Will Samsung Finally Put an End to their Long-Running Performance Woes?
Another year, another Galaxy S smartphone. We’re now a couple generations away from Samsung’s new metal and glass re-imagination of their flagship smartphone line. The physical changes came with the S6 and along the way, TouchWiz was supposedly “lightened” significantly too.
I specifically recall how in Samsung Unpacked 2015, the company made ambitious claims about real-world performance, saying they had “optimized” the user experience to better reflect the capabilities of the hardware (though with more bombastic terms: “no more lag, no more stutters”). While Samsung itself wasn’t as straightforward with their latest Samsung Unpacked, one wouldn’t have to look through many hands-on articles to find claims of the new-and-improved, lighter TouchWiz (now known as “Samsung Experience”, but the TouchWiz name has stuck around for so long it’s hard to think of it by any other term).
With both the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S8 you might have found many of the same claims repeated, and while we can’t speak for the Galaxy S8 just yet, last year’s early assessments were wrong. Even many reviews carried on such judgement, and some publications even doubled down in the face of more concrete evidence. Among Internet communities, though, Samsung devices have earned a reputation for “slowing down” over time, and while not everyone might experience it (or perceive it), it remains a sore point for vocal Samsung critics. Even if a few outlets say performance is snappy and smooth.
With the short-lived Note 7 specifically, we found this to not be the case. Even with top-of-the-line hardware, the Note 7 performed poorly compared to devices with similar hardware (but different and lighter software), and this is something we experienced across multiple SKUs (including the Exynos variant, which fared better in other regards), and were able to objectively visualize through performance profiling tools. I personally found it to be inexcusable for a device with a near-$1000 price tag (after taxes).
Now the S8 is launching with the latest and greatest silicon, built on Samsung’s foundational 10nm process size, running either Qualcomm’s newest processor or the successor to a mighty Exynos and Samsung’s latest vision of their UX. Combing through any hands-on from Samsung’s event you’ll find the typical praise claiming the device is “snappy” and “lag-free.” It has been my experience that these initial claims of great Samsung Galaxy performance are a bit too flippant. But this isn’t to say said testers are lying; performance is hard to quantify on the spot, and real-world performance is something you either specifically look for with various tools or something you get to understand and perceive through extended usage. Especially if you have multiple devices and experiences for reference.
I’ve been using a Google Pixel XL since it released, for example. I have again become accustomed to a nice vanilla experience with predictable speed and performance. The Pixel XL might not be the singular fastest and the singular smoothest, but it’s probably the most consistently performing Android device on the market. Recently my T-Mobile Galaxy S7 Edge received its Nougat (7.0, disappointingly) update and I’ve given the Samsung Experience another look. I still find it to be too laggy/unresponsive and unpredictable in speed, and have noticed far more frame drops than I should. Hopefully, the Galaxy S8 with the Snapdragon 835 can help smooth out some of these rough edges, but only if Samsung gives it the breathing room it requires and the attention it deserves.
However, the S8’s software will come loaded with tons of new features like Bixby, DeX, and tons of baggage from previous releases. Will Samsung’s increased processing power and computing capabilities be taken up or undermined by adding more and more features? Every year we see these impressive yearly performance improvements at the hardware level, with faster CPUs and GPUs and more or faster RAM and storage, yet they seem to never truly manifest in Samsung’s software specifically.
“Nowadays, though, we have plenty of shining examples of what Android performance could and should be, sometimes at much lower prices to boot.”
Several XDA writers have S8 and S8+ units on the way. We also have some new tools and a performance analysis suite that we will be testing the device with, to get better real-world performance metrics. I sincerely hope we find a notable improvement, because while the aesthetics of the Samsung Experience might have gotten better, and while the hardware remains the best Android has to offer, inconsistent or disappointing performance obliterates my user experience, and that of many other enthusiasts or so-called “power users”. It’s been several years now, and I think we would all love to see it fully addressed.
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