latest Chrome Beta, since each device has a different default browser.
Winner – Tegra 3: Not many apps are optimized for quad-core, but several benchmarks are. Tegra 3 manages to score a healthy lead in Antutu, CFBench, and Smartbench. In Quadrant we see Snapdragon S4 eke out a close victory, but the results are within the margin of error.
Winner – Tegra 3: Both GPUs appear to be pretty evenly matched, but we give the slight advantage to Tegra 3. In Antutu and GLBenchmark Pro Offscreen, we see Tegra 3 and Snapdragon S4 are neck-and-neck. Antutu does not appear to be a very intensive graphics benchmark and the Pro test is the less demanding test on GLBenchmark. On the most demanding graphics test, GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen, Tegra 3 holds a 10fps advantage over Snapdragon S4.
Winner – Tegra 3: On browsing benchmarks, Tegra 3 wins every round. It’s interesting to note that the aging Galaxy Nexus wins both the Sunspider and Moonbat tests which are single-threaded. This could be from code optimizations that are targeted at the Galaxy Nexus. We can see the four CPU cores in Tegra 3 really shine in the Moonbat test with web workers set to 4 threads. This should indicate that Tegra 3 should perform faster on Chrome when multiple tabs are open.
Battery Life Benchmarks
Winner – Too close to call: Battery benchmarks are a tricky thing. There are not many standard tests out there (that we could get to complete on both devices), so we used MX Player and put a video (recorded by a One X) on an endless loop. Both devices lasted just over 6 hours, with the Tegra 3 version lasting an additional 9 minutes.
I found it interesting that the Tegra 3 version saw the battery warnings at 14 percent and 9 percent just a minute earlier than Snapdragon S4. However, when it came to the last 3 percent warning, Snapdragon appeared first and then died first. It looks like Tegra 3 has some extra battery management tricks that turn down the 5th low-power core when the battery is on its final charge.
Both of these devices were just released, so I expect HTC will work with NVIDIA and Qualcomm to continue to tweak power management settings and extend battery life.
Update: NVIDIA informs us that MX Player does not use their companion core very effectively, and ends up waking up the main cores periodically during playback. Battery life for video playback should be extended using the native gallery app.
Update 2: Head over to Anandtech for more extensive battery life testing. Brian Klug found that the Snapdragon S4 has longer battery life when it comes to 3G browsing and WiFi browsing, while Tegra 3 wins at WiFi hotspot and cellular talk time. Again, it looks like the results will vary with different use cases and are too close to call.
Winner – Tegra 3: This one is pretty simple. When it comes to marketing speak, four is better than two.
Winner – Tegra 3: On most games, you can’t tell the different between Tegra 3 and Snapdragon S4. However, NVIDIA has their TegraZone program which has resulted in several exclusive titles for Tegra 3. Thanks to these extra games, we think Tegra 3 provides the better gaming experience right now. Qualcomm also has their Snapdragon Gamecommand, but it doesn’t feature any exclusive games for Snapdragon S4 yet.
Keep in mind this could change in the future if Qualcomm starts writing fat checks to Gameloft and other devs for exclusive titles. Qualcomm is a much larger company than NVIDIA and they could outspend them on game exclusives if they choose to.
Winner – Too close to call: When I was on WiFi, I could not tell a difference between the two devices in day-to-day browsing usage. This could change in future versions of Chrome or with newer firmware updates, but for now the two devices are equal.
Mobile Networks Speeds
Winner – Snapdragon S4: Not much to say here. LTE is faster than HSPA+. Snapdragon S4 has an integrated LTE modem, while the Tegra 3 version is currently paired with a HSPA+ modem. This will always depend on your location and carrier, but on AT&T the Snapdragon S4 version is much faster. I achieved download speeds of 50 Mbps on Snapdragon S4 with LTE, and around 10 Mbps on Tegra 3 with HSPA+.
Tegra 3 offers more exclusive games, right now: Thanks to NVIDIA’s relationships with game developers, they currently offer a better overall gaming experience since they have more exclusive titles. This could change as Qualcomm steps up their efforts.
Snapdragon S4 has a faster modem, right now: Qualcomm has the only mobile chip with an integrated LTE modem, which gives them an advantage in network speeds. NVIDIA says their partners will have LTE modems out by the second half of 2012, so this advantage will be moot in a couple months.
Both chips are awesome and you can’t really tell a difference in normal usage: Even though Tegra 3 wins a majority of our benchmarks today, I can’t really tell a difference between the two devices. If you did a blind test between the two versions, I doubt you would be able to tell which is the quad-core Tegra 3 or the dual-core Snapdragon S4. NVIDIA has an advantage in exclusive games and Qualcomm has an advantage in LTE modems, but both of those arguments are going to be obsolete in the next couple months.
At the end of the day, it’s the consumer who wins this round of testing. Both Tegra 3 and Snapdragon S4 offer a better overall experience than the current generation of mobile processors and it’s significant. After using the HTC One X, I do not want to return to my Samsung Galaxy Nexus.