Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds.
Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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The Galaxy S10's Snapdragon 855 chipset could dominate with up to 45 percent faster performance speeds compared to the
unveils its next flagship phone this Wednesday in San Francisco. This isn't just
last month, we got a chance to test Snapdragon 855 on a prototype phone. So far, the benchmarking results paint the picture of an incredibly fast device that leaves the Galaxy S9 and
in the dust.
Qualcomm typically gives a small group of journalists the opportunity to run a slew of common benchmarking tests on a phone called a reference device. You can think of it as a working prototype that Qualcomm uses in part to test the latest Snapdragon chip with the camera, apps,
network trials and so on. While the reference device isn't a finished phone that will sell under a brand name -- unlike a prototype for Samsung's foldable phone, for instance -- it's extremely useful for seeing how a phone running on the Snapdragon 855 might act.
Qualcomm is the world's largest chip maker for
, which means that the Snapdragon 855 will come to many of the highest-end Android phones in 2019. But Qualcomm isn't alone. Samsung and
, the top two phone makers, manufacture their own in-house chips, too -- though only a small number of Samsung phones use its homegrown Exynos chip.
uses its own A-series CPUs in the iPhone -- Apple designs them, and TSMC or other partners manufacture them. What about that big Apple/Qualcomm brouhaha, then? Yes, the iPhone company is currently engaged in an FTC suit against Qualcomm for allegedly operating a monopoly in the mobile chip space and charging excessive licensing fees. But those are the modem chips that the phones use to communicate on cellular wireless networks. Apple has shifted to using Intel as its modem supplier while the Qualcomm issue works its way through the courts -- though that may well delay Apple's path to a 5G iPhone, Apple said during the trial.
But back to CPUs. Like I said, the Snapdragon 855 is expected to process CPU tasks 45 percent faster than last year's Snapdragon 845, the one on the Galaxy S9. It's projected to process graphics 20 percent faster, too. My test results from the Snapdragon 855 just about fit the claim, ranging from an average of 19 percent to 45 percent faster than two phones using Snapdragon 845 (see chart below).
Snapdragon 855 demos hint at what you could do on Galaxy S10, Pixel 4
To test the speed of Qualcomm's new processors, I ran eight benchmarking tests three times apiece on the Snapdragon 855 reference phone, and two phones running the 2018 Snapdragon 845: a
Galaxy S9 Plus
Snapdragon 855 reference phone specs
Just so you know what kind of working device we're dealing with.
6-inch WQHD AMOLED with 2,880x1,440-pixel resolution
Dual rear cameras: 12-megapixel and 13-megapixel
8-megapixel front-facing camera
USB Type-C connector
No headphone jack
Kryo 485 CPU: Up to 2.8GHz
Snapdragon 855 benchmarking tests
Snapdragon 855 reference device
Galaxy S9 Plus (Snapdragon 845)
LG V40 (Snapdragon 845)
Percentage gain (betw. 855 reference and next highest result)
GeekBench 4.3 single-core
GeekBench 4.3 multi-core
GFxBench ES 3.1 1080 Manhattan offscreen
GFxBench ES 3.0 1080 Manhattan offscreen
GFxBench ES 3.1 1080 Carchase offscreen
GFxBench ES 2.0 1080 T-Rex offscreen
JetStream - Geometric mean
Can we trust benchmarking results?
Why do we benchmark? There's value in quantifying the improvements we might see on a finished product. Fast phones mean you'll be able to do what you want to quicker, including loading resource-hungry apps and processing photos with advanced features.
Benchmarking is even more useful for the companies using the chips. Qualcomm can provide phone makers with a range of scores that phones using the new chip should hit on certain tests. If that doesn't happen, the engineers on both sides can dig in to work out the problem. Nobody wants to sell or buy a suboptimal phone.
That said, benchmarking tests aren't without controversy. The reference device isn't a "final" phone, which means that final results on the future Galaxy S10,
4, OnePlus 7 and
G8 could turn out differently. It all depends on how the phone maker's software works with the chipset. Yes, even if they all use Android as their base operating system, the phone makers' software layers are different enough to impact these speeds.
The Galaxy S10 arrives Feb. 20 but the photos are here now
Phone makers have also been found to game the most popular benchmarking apps, causing tests to inflate the resulting scores. That's why CNET also relies on real-world observation when we rate a phone's processing speeds. If the phone feels slow despite top benchmarking scores, we'll point out the discrepancy.