Debunking the Retina Display Myth

Last updated: August 10, 2014

Although Steve Jobs’ claims the human eye can’t perceive detail beyond 300 pixels per inch were immediately debunked, to this day almost everyone believes that what he said is still true. I became interested in this topic after seeing what I considered to be obvious differences between the highest-resolution smartphone displays. If Jobs’ claims were true, this shouldn’t have been possible. I wanted find out why I could see a difference, and whether it was possible to scientifically prove that Jobs’ retina claims were false. More importantly, I wanted to learn what specs would be needed in a real retina display. But before we can answer these questions, we need to go back to the beginning of this myth.

WWDC 2010 was where the Retina myth began

WWDC 2010 was where the Retina myth began

Looking Back

Back in June of 2010, Apple introduced the iPhone 4. Although no one knew it at the time, this would be Jobs’ last iPhone launch. The iPhone 4 was a landmark product because it was the first phone with a “Retina” display. Since few people correctly quote Jobs on this topic, let’s revisit what he said. Steve Jobs’ exact quote was “It turns out there’s a magic number right around 300 pixels per inch, that when you hold something around to 10 to 12 inches away from your eyes, is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels.” This seemed plausible at the time because the display on the iPhone 4 was a big step forward. It had with four times the pixels of the previous model and a resolution of 326 pixels per inch (PPI).

Experts immediately questioned Jobs' retina claims

Experts immediately questioned Jobs’ Retina display claims

Experts Cry Foul

Almost immediately experts questioned Jobs’ claims. “Wired” ran an article saying the iPhone 4′s Retina display claims were “false marketing.” This article quoted Raymond Soneira from DisplayMate Technologies, who is one the most respected names in display analysis. Soneira said, “The math just doesn’t add up,” and suggested the term Retina display was misleading. Soneira went on to say “it was inaccurate to measure the resolution of the eye in terms of pixels.” He added “…a more accurate Retina definition would have a pixel resolution of 477 pixels per inch at 12 inches.”

Soneria was the first to attempt to prove Jobs was right

This blogger was the first to attempt to prove Jobs was right

Bad Math?

A blogger named Phil Plait then redid Soneira’s equations based normal vision, instead of perfect vision. Based on these calculations, Plait suggested Jobs’ claims were vindicated, but when you refer back to Jobs’ original quote, he refers to a distance of 10 to 12 inches. Plait conveniently used twelve inches, because that created the response he was looking for. Using a distance of ten inches, Plait confirmed that someone with normal vision could see visible pixels on a Retina display and the Retina display myth was busted. But that wasn’t the only problem with Plait’s and Soneira’s logic. There were several other problems we’ll discuss next.

A Flawed Definition of Perfect Vision

If you carefully read Plait’s article, you’ll see that he admits someone with perfect eyesight would be able to see a pixilated image when holding a Retina display one foot from their eyes. This backs up Soneira’s claim that 300 pixels aren’t enough for a true retina display, but there several problems with the definition of perfect vision. First, it is inaccurate to refer to 20/20 vision as “perfect” vision. 20/20 vision does not correspond to the best possible vision found in humans. Second, the word perfect doesn’t really make sense when applied to eyesight. The maximum acuity of a healthy human eye is 20/16 to 20/12. Even those with “bad” eyes can have 20/15 (or better) vision with glasses. This in itself doesn’t mean too much because the percentage of humans with better than 20/20 vision is relatively small (around 10-15% not including corrective glasses).

Most teens hold their phones close to their face

Most teens hold their phones closer to their face than adults

Screen Size Matters, Distances Vary

Contrary to the suggestions above, not everyone holds their mobile device 10 to 12 inches from their face. I’ve noticed that some teens hold their phones only 7 to 8 inches from their eyes. This is an important because the closer a person holds their screen, the higher the resolution required so the pixels effectively disappear. Jobs suggested that 300 pixels per inch was the magic number which determined whether a screen was a retina display, but the truth is there is no one single magic number for both smartphones and tablets. This is because the distance consumers hold tablets to their face is further away than they hold their smartphones. Some experts use a distance of 15 inches for tablets, but I often hold my tablet further away than that. What is the impact of this? It’s simple. The further you hold your device from your face, the lower the resolution needed for the pixels to disappear. This debunks the above assumptions that a single number can be used to determine whether a mobile device has a retina display or not.

20/20 has little to do with pixel recognition

Visual acuity alone is not the best predictor of pixel recognition

Primitive Measurements Don’t Cut It

The chart many eye doctors still use to determine whether you have 20/20 vision is a crude method that dates back to 1862. Eye charts were created to test vision, but we’re talking about something that goes beyond just text. We’re trying to determine whether a human can see the pixels on a display — and more importantly whether there is a benefit of using displays with resolutions higher than 300 PPI.

When trying to scientifically determine whether our eyes can tell the difference between two things, our eyes do a much better job telling the difference between two lines than they do interpreting characters of the alphabet. How much better? It turns out the ability of humans to distinguish between two different lines is actually ten times greater than 20/20 visual acuity. This is referred to as Vernier acuity and is the reason a Vernier scale like the one shown below allows users to measure things more precisely than using a uniformly-divided straight scale. You can prove this to yourself by taking this simple yet ingenious online test. This test proves that differences between Vernier lines can still be judged when the gap of a so-called “Landolt C” can no longer be recognized. In most cases the difference between these two is very large. That means while someone with excellent vision cannot recognize the orientation of the small “c” on the right (which has a 0.5 pixel gap size at normal reading distance), they can distinguish the gap between two lines that are only 0.05 pixels apart — that’s a 10x improvement.

The Vernier caliper uses Vernier acuity for more precise measurement

The Vernier caliper uses Vernier acuity for more precise readings

Science Still Matters

None of the experts quoted above attempted to scientifically test their assumptions. Plait claims his work calibrating for the Hubble telescope made him an expert in ophthalmology, but his real claim to fame was debunking the Moon landing hoax. I wondered what a real expert would say about this topic, so I did some research and found a study by Michael Bach. Mr. Bach is a professor at a German university known for their Ophthalmology-related studies and the former president of the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision. Bach set out to test the limits of human vision and the ability to discern differences in extremely high-resolution displays. What he found and published in a scientific journal earlier this year clearly debunks Jobs’ retina display claims. His study had 49 subjects evaluate displays with resolutions between 254 and 1016 pixels per inch. The results of this study proves people can see the difference between a 339 PPI display and a 508 PPI display. More surprisingly, his study also suggests that some people can also discriminate between 508 PPI and 1016 PPI displays. So it’s clear the human eye is capable of benefiting from displays with more than 300 pixels per inch, but what is the minimum size for a true retina display and when will we be able to buy one?

The Real Retina Numbers?

Using the same equations Soneira and Plait used, a leading display manufacturer suggests a true retina smartphone display would need to have a resolution of at least 573 pixels per inch. However, this is for someone with perfect vision. The number is lower for someone with average vision. For a tablet held fifteen inches away from your eyes, and using the same equations, a true retina display would need a resolution that is higher than 382 PPI. Sadly, that means for people with perfect vision there are no true retina display smartphones or tablets available today. Even the new iPad Air only has a 264 PPI display. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great looking display, but it doesn’t meet the definition of true retina display for a person with average vision.

Notice how the pixels of these four flagship phones vary

Notice how the pixels on four flagship phones vary. Source: AnandTech

All Pixels Are Not The Same

Now that we’ve established numbers for a true retina display, I want to point out one potential problem. When a mobile display goes under a microscope, it’s easy to see major differences between the types pixels used. The size varies, the shape varies, the placement varies. Even the color varies because some displays are now including white pixels (in addition to RGB). Some have pen-tile displays, others don’t. Even the type of displays used on popular smartphones vary. Companies like Samsung use OLED displays, while Apple uses LCD displays. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. You can even see differences in the pixels on Samsung phones that have Super AMOLED displays. Unfortunately this topic is outside of the scope of this article. Just understand that all pixels are not the same and this makes it harder to come up with a single retina number that applies to all smartphones (or tablets). Other factors come into play as well, like the quality of your display. The better the quality panel, the more likely you are going to be able to see the differences we are discussing here.

Samsung recently shared their screen roadmap with analysts

Samsung recently shared their screen roadmap with analysts

Can You Really See A Difference?

Whether you can see a difference between your current smartphone and a smartphone with a true retina display depends on what you are viewing. Low-quality videos like the ones we watch on YouTube, will continue to look bad. In fact, they will even look worse, because you’ll see the compression artifacts more clearly. Small text is one area where you are likely to notice a difference. Text will be razor sharp. You can really see the difference between a 300 PPI display and 550 PPI display when things like pen-drawn Kanji characters are displayed. True retina tablets with screens that are 12 inches or larger will make it possible to get a newspaper-style experience, without reformatting articles. You will also be able to always use the full desktop versions of all websites and view high-resolution photos and 4K video with no loss of resolution. That’s not important today, but it will be in the coming years.

Much higher quality displays are coming in 2014

Much higher quality displays are coming in 2014

So When Can I Buy One?

True retina displays that are better than any Apple product are available now. The LG G3 has a 2560 x 1440 pixel smartphone display with a pixel density of 534 ppi. The Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A has a 5.1-inch display with an incredible 576 pixels per inch. That’s higher than the number required for a true retina smartphone display. Sadly it’s only available in Korea at this time. Samsung is also planning a 4K screen for smartphones. Assuming a screen size of around 5 inches, that works out to be about 880 pixels per inch.

4K tablet screens are coming as well. These screens should have resolutions over 400 pixels per inch, which exceeds the 382 PPI number required for a true retina display. Qualcomm demonstrated the first 4K Android tablet back in February of 2014. Reviewers like this one claimed its 3840-x-2160 display “easily beat the performance of the iPad Air.”

The Bottom Line

  • Researchers have proven people can see the difference between a >508 PPI display and a 339 PPI display.
  • It’s impossible to create a single number definition for a retina display because that number changes depending on the distance, your vision and other factors. Smartphones and tablets with much higher resolution displays are available now.
  • Apple mobile displays are no longer the best. Experts say the Galaxy S5 is the best performing Smartphone display that they have ever tested. As a result, Apple will finally increase the resolution of their mobile displays later in 2014.
  • Whether you can tell the difference between these new displays and today’s best displays will depend on the panel quality, distance and type of media you are viewing, but you won’t need a scientist to tell you they look great. Tablets will benefit the most, because their resolutions were significantly lower than smartphones.
  • – Rick

    Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. This article includes my personal opinions and does not reflect the views of my employer.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

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    58 Things You Won’t Find On The iPhone 5s

    Last updated: March 6, 2014

    The iPhone 5s is popular, but it’s not the most advanced smartphone. It is missing over fifty important features that are found in other smartphones.

    Size matters: Phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 dwarf the iPhone 5s

    Size matters: Phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 dwarf the iPhone 5s

    1. A Large Screen Experience – The screen on the iPhone 5s is only 4 inches, while the best Android smartphones have screens that are 5.0 to 6.4 inches. Not only are they much bigger, they are also better. They have almost twice as many pixels and up to 44% higher screen resolutions. Large screens are better for everything. It doesn’t matter whether you’re surfing the web, playing a game, watching a video, or using Facebook. Another activity where large screens excel is reading a book, even though the Moto X only has a 4.7″ screen, it can display 27% more words than the iPhone 5s. That means less scrolling and less page turning. As long as you can easily fit these phones in your pocket, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a larger display. The same people who say 5” or 6” screens are too large, have no problem using the 7.9” iPad mini. The iPhone 6 is sure to have a larger screen, so you better get ready for one.

      Even though the Moto X only has a 4.7" screen, it can display 27% more text.

      Even though the Moto X only has a 4.7″ screen, it can display 27% more text [Photo courtesy of GottaBeMobile]

    2. A Quad-core Processor – The best Android phone have third-generation quad-core processors that allow your smartphone to multitask better. Quad-core chips have been available on Android devices since 2011. Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 sold in some countries now have eight-core processors, yet the iPhone 5s still only has a dual-core CPU.

      Apple raves about 802.11ac in their MacBook and router ads, yet chose to left it out of the iPhone 5s

      Apple raves about 802.11ac in their AirPort and MacBook ads, yet chose to leave support for it out of the iPhone 5s

    3. 802.11ac Wi-Fi Support – Not all Wi-Fi speeds are the same. The best Android phones support 802.11ac, which is 3 to 10 times faster than the Wi-Fi technology the iPhone 5s uses. This is important because your phone is connected to Wi-Fi most of the time at home and in the office. 802.11ac results in much faster downloads, faster page loads and less buffering when you’re streaming video.

    4. Wireless Charging – Many Android users don’t have to plug in their phones to charge them. The Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3, HTC Droid DNA, LG Nexus 4, LG Nexus 5, LG Spectrum 2 and many others include wireless charging support.

      Wireless charging and faster wired charging are two more features that are missing from the new iPhone 5s

    5. An Affordable Unlocked Price Option – The official unsubsidized price for the “low-cost” iPhone 5c is $549 to $649. You can buy an unlocked Nexus 4 for less than half that price, and it has better specs than the iPhone 5c. Even the unlocked state-of-the-art Nexus 5 sells for only $349. Unlocked Android phones with similar specs to the iPhone 5c sell for around $180 in China without a carrier subsidy.

    6. An Overall Better Display – Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy S4 now match the iPhone 5s’ “A” overall display rating, and badly beat the iPhone 5s when it comes to black level, contrast ratio, color saturation and more. In fact, BGR says the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has the best display of any other phone in 2013. The Samsung Galaxy S4 also outperforms the iPhone 5s on the important GMB color checker. The Moto X and LG G2 also beat the iPhone 5s on white and gray-scale accuracy.

    7. Accident-Resistant – We all drop our phones, so it’s important they can survive drops and exposure to moisture. When it comes to ruggedness, SquareTrade says Android phones like the Moto X beat the iPhone 5s in drop tests. “When it comes to breakability, Apple takes a step back with its latest offerings,” SquareTrade said. “The iPhone 5S fared worse than its predecessor, the iPhone 5, in our slide test and the iPhone 5C suffered from increased smash-ability in our drop test as well as reduced grip-ability.”

    8. Fast Charging – Many of the best smartphones now include a fast-charging technology from Qualcomm that helps them charge up to 40% faster than regular phones. Phones with fast-charging support include the HTC Droid DNA, HTC One S, HTC One SV, HTC 8X, Google Nexus 4, LG Optimus G, Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD/RAZR HD, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 820 and the Samsung Galaxy S III. Future Android phones will include support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 feature that charges up to 75% faster than conventional USB charging technology. You can learn more about Quick Charge here.

    9. Up to 3 Times More High-Speed Memory – Experts say the iPhone 5s still only has 1GB of memory, while the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 comes standard with 3GB of DDR3 memory running at a higher clock speed. This makes a phone boot faster, launch apps faster and multitask better. How much faster? The game “Asphalt 7” loads in only 18.5 seconds on a phone with 3GB of memory. The same game loads in 45.0 seconds on the same phone with 2GB of the same type of memory.

      Samsung makes it easy for you to swap or replace the battery in your phone.

      Samsung makes it easy for anyone to swap batteries in their phone or add more memory

    10. An Easily Removable Battery – Has there ever been a time when your battery was running low and you wished you could just pop-in a fully charged spare? Most Android phones make this possible because they have batteries that can be easily swapped in seconds. This is important because all rechargeable batteries have a limited life span and need to be replaced after 2-3 years. Apple goes to great lengths to prevent you from opening the iPhone 5s. This includes the use of special glue, and screws that require special tools to remove. Even if you have these tools, you still need a heat gun, suction cup and a special prying tool to open your iPhone 5s and remove its battery.

    11. Multi Window Support – Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy Note 3 make good use of their large screens by letting you split the screen so you can use two apps at the same time. Not only can you view any two windows at once, you can also drag things from one window to the other. This is a really useful feature the iPhone 5s doesn’t have.

    12. Gesture Support – Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy Note 3 support a wide range of different hand gestures. For example, you can wave your hand over your phone to accept a phone call, move calendar events, or move between pictures, pages or music tracks.

    13. NFC-based Digital Payments – The new iPhone comes with a ‘Passport’that can hold digital boarding passes and coupons, but it doesn’t allow you to buy things. NFC wallet support like you’ll find in most Android phones lets you to purchase things at one of 300,000+ PayPass cash registers. Once you try this feature you’ll be hooked.

    14. True High Definition Video Support – Most high-definition videos are either 720p or 1080p, yet the iPhone 5s only has a 640p screen. This makes no sense whatsoever. All flagship Android devices now have 1080p support.

      Android phones like the Sony Experia Z can be used underwater without a special case.

      Android phones like the Sony Experia Z can be used underwater without a special case.

    15. A Fully Water-Resistant Case – I have several friends that have ruined their iPhones by dropping them in water. That wouldn’t be a problem with a water-resistant Android phone. Phones like the Cat B15 go further by surviving 6 foot drops, submersion over 3 feet in water, and the ability to run in temperatures as low as -4F to as high as 122F. The enclosure on the new Sony Experia Z1 has an IP code rating of 58, which is even better.

    16. Simultaneous Voice and Data on All U.S. Carriers – Android phones like the Verizon Galaxy S III or Galaxy S4 allow you to check Google Maps while you talk to someone on your phone.This isn’t possible with the iPhone 5s because it doesn’t support simultaneous voice and high-speed data on Verizon or Sprint. Apple could have easily supported this, but decided not to add the extra antenna required to do so. More info.

    17. Interapp Data Exchange – Google realizes Android can’t be best at everything, and allows you to choose which apps you want to interact with. That means you can share data via Bluetooth, Google Drive, Dropbox, Email, Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Read It Later, SkyDrive, Text Message, Twitter, Wi-Fi Direct, WordPress Blog and countless other apps. This isn’t possible with most third-party iOS apps.

      The Lumia 1020 has clear advantages over the iPhone 5s in this daytime shot. Better colors, more definition and detail.

      The Lumia 1020 has clear advantages over the iPhone 5s in this daytime shot with better colors and more detail

    18. A Very High Megapixel Sensor – The best Android smartphones come with 13MP to 20.8MP sensors, while Nokia’s PureView cameras have a 41MP sensor. The iPhone 5s uses an 8MP sensor. Although it’s true that megapixels aren’t the only thing that matters, when you compare your 8MP iPhone photos with a good Canon D-SLR or a Nokia PureView photo, in most cases you’ll see a difference. In photo shoot-outs like this one you can see the Nokia’s 41MP sensor outperforms the iPhone 5s in almost every example. The author of the shoot-out above says “the Lumia 1020 is still the undisputed champion for a smartphone camera in terms of raw image quality. Colors were punchier, white balance was decent, images were sharp and there was plenty of detail. Toss in the ability to “crop to zoom” unlike any other device and the Lumia 1020 has a lot going for it.”

      The Nokia 1020 still easier beats the iPhone 5s in low-light conditions (more detail, more accurate colors, less noise)

      The Nokia 1020 also beats the iPhone 5s in low-light with crisper text, more accurate colors and less noise

    19. The Best Cloud-based Services – Third-party cloud services are more reliable, provide more storage, and are much more flexible than iCloud — because they don’t lock you into an Apple-only world. If you shop around, you’ll find up to 50GB of free cloud-based storage, much better photo sharing services that automatically upload every photo and improve their quality, and store an unlimited number of photos at full-resolution (e.g. Google+). Android office apps like Google Drive are also much better than Apple’s offerings. They support more formats, allow you to share more easily and collaborate with others at the same time. They also automatically save every change you make to the cloud, so you can access everything from any mobile device or computer — not just Apple products. Android calendar and contact apps also have advantages and are much more open. Sure, some of these products are available to iPad users as well, but most iPad users stick with Apple’s inferior pre-installed cloud services.

      Samsung's Easy Mode

      Samsung’s Easy Mode

    20. Simple mode of operation – All Samsung mobile devices have an “Easy Mode” that provides a much easy experience for first-time smartphone users. The icons are bigger and the layout is much simpler.

    21. USB 3.0 support – The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 includes USB 3.0 support. This allows you to transfer files between your phone and computer up to 10 times faster than a traditional USB port. But that’s not all, USB 3.0 also includes a higher power mode that allows your device to charge in almost half the time of a USB 2.0 device when connected to a high current charger.

    22. Reliable data cables – Apple’s Lightning cables get a 1.5 star rating in the Apple Store due to breakage, fraying and corrosion.

    23. Touch-to-Share – Most newer Android phones can share media by touching one phone to another. This allows you to share photos, videos, contacts and Web pages, as well as information between apps.

    24. Auto-save all photos to an SD card – When you first insert an SD memory card on popular Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 it asks if you want to automatically store all of your photos on the SD card. This allows you to take thousands of photos and keep them all without taking up any of your internal memory. This is not possible on any iPhone.

    25. Data Security – There is a myth that the iPhone is more secure than Android devices, but it’s simply not true since 2008 the NSA has been able to access almost everything on an iPhone. They can even turn on your iPhone’s camera and mic without you knowing they are watching and listening. The NSA can also access all of your data, photos, texts, contacts, location data, voice-mails and more. If the NSA has access to all of this today, it’s just a matter of time before sophisticated hackers gain access to some of this. None of this is possible on an Android phone running Android 4.x software. That’s why all of the three new military-grade encrypted phones being sold to address NSA snooping concerns all run Android.

      Easily add more storage

      Easily add more storage

    26. Storage Up to 128GB – There is no way to expand the memory on the iPhone 5s, yet most Android phones can easily be expanded (up to 128GB) by adding a microSD card. That’s double the amount of storage available in an iPhone 5s. This allows you to store every photo you’ve ever taken and every song you’ve ever purchased on your mobile device.

    27. Better Multitasking – Apple places restrictions on third-party apps which run in the background. In most cases, they are suspended and not allowed to communicate with other apps. Android supports true-multitasking without any of the above restrictions. This makes it possible to do things which cannot be done on iOS.

      Now you can have a phone that is unlike any other

      Now you can have a phone that is as original as you are

    28. More Customization Options – Android phones like the Moto X provide far more customization options than the three metal cases available on the iPhone 5s. Their MotoMaker website lets you choose from 18 separate front and back colors, pick an accent color, screen wallpapers and color-coordinated cases. You can even have a bamboo back. When you’re done customizing your Moto X, they assemble the customized device here in the USA and ship it for free in 4 days or less. Over 2000 customization options are available.

    29. Powerful Front-facing Speakers – Android phones like the new HTC One have two front-facing speakers that get much louder than the single speaker in the iPhone 5s. How much louder? The speakers on the HTC One put out 93 decibels, while iPhone 5s’ sound output is only 66dB. That’s a dramatic difference. This isn’t just important for music, it’s also important when you have a conversation on your speaker.

    30. Ability to Set Default Software – One of the most powerful Android features is the ability to change the default software the OS uses for different tasks. For example, if you want to the Dolphin browser to open any URL (instead of the stock Android browser), just pick the app you want to use. Want to use a different app for turn-by-turn directions or media playback? Pick one, and it will use that app every time. This is an incredibly powerful feature. You can even replace the stock keyboard on your phone with a better third-party keyboard like SwiftKey3. Apple doesn’t allow this.

      You can talk to Android phones like the Moto X from across the room and they respond

      You can talk to Android phones like the Moto X from across the room and they respond

    31. Hands-free voice control that is always ready – Android phones like the Moto X (and all devices with Android 4.4 and Google Now running) allow you to perform voice actions from across the room. Demo video. This is possible because they use a low-power core which is always listening for a key phrase. Of course you can disable this feature if you like. Siri only works after you press the home button and in most cases you are limited to voice control of the built-in iOS apps only. Android phones allow you to make a call to a contact or a business, get directions or travel time, send messages, set a reminder, schedule an event, ask questions, play music or movies, set alarms, see when the next meeting is, ask Google what music is playing, open an app on your phone and more.

    32. LTE Advanced Support – Phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have Category 4 LTE support, which allows your device to transfer data at faster speeds. The iPhone 5s only supports Cat 3, which is slower. Some Android phones also support advanced LTE features like Carrier Aggregation and LTE Multicast, which Verizon recently demonstrated at the Super Bowl with a Galaxy Note 3.

    33. HDR Video Capture – Phones like the new HTC One have video cameras that have the same real-time HDR processing that is found in most phones today. This makes it possible to have images with bright light sources and dim backgrounds.

    34. Flash Video Support – Flash may be a dying format, but there are still millions of Flash videos around and iOS can’t play any of them. This includes almost every TV show and most popular movies. All Android devices running 4.0 (and earlier) can play Flash videos out of the box. If you have an Android device running Android 4.1 (or later) you can enable Flash support by following these easy instructions.

      Gorilla Glass 3 screens are impossible to scratch

      Gorilla Glass 3 screens are impossible to scratch

    35. The Most Scratch-resistant Screen – The Samsung Galaxy S4 was the first smartphone with a Gorilla Glass 3 screen. Other phones like the LG Nexus 5 and Galaxy Note 3 have it as well. This screen is much more durable than the older Corning Glass used on the iPhone 5s and impossible to scratch with car keys — or even a knife. Watch this video to see just how durable it is.

    36. Standard Cable Support – All Android smartphones have standard micro-USB jacks, so you can connect to any Android charger, USB keyboard or a television without purchasing an expensive cable. Apple uses proprietary connectors — so they can sell you cables for $20 to $50. If you want an extra charging cable for your iPhone 5s, it will cost you $19 and is hard to find. You can buy an Android power cord almost anywhere for as little as $2.

      The iPhone can't measure temperature or pressure

      The iPhone can’t measure temperature, humidity or barometric pressure

    37. Important Sensors (Temperature, Humidity, Pressure) – Like all Android phones, the iPhone 5S has a gyroscope, accelerometer and a compass/magnetometer. However the iPhone 5S is missing important sensors found in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 which measure temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. The later is important, because it can improve GPS accuracy and tell your phone whether you are inside or outside. The Nexus 5 also has a “Hall Effect” sensor that you won’t find in the iPhone 5s.

    38. Screen Sharing – Most Android devices are capable of sharing the information on their screens wirelessly. This is done several different ways. Some devices support Miracast which is a peer-to-peer standard that uses Wi-Fi Direct to transmit video and surround sound audio. In addition, many Samsung Galaxy devices support Group Play which lets you share your screen with a group of friends on the same Wi-Fi network at the same time. You can also use Group Play to listen to the same music.

    39. The most usable screen space – Not only is the iPhone 5s screen a fraction of the size of many Android phones, it has much less usable screen real estate in relation to the overall size the device. For example, the LG G2 and Galaxy Note 3 both have over 74% usable screen space, while only 60% of the iPhone 5’s screen area is usable.

    40. Damage Resistance – Apple mobiles devices are more breakable than than other mobile devices according to SquareTrade. Android phones like the Moto X are more damage resistant.

    41. High-resolution Audio Support – High-resolution audio is going to be pushed heavily at the 2014 CES show. CEA research suggests nearly 40% of consumers are willing to pay more for high-quality CE devices. That’s why Android phones like the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 support high-definition 24-bit/192kHz audio.

    42. An AV Adapter with 1080p Support – Another big downside to the iPhone 5s’ use of a proprietary “Lightning” cable is that its Digital AV adapter (which connects to the HDMI jack on your TV) doesn’t support 1080p today. It’s capable of supporting 1080p, but Apple has chosen to hold back support for this feature.

      Android devices like the Galaxy Note 3 can record and playback Ultra HD video

      Android devices like the Galaxy Note 3 can record and playback Ultra HD video

    43. Ultra HD 4K Encode/Decode – The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Acer Liquid S2 can both record and playback Ultra HD video with four times the resolution of standard 1080p HD video. This may not seem like an essential feature today, but it is useful because you can easily tell a difference between a standard 1808p HD video and an Ultra HD 4k video — even when both are played on a 1080p display. The differences will be even more apparent as consumers get 4k TVs in their homes. Phones with a Snapdragon 800 processor like the Galaxy Note 3 can also decode DTS or Dolby Digital 7.1 channel audio.

    44. A 16:9 Display – Apple said the iPhone 5 was closer to 16:9, but the movies still need to be letterboxed.

    45. Voice-over-LTE Support – Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III support VoLTE today. Once the carriers roll-this out next year voice will be sent over the fast 4G network and voice-quality will dramatically improve. VoLTE has twice the frequency-range of 3G and HD-level audio. More info.

      The Galaxy S4 kills the iPhone 5s when it comes to talk time (17.5 hours vs. 10.8 hours)

      The Galaxy S4 kills the iPhone 5s when it comes to talk time (17.5 hours vs. 10.8 hours)

    46. A Powerful Battery – The iPhone 5s only has 1560 mAh battery. Phones like the Acer Liquid S2, LG Optimus G Pro, Motorola DROID MAXX and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 have batteries that are at least twice as powerful as the battery in the iPhone 5s. The Samsung Galaxy S4 retained its title as winner of highly-regarded UK consumer association battery tests. These tests didn’t include the Droid MAXX which has even better battery life. The battery in the Droid MAXX lasts two full days, while the battery in the iPhone 5s only lasts one day at best. This is one of several reasons Consumer Reports recommends the Droid series over the iPhone 5s.

    47. A True Full-screen Mode – Android 4.4 supports a new ‘Immersive mode’ that allows apps to take over the entire screen if needed. That means you won’t see any controls on the top of the bottom of the screen. On the iPhone, this isn’t possible.

    48. Eye control – Phones like the Samsung Galaxy 4, Galaxy Note 3 and LG Optimus G Pro let users control video playback (and others things) with their eyes. This feature uses the front facing camera to recognize when the device owner is looking at the phone’s display during video playback.

      Samsung phones like the Galaxy S4 double as smart TV remote, with built-in IR blaster and 'WatchOn' software

      Samsung phones like the GS4 double as smart TV remote, with built-in IR blaster and ‘WatchOn’ software

    49. An Infrared Transmitter – Phones like new HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Experia product line and LG Optimus VU II have built-in IR-transmitters so you can use your tablet to control devices in your home like your TV without using Wi-Fi and special apps. This is a very useful feature.

    50. DLNA Support – Most Android phones include DLNA support. That means they can stream media to over 10,000 devices. Chance are you have several DLNA-certified devices in your home and you don’t even know it. Most TVs, game consoles, media streamers and Blu-ray players are DLNA-certified.

    51. Dual-SIM Support – Most popular Android phones are available in dual-SIM configurations. This includes the Samsung Galaxy phones including the Note 3, HTC phones like the HTC One and Sony Expedia phones. This is essential in many parts of the world and not something that the iPhone 5s supports today.

      A pressure sensitive stylus is a valuable addition to phones like the Galaxy Note 3

      A pressure sensitive stylus is a valuable addition to phones like the Galaxy Note 3

    52. Full Stylus Support – Although you can use a stylus on an iPhone, you don’t get the same level of expression you get on a Samsung Galaxy Note II or Galaxy Note 3. Both of those phones have 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and comes with useful apps that work with the bundled stylus.

    53. No high-speed wireless data transfer between mobile devices and computers – AirDrop does not support data transfers between iOS 7 devices and Macs. You can share data between Macs, or devices, but not between the two. There are many different ways to transfer data wirelessly between Android devices and computers.

    54. Easy repairs – The iPhone 5s is harder to repair than most other Android smartphones. For example, the iPhone 5s gets a repairibility score of 6, while the Nexus 4, Nexus S, Moto X, Galaxy Note, Note II, Note 3, Galaxy SII, S3, S4 all get higher scores — meaning they are easier to repair. More info.

    55. A 2MP Front Camera – All of the best Android smartphones have 2MP or higher front-facing cameras. Apple still uses a 1.2MP front-facing camera for “selfies.”

    56. 1080p Video Conferencing – Apple’s front-facing “FaceTime” camera is only capable of 720p video recording. Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 (and others) shoot 1080p HD Video @ 30fps.

    57. The Thinnest Case – Apple makes a big deal about the thinness of their mobile products, but the iPhone 5s is not the thinnest smartphone. The Motorola Droid Ultra and others phones are thinner.

    58. Dual Wi-Fi Antennas – Smartphones like the Moto X have two antennas dedicated to LTE, which is supposed to deliver faster data speeds and better reception. The Droid MAXX and other Android phones also have MIMO Wi-Fi antennas. The iPhone 5 only has a 1×1 MIMO antenna.

    It's Clear Some of the Most Popular Features in iOS 7 were Copied from Android

    It’s Clear Some of the Most Popular Features in iOS 7 were Copied from Android


    Ten iPhone 5s Features Apple Borrowed from Android

    Apple also has a long history of borrowing technology from others and claiming it as their own. Many of the new features in the iPhone 5s are already available in Android phones. Some of these feature have been around for a long time. Here are a few examples:

    1. Control Center – The most popular feature in iOS 7 is the Control Center which experts say was clearly copied from Android.

    2. OpenGL 3.0 ES Support – Android was the first platform to support OpenGL ES 3.0, which makes possible a new level of photo-realistic 3D graphics. It uses new texture compression techniques that makes possible amorphic-style lens flares and more realistic looking faces. Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (and Nexus 7 tablet) include support for OpenGL 3.0 ES.

    3. 60fps Video Recording – Phones like the HTC One, Motorola X, Galaxy S4, and Asus Padfone 2 have video cameras all been capable of 60fps recording and slo-mo video. It’s nice to see Apple finally add this important feature.

    4. A Sensor Core – Every Android phone with the Snapdragon 800 processor has a sensor core that does everything that Apple’s M7 processor does.

    5. Color Choices – Phones from Samsung and Nokia have been available in a wide range of eye-popping color for years.

    6. A Fingerprint Reader – Fingerprint readers have been available on Android devices starting with the Motorola Atrix 4G, which was released back in February of 2011. Pantech and LG have phones with them as well.

    7. Better Carrier Interoperability – The iPhone 5 did away with the dual-mode GSM/CDMA support that the iPhone 4S had. As a result, Apple had to sell three different types of iPhone 5s to support all regions. The new iPhone 5s is supposed to address this issue.

    8. A Larger Sensor with Bigger Pixels – Like HTC, Sony and Nokia, Apple increased the size of their sensor. The new larger sensor has been proven to improve the quality of photos in low-light conditions.

    9. Quick Settings – Quick Settings is another feature Apple copied from Android.

    10. A Gold Color Option – The new gold Samsung Galaxy S4, was in stores a week before the iPhone 5s even went on sale and Samsung has been making gold phones since 2004.

    You Can’t Compare the iPhone 5s to All Android Phones!

    Several people have contacted me to say it’s not fair to compare the iPhone 5s to the entire Android platform. My point is each and every one of these technologies could have been included in the iPhone 5s. Apple chose to ignore all 50+ of these technologies — even though some of these wouldn’t have added any cost to the iPhone.

    But let me get back to their complaint. How does the iPhone 5s stack up to a single Android phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3? It doesn’t come close. Most of the advantages shown here are found in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy S4 and other flagship Android devices.

    Most iPhone Owners Want Better Battery Life, NFC and a Bigger Screen as well

    Most iPhone Owners Want Better Battery Life, NFC and a Bigger Screen as well

    The Bottom Line

    Apple has a long history of holding back technology from their customers. They do this to ensure you will buy a new iPhone every year (or two) and this strategy has worked like a charm. This year is no different. Could Apple has easily have added some of these things to the iPhone 5s without increasing it’s price? Absolutely. Would these things have made the iPhone 5s a dramatically better phone? Of course. Who wouldn’t want a faster phone, with a better display, better media streaming, more customization choices and so on. Apple choose to maintain their already industry-leading profit margins. That’s why Apple has almost $150 billion dollars in the bank.

    The Android landscape is very different with Asus, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and others all fighting to increase their sales. Competition is good because it ensures consumers get more for their money. Android is a great example of this. Android device makers release more mobile devices in a single month, than Apple does in an entire year. This has allowed Android phones to jump ahead of the iPhone in many areas.

    I’m not the only person who thinks things like a bigger screen is important. There is strong data that many iPhone users feel the same way. For example, CNET does a poll before every iPhone release where they ask what iPhone users want to see. Here are the results from this year’s poll: iPhone users want more powerful batteries, NFC and a bigger screen.

    I’m not saying the iPhone 5s is a bad phone. It clearly is not. Its camera is better, its build-quality remains great and iOS 7 and the new cases give it a fresh new look. The purpose of this article is to make you think. I know most of you aren’t going to change your minds after reading this, but you should be aware of the things you’ll be missing when you choose an iPhone 5s over a flagship Android phone. Many of you will convince yourself that none of these things matter to you and will still buy an iPhone 5s — but don’t say you weren’t warned when some of these features appear in the iPhone 6 a year from now.

    What People Are Saying About the New iPhone 5s

  • Four analysts downgraded Apple stock the morning after the launch event sending it down more than $28. The last time Apple launched a phone the stock was trading at $710. That’s $244 higher than it is today. Why they are calling this launch a dud?(1) lack of a “lower-end” iPhone and price points that will be too high to increase penetration in emerging markets (2) no China Mobile agreement, (3) a likely less than expected impact from China Mobile, when/if a partnership is announced — higher than expected pricing, no lower-end iPhone, (4) another “evolutionary but not revolutionary” iPhone product launch, and (5) risk to near term gross margin estimates, given typical lower gross margin on new iPhones (in this case both 5c and 5s, as opposed to only one new launch. Source 1, Source 2
  • Poor AAPL stock performance continued during the first week of iPhone 5s sales, with Apple stock only gaining 0.5% for the entire week. Even Nokia had a much better week than Apple gaining 2.7%. That leaves Apple stock down over $243 from its price when the last iPhone launched.
  • One thing everyone agrees on is the price of the iPhone 5c is too high. BGR wrote an article titled: “Wall Street hammers ‘clueless’ Apple over high iPhone 5c price
  • Reaction from China about iPhone 5c pricing: ‘I can’t sell my kidney for this much.’ The actual price of the lowest-model iPhone 5c in China is $733 in U.S. dollars.
    Source
  • People also seem to be enjoying the new iPhone 5s parody ad which came out days before the official announcement and nailed Apple lack of new features with statements like “We have found a way to sell the same iPhone a year later changing nothing but the name.” Of course that applies more to the iPhone 4S launch but many of the other comments are completely accurate.
  • UK CNET readers blasted Apple after the launch for being “lazy and greedy.” “Nothing spectacular in terms of hardware,” says Andrew Dart. “Wrong screen size for 2013,” says Benjamin Bradshaw. “My 7-year-old laptop has a fingerprint reader,” points out Eamonn Gibson. “The new iPhones are a step backwards for Apple, still can’t match the Galaxy S4 or HTC One and with the Google Nexus 5 due out soon they’ll be pushed further down the pecking order,” says Crispin Norman. Source
  • BGR wrote an article about “How Apple mismanaged the iPhone 5c launch.”Source
  • There were lots of articles like this one titled “Why Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor matters” which go on to prove that 64-bit support is completely useless in a smartphone today. A 64-bit processor is designed to memory addresses larger than 4GB — yet the iPhone 5s only has 1GB of memory. CNET made some more intelligent comments including: “64-bit designs don’t automatically improve performance for most tasks. In fact, there can be drawbacks: it’s likely that 64-bit versions of programs will be bulkier than their 32-bit equivalents.”
  • Reactions to iOS 7 have been mixed as well. Some are shocked by the change and don’t like it. Others can’t find things. Most are just surprised by the bright color scheme.
  • It’s never a good sign when one of the common questions on your forum is “How do I uninstall iOS 7?”
  • The iOS 7 launch have been far from trouble-free. Articles like this one talk about iOS 7 Problems Plaguing iPhone & iPad Users. Some iPhone users are reporting severe motion sickness while using iOS 7 and others just says it obnoxious or ugly. Most people agree that iOS 7 is taking a toll on battery life as well.
  • The Onion’s article about Tim Cook was pretty funny: Apple Unveils Panicked Man With No Ideas Speaking of parodies, Conan’s gold iPhone video is pretty funny as well.
  • Apple reinvents cases to make them look stupider. Source “Which kind of idiot would buy a plastic case for a plastic iPhone?” “Apple’s iPhone 5c Case Looks Like a Cheese Grater Made for a Toddler.” “The iPhone 5c’s case looks a lot like Crocs shoes” and last but not least: “C is Not for Courage: What’s Wrong With the New iPhone’s Colors.”
  • Other comments focused on the fact that Apple’s new Touch ID fingerprint sensor is far from flawless. For example, “Apple cautions that the Touch ID sensor is not perfect and will give inaccurate readings in some cases, especially when a finger is moist. This is due to the capacitive “image” the sensor array captures. Moisture or other conductive debris on a finger could give false readings.” Source
  • Just one day after the iPhone 5s became available, Apple’s TouchID defeated with fabricated fingerprints and Apple’s claims that a live finger was needed to unlock an iPhone were proven to be false. One of the experts who defeated the fingerprint reader said “We hope that this finally puts to rest the illusions people have about fingerprint biometrics. It is plain stupid to use something that you can´t change and that you leave everywhere every day as a security token“, said Frank Rieger, spokesperson of the CCC. ”

  • Another claims “Apple Missed the Best Use for a Fingerprint Scanner.” This article goes on to say “The truth is, Apple didn’t give the iPhone 5s the one feature that could actually help get a stolen phone back—one that goes perfectly with a fingerprint scanner. What is it? Requiring a fingerprint scan—or even a passcode scan—to turn the iPhone off.”
  • A Time magazine article pointed out that “Secure fingerprint scanners aren’t necessarily secure.” When the author was with a Fortune 500 company he “worked with a security team looking into biometric authentication tools (consumer-grade fingerprint-scanning technology has been around for over a decade in consumer tech — it’s hardly as “innovative” as Apple’s Phil Schiller suggests). When I left in 2004, the company was still looking for something secure enough. As security analyst Bruce Schneier aptly puts it in an op-ed for Wired, “Your fingerprint isn’t a secret; you leave it everywhere you touch.”
  • Apple’s fingerprint scanner could have unintended consequences, and may even limit the constitutional protection of the Fifth Amendment. Source
  • And of course there were many headlines like this one about the 5-6% drop in Apple’s stock price: Apple Stock (AAPL) Dives After Analysts Downgrade iPhone Maker – ABC News
  • A common theme seen in many posts is “Apple is boring and I miss Steve Jobs.” Here an excerpt: “As I watched the live stream, I kept telling myself maybe Apple will surprise me again. Maybe there will be “one more thing” to wow me. Maybe… But there wasn’t and it made me sad. Today I visited Apple’s site and decided to watch the video for the 5c. The first sentence out of Jony Ive’s mouth was: “The iPhone 5c is in many ways the distillation of what people love about the iPhone 5.” Distillation… really? Come on. It made me wonder if I used to sound like a pompous know it all when I was at the height of my Apple fan-girl period.”
  • Of course not all of the news about the iPhone 5s is bad. Most of the stories are very positive. For over ten years I was a die hard Apple fan, I bought two iPhones and two different iPads. Back then, they were the clear choice for someone who wanted the best mobile devices. That was then, this is now. I’ve had a hard time seeing much innovation over the past two years. That could change in the future, but I will not be buying an iPhone 5s.

    – Rick

    Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    The Dirty Little Secret About Mobile Benchmarks

     

    This article has had almost 30,000 views. Thanks for reading it.

    When I wrote this article over a year ago, most people believed mobile benchmarks were a strong indicator of device performance. Since then a lot has happened: Both Samsung and Intel were caught cheating and some of the most popular benchmarks are no longer used by leading bloggers because they are too easy to game. By now almost every mobile OEM has figured out how to “game” popular benchmarks including 3DMark, AnTuTu, Vellamo 2 and others. Details. The iPhone hasn’t been called out yet, but Apple has been caught cheating on benchmarks before, so there is a high probability they are employing one or more of the techniques described below like driver tricks. Although Samsung and the Galaxy Note 3 have received a bad rap over this, the actual impact on their benchmark results was fairly small, because none of the GPU frequency optimizations that helped the Exynos 5410 scores exist on Snapdragon processors. Even when it comes to the Samsung CPU cheats, this time around the performance deltas were only 0-5%.

    11/26/13 Update: 3DMark just delisted mobile devices with suspicious benchmark scores. More info.

    2/1/17 Update: XDA just accused Chinese phone manufacturers of cheating on benchmarks. You can read the full article here.

    Mobile benchmarks are supposed to make it easier to compare smartphones and tablets. In theory, the higher the score, the better the performance. You might have heard the iPhone 5 beats the Samsung Galaxy S III in some benchmarks. That’s true. It’s also true the Galaxy S III beats the iPhone 5 in other benchmarks, but what does this really mean? And more importantly, can benchmarks really tell us which phone is better than another?

    Why Mobile Benchmarks Are Almost Meaningless

      1. Benchmarks can easily be gamed – Manufacturers want the highest possible benchmark scores and are willing to cheat to get them. Sometimes this is done by optimizing code so it favors a certain benchmark. In this case, the optimization results in a higher benchmark score, but has no impact on real-world performance. Other times, manufacturers cheat by tweaking drivers to ignore certain things, lower the quality to improve performance or offload processing to other areas. The bottom line is that almost all benchmarks can be gamed. Computer graphics card makers found this out a long time ago and there are many well-documented accounts of Nvidia, AMD and Intel cheating to improve their scores.Here’s an example of this type of cheating: Samsung created a white list for Exynos 5-based Galaxy S4 phones which allow some of the most popular benchmarking apps to shift into a high-performance mode not available to most applications. These apps run the GPU at 532MHz, while other apps cannot exceed 480MHz. This cheat was confirmed by AnandTech, who is the most respected name in both PC and mobile benchmarking. Samsung claims “the maximum GPU frequency is lowered to 480MHz for certain gaming apps that may cause an overload, when they are used for a prolonged period of time in full-screen mode,” but it doesn’t make sense that S Browser, Gallery, Camera and the Video Player apps can all run with the GPU wide open, but that all games are forced to run at a much lower speed.Samsung isn’t the only manufacturer accused of cheating. Back in June Intel shouted at the top of their lungs about the results of an ABI Research report that claimed their Atom processor outperformed ARM chips by Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung. This raised quite a few eyebrows and further research showed the Intel processor was not completely executing all of the instructions. After released an updated version of the benchmark, Intel’s scores dropped overnight by 20% to 50%. Was this really cheating? You can decide for yourself — but it’s hard to believe Intel didn’t know their chip was bypassing large portions of the tests AnTuTu was running. It’s also possible to fake benchmark scores as in this example.Intel has even gone so far as to create their own suite of benchmarks that they admit favor Intel processors. You won’t find the word “Intel” anywhere on the BenchmarkXPRT website, but if you check the small print on some Intel websites you’ll find they admit “Intel is a sponsor and member of the BenchmarkXPRT Development Community, and was the major developer of the XPRT family of benchmarks.” Intel also says “Software and workloads used in performance tests may have been optimized for performance only on Intel microprocessors.” Bottom line: Intel made these benchmarks to make Intel processors look good and others look bad.
      2. Benchmarks measure performance without considering power consumption – Benchmarks were first created for desktop PCs. These PC were always plugged into the wall, had multiple fans and large heat-sinks to dissipate the massive amounts of power they consumed. The mobile world couldn’t be more different. Your phone is rarely plugged into the wall — even when you are gaming. Your mobile device is also very limited on the amount of heat it can dissipate and battery life drops as heat increases. It doesn’t matter if your mobile device is capable of incredible benchmark scores if your battery dies in only an hour or two. Mobile benchmarks don’t factor in the power needed to achieve a certain level of performance. That’s a huge oversight, because the best chip manufacturers spend incredible amounts of time optimizing power usage. Even though one processor might slightly underperform another in a benchmark, it could be far superior, because it consumed half the power of the other chip. You’d have no way to know this without expensive hardware capable of performing this type of measurements.

     

    • Benchmarks rarely predict real-world performance — Many benchmarks favor graphics performance and have little bearing on the things real consumers do with their phones. For example, no one watches hundreds of polygons draw on their screens, but that’s exactly the types of things benchmarks do. Even mobile gamers are unlikely to see increased performance on devices which score higher, because most popular games don’t stress the CPU and GPU the same way benchmarks do. Benchmarks like GLBenchmark 2.5 focus on things like high-level 3D animations. One reviewer recently said, “Apple’s A6 has an edge in polygon performance and that may be important for ultra-high resolution games, but I have yet to see many of those. Most games that I’ve tried on both platforms run in lower resolution with an up-scaling.” For more on this topic, scroll down to the section titled: “Case Study 2: Is the iPhone 5 Really Twice as Fast?”This video proves shows that the iPhone 5s is only slightly faster than the iPhone 5 when it comes to real-world tests. For example, The iPhone 5s only starts up only 1 second faster than the iPhone 5 (23 seconds vs. 24 seconds). The iPhone 5s only loads the Reddit.com site 0.1 seconds faster than the iPhone 5. These differences are so small it’s unlikely anyone would even notice them. Would you believe the iPhone 4 shuts down five times faster than the iPhone 5s? It’s true (4 seconds vs. 21.6 seconds). Another video shows that even though the iPhone 5s does better on most graphics benchmarks, when it comes to real world things like scrolling a webpage in the Chrome browser, Android devices scroll significantly faster than a iPhone 5s running iOS 7.See for yourself in this video.

     

    The iPhone 5s appears to do well on graphics benchmarks until you realize that Android phones have almost 3x the pixels


    The iPhone 5s appears to do well on graphics benchmarks until you realize that Android phones have almost 3x the pixels

    • Some benchmarks penalize devices with more pixels — Most graphic benchmarks measure performance in terms of frames per second. GFXBench (formerly GLBenchmark) is the most popular graphics benchmark. Apple has dominated in the scores of this benchmark for one simple reason. Apple’s iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5s displays all have a fraction of the pixels flagship Android devices have. For example, in the chart above, the iPhone 5s gets a score of 53 fps, while the LG G2 gets a score of 47 fps. Most people would be impressed by the fact that the iPhone 5s got a score that was 12.7% higher than the LG G2, but when you consider the fact the LG G2 is pushing almost 3x the pixels (2073600 pixels vs. 727040 pixels), it’s clear the Adreno 330 GPU in the LG G2 is actually killing the GPU in the iPhone 5s. The GFXBench scores on the 720p Moto X (shown above) are further proof that what I am saying is true. This bias against devices with more pixels isn’t just true with GFXBench, you can see the same behavior with graphics benchmarks like Basemark X shown below (where the Moto X beats the Nexus 4).
    More proof that graphics benchmarks favor devices with lower-res displays

    More proof that graphics benchmarks favor devices with lower-res displays

    • Some popular benchmarks are no longer relevantSunSpider is a popular JavaScript benchmark that was designed to compare different browsers. However, according to at least one expert, the data that SunSpider uses is a small enough benchmark that it’s become more of a cache test. That’s one reason why Google came out with their V8 and Octane benchmark suites, both are better JavaScript tests than SunSpider.” According to Google, Octane is based upon a set of well-known web applications and libraries. This means, “a high score in the new benchmark directly translates to better and smoother performance in similar web applications.” Even though it may no longer be relevant as an indicator of Java-script browsing performance, SunSpider is still quoted by many bloggers. SunSpider isn’t the only popular benchmark with issues, this blogger says BrowserMark also has problems.
    SunSpider is a good example of a benchmark which may no longer be relevant

    SunSpider is a good example of a benchmark which may no longer be relevant — yet people continue to use it

    • Benchmark scores are not always repeatable – In theory, you should be able to run the same benchmark on the same phone and get the same results over and over, but this doesn’t always occur. If you run a benchmark immediately after a reboot and then run the same benchmark during heavy use, you’ll get different results. Even if you reboot every time before you benchmark, you’ll still get different scores due to memory allocation, caching, memory fragmentation, OS house-keeping and other factors like throttling.Another reason you’ll get different scores on devices running exactly the same mobile processors and operating system is because different devices have different apps running in the background. For example, Nexus devices have far less apps running in the background than a non-Nexus carrier-issued devices. Even after you close all running apps, there are still apps running in the background that you can’t see — yet these apps are consuming system resources and can have an affect on benchmark scores. Some apps run automatically to perform housekeeping for a short period and then close. The number and types of apps vary greatly from phone to phone and platform to platform, so this makes objective testing of one phone against another difficult.Benchmark scores sometimes change after you upgrade a device to a new operating system. This makes it difficult to compare two devices running different versions of the same OS. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S III running Android 4.0 gets a Geekbench score of 1560, which the same exact phone running Android 4.1 gets Geekbench score of 1781. That’s a 14% increase. The Android 4.4 OS causes many benchmark scores to increase, but not in all cases. For example, after moving to Android 4.4, Vellamo 2 scores drop significantly on some devices because it can’t make use of some aspects of hardware acceleration due to Google’s changes.

      Perhaps the biggest reason benchmark scores change over time is because they stress the processor increasing its temperature. When the processor temperature reaches a certain level, the device starts to throttle or reduce power. This is one of the reasons scores on benchmarks like AnTuTu change when they are run consecutive times. Other benchmarks have the same problem. In this video, the person testing several phones gets a Quadrant Standard score on the Nexus 4 that is 4569 on the first run and 4826 on a second run (skip to 14:25 to view).

    • Not all mobile benchmarks are cross-platform — Many mobile benchmarks are Android-only and can’t help you to compare an Android phone to the iPhone 5. Here are just a few popular mobile benchmarks which are not available for iOS and other mobile platforms (e.g. AnTuTu Benchmark, Octane, Neocore, NenaMark, Quadrant Standard and Vellamo).
    • Some benchmarks are not yet 64-bit — Android 5.0 supports 64-bit apps, but most benchmarks do not run in 64-bit mode yet. There are a few exceptions to this rule. A few Java-based benchmarks (Linpack, Quadrant) run in 64-bit mode and do see performance benefits on systems with 64-bit OS and processors. AnTuTu also supports 64-bit.
    • Mobile benchmarks are not time-tested — Most mobile benchmarks are relatively new and not as mature as the benchmarks which are used to test Macs and PCs. The best computer benchmarks are real world, relevant and produce repeatable scores. There is some encouraging news in this area however — now that 3DMark is available for mobile devices. It would be nice if someone ported other time-tested benchmarks like SPECint to iOS as well.
    Existing benchmarks don't accurate measure the impact of memory speed or throughput

    Existing benchmarks don’t accurately measure storage performance on things like video playback

    • Inaccurate measurement of memory and storage performance — There is evidence that existing mobile benchmarks do not accurate measure the impact of faster memory speeds or storage performance. Examples above and below. MobileBench is supposed to address this issue, but it would be better if there was a reliable benchmark that was not partially created memory suppliers like Samsung.
    Existing benchmarks don't accurately measure storage performance on things like video playback

    Existing benchmarks don’t accurate measure the impact of memory speed or throughput

    • Inaccurate measurement of the heterogenous nature of mobile devices — Only 15% of a mobile processor is the CPU. Modern mobile processors also have DSPs, image processing cores, sensor cores, audio and video decoding cores, and more, but not one of today’s mobile benchmarks can measure any of this. This is a big problem.

    Case Study 1: Is the New iPad Air Really 2-5x as Fast As Other iPads?

    There have been a lot of articles lately about the benchmark performance of the new iPad Air. The writers of these article truly believe that the iPad Air is dramatically faster than any other iPad, but most real world tests don’t show this to be true. This video compares 5 generations of iPads.

    Benchmark tests suggest the iPad Air should be much faster than previous iPads

    Benchmark tests suggest the iPad Air should be much faster than previous iPads

    Results of side-by-side video comparisons between the iPad Air and other iPads:

    • Test 1 – Start Up – iPad Air started up 5.73 seconds faster than the iPad 1. That’s 23% faster, yet the Geekbench 3 benchmark suggests the iPad Air should be over 500% faster than an iPad 2. I would expect the iPad Air would be more than 23% faster than a product that came out 3 years and 6 months ago. Wouldn’t you?
    • Test 2 – Page load times – The narrator claims the iPad Air’s new MIMO antennas are part of the reason the new iPad Air loads webpages so much faster. First off, MIMO antennas are not new in mobile devices; They were in the Kindle HD two generations ago. Second, apparently Apple’s MIMO implementation isn’t effective, because if you freeze frame the video just before 1:00, you’ll see the iPad 4 clearly loads all of the text on the page before the iPad Air. All of the images on the webpage load on the iPad 4 and the iPad Air at exactly the same time – even though browser-based benchmarks suggest the iPad Air should load web pages much faster.
    • Test 3 – Video Playback – On the video playback test, the iPad Air was no more than 15.3% faster than the iPad 4 (3.65s vs. 4.31s)

    Reality: Although most benchmarks suggest the iPad Air should be 2-5x faster than older iPads, at best, the iPad Air is only 15-25% faster than the iPad 4 in real world usage, and is some cases it is no faster.

    Final Thoughts

    You should never make a purchasing decision based on benchmarks alone. Most popular benchmarks are flawed because they don’t predict real world performance and they don’t take into consideration power consumption. They measure your mobile device in a way that you never use it: running all-out while it’s plugged into the wall. It doesn’t matter how fast your mobile device can operate if your battery only lasts an hour. For the reason top benchmarking bloggers like AnandTech have stopped using the AnTuTu, BenchmarkPi, Linpack and Quadrant benchmarks, but they still continue to propagate the myth that benchmarks are an indicator of real world performance. They claim they use them because they aren’t subjective, but then them mislead their readers about their often meaningless nature.

    Some benchmarks do have their place however. Even though they are far from perfect they can be useful if you understand their limitations. However you shouldn’t read too much into them. They are just one indicator, along with product specs and side-by-side real world comparisons between different mobile devices.

    Bloggers should spend more time measuring things that actually matter like start-up and shutdown times, Wi-Fi and mobile network speeds in controlled reproducible environments, game responsiveness, app launch times, browser page load times, task switching times, actual power consumption on standardized tasks, touch-panel response times, camera response times, audio playback quality (S/N, distortion, etc.), video frame rates and other things that are related to the ways you use your device.

    Although most of today’s mobile benchmarks are flawed, there is some hope for the future. Broadcom, Huawei, OPPO, Samsung Electronics and Spreadtrum recently announced the formation of MobileBench, a new industry consortium formed to provide more effective hardware and system-level performance assessment of mobile devices. They have a proposal for a new benchmark that is supposed to address some of the issues I’ve highlighted above. You can read more about this here.

    A Mobile Benchmark Primer

        If you are wondering which benchmarks are the best, and which should not be used,

    this article

      should be of use.

    Benchmarks like this one suggest the iPhone 5 is twice as fast as the iPhone 4S.

    Case Study 2: Is the iPhone 5 Really Twice as Fast?

    Note: Although this section was written about the iPhone 5, this section applies equally to the iPhone 5s. Like the iPhone 5, experts say the iPhone 5s is twice as fast in some areas — yet most users will notice little if any differences that are related to hardware alone. The biggest differences are related to changes in iOS 7 and the new registers in the A7.

    Apple and most tech writers believe the iPhone 5’s A6 processor is twice as fast as the chip in the iPhone 4S. Benchmarks like the one in the above chart support these claims. This video tests these claims.

    In tests like this one, the iPhone 4S beats the iPhone 5 when benchmarks suggest it should be twice as slow.

    Results of side-by-side comparisons between the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 4S:

    • Opening the Facebook app is faster on the iPhone 4S (skip to 7:49 to see this).
    • The iPhone 4S also recognizes speech much faster, although the iPhone 5 returns the results to a query faster (skip to 8:43 to see this). In a second test, the iPhone 4S once again beats the iPhone 5 in speech recognition and almost ties it in returning the answer to a math problem (skip to 9:01 to see this).
    • App launches times vary, in some cases iPhone 5 wins, in others the iPhone 4S wins.
    • The iPhone 4S beats the iPhone 5 easily when SpeedTest is run (skip to 10:32 to see this).
    • The iPhone 5 does load web pages and games faster than the iPhone 4S, but it’s no where near twice as fast (skip to 12:56 on the video to see this).

    I found a few other comparison videos like this one, which show similar results. As the video says, “Even with games like “Wild Blood” (shown in the video at 5:01) which are optimized for the iPhone 5s screen size, looking closely doesn’t really reveal anything significant in terms of improved detail, highlighting, aliasing or smoother frame-rates.” He goes to say, “the real gains seem to be in the system RAM which does contribute to improved day to day performance of the OS and apps.”

    So the bottom line is: Although benchmarks predict the iPhone 5 should be twice as fast as the iPhone 4S, in the real-world tests, the difference between the two is not that large and partially due to the fact that the iPhone 5 has twice as much memory. In some cases, the iPhone 4S is actually faster, because it has less pixels to display on the screen. The same is true for tests of the iPad 4 which reviewers say “performs at least twice as fast as the iPad 3.” However when it comes to actual game play, the same reviewer says, “I couldn’t detect any difference at all. Slices, parries and stabs against the monstrous rivals in Infinity Blade II were fast and responsive on both iPads. Blasting pirates in Galaxy on Fire HD 2 was a pixel-perfect exercise on the two tablets, even at maximum resolution. And zombie brains from The Walking Dead spattered just as well on the iPad 3 as the iPad 4.”

    – Rick

    Copyright 2012-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. This article includes the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of his employer. Linking to this article is encouraged.

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