With the Note 7, Samsung Still Delivers Embarrassing Real-World Performance
Every year we notice the same pattern: new Galaxy device comes out, it gets positive reviews (excluding, perhaps, the Galaxy S5), and among one of the positive points, you usually find performance… somehow.
This is something that, of course, varies from publication to publication. But in general, the story is the same year after year: we see the breakdowns from the more-mainstream publications speak positively about these devices’ performance, somehow suspending the otherwise year-long notion that Samsung’s software is in dire need of a serious rework. It’s not uncommon to see the same publications, or even the same reviewers, then admit that the devices had slowed down since their review was printed, often in such tremendous ways that make us forget that advancements like project TRIM ever happened. The Galaxy Note 7 has just come out, and with Grace UX – Samsung’s thorough redesign of TouchWiz – coupled with top-of-the-line components, we would hope this trend would be reversed on both fronts — coverage and reality.
But Grace UX is not a lighter version of TouchWiz, no matter how refined and more appealing its new aesthetics are, and certainly not after the honeymoon phase flies by. Grace UX packs just as many features as before, and it has its hooks tearing the fabric of Android apart similarly to previous devices. That coupled with the bloatware from both Samsung and carriers notably add to the heft that many new users are experiencing on their Note 7’s. Before we go further, we must also point out that not every user will experience the performance issues equally, many of these problems are localized or limited to certain apps or actions, and the severity also varies depending on your SKU due to software and hardware. This article is confined to Snapdragon 820 versions of the Note 7 purchased in the United States. Finally, it’s also true that the internal components themselves are subject to variability, but for the most part, this does not look to be an issue with the processor, the RAM, or the storage. Samsung’s components are still top-notch, but we see the same problems which at XDA we are all too familiar with.
We have four units within our staff, and every one of our new Notes suffer clear performance issues, sometimes consistently and other times infrequently. The worst hiccups and stutters – or delays – happen only every now and then, but the phone itself is simply slower than its competitors at nearly every action. We have tested the application launch times, both hot and cold, of the Note 7 under the same conditions as our other devices and found it trailing behind not just other Snapdragon 820 phones like the OnePlus 3 and HTC 10, but also the year-old Nexus 6P running on Android’s latest preview. Considering that Samsung packs the cream of today’s processing power with its UFS 2.0 storage, LPDDR4 RAM and the Snapdragon 820, we can begin to entertain the notion that something went wrong with Samsung’s implementation.
Coming from the OnePlus 3 to the Note 7 has been an adjustment. By now we all know TouchWiz or Grace UX is going to be a far more feature-filled and a heavier experience compared to stock Android or lighter ROMs. For instance, after pressing ‘clear all’ on both devices my Note 7 is running 96 processes, compared to the 50 processes the OnePlus 3 — with the same (non-built-in TouchWiz) applications installed. Chrome performance, too, is significantly worse on both benchmarks and the real world, with frequent stutters and hiccups.
The same lag carries onto scrolling performance in many applications, and infrequently in every application after heavy continuous usage. The phone does not get too hot, mind you, but we do notice that after continuous sessions, it progressively begins misbehaving. Scrolling behavior in particular is behind what you’d expect out of an $850 device, especially after this has been one of Samsung’s weak points for years.
When compared to the OnePlus 3, we find that the Note 7 often neglects using its four cores as opposed to the OnePlus 3, which efficiently mixes up its core utilization when handling the same task. GPU profiling on the Note 7 makes it extremely clear that the phone leaks frames on several actions, even minor animations throughout the UI such as a WiFi network spinning circle animation. In some instances, we found outright damning displays of the Note 7’s occasionally-pitiful fluidity accompanied by the walls of green bars denoting serious difficulties pushing the frames through.
But this is not just a matter of opening or returning to your application sooner than on other devices, Samsung’s software is noticeably slower than that of competing devices in almost every action.
The stock keyboard still sees issues with split-second lockups, and the sharing menu on the Note 7 often leaves you waiting for options to load. The notorious TouchWiz Launcher has earned itself a reputation for slow speed and stutters throughout the years, and while it is not as bad as it used to be, it can still miss clear frames while switching through homescreens, and despite years of integration, Flipboard still remains the most jerky leftmost homescreen panel ever introduced by an OEM.
Perhaps one of the worst performing applications on the Galaxy Note 7 is Hangouts, which is often criticized for sub-par performance, but we’ve experience a whole new level of lag with hangouts on our units. The clips presented should speak for themselves, and they come from different devices with different accounts and setups.
Not only have we found issues in real-world performance, but some of our writers also came across uncomfortable heat (close to 40° Celsius) while doing mundane tasks such as listening to music or watching YouTube videos on LTE. When setting up long-running benchmarks to measure performance over time, we found that the Note 7 throttles earlier and much harder than the much-cheaper OnePlus 3, even when both are set on equal footing at 1080p resolution. We are only getting our feet wet into the in-depth performance part of our review, though, but we are pointing this out because as you can see the drop is humongous and from one test to the next, similar to what we experience after very long periods of usage.
And to be honest, we don’t think this is merely a matter of Samsung’s software being too heavy or “bloated”. As we have previously said, much cheaper devices with the same chipset manage faster app-opening speed and much more fluid scrolling and system UI navigation. But the OnePlus 3 and the HTC 10 have clearly-lighter skins. Even then, though, the Honor 8 with its extremely-heavy EMUI manages to outperform the Galaxy Note 7 in every single test, and offers some of the best performance today.
We are bringing this to light because we see that, once again, Samsung’s flagships are getting generally-positive reviews for their performance, while users often disagree. We talked about this issue in an article earlier this year where we mentioned TouchWiz lag, how present it was in 2015 devices, and how we wished for it to change.
At XDA, we take performance very seriously, and it’s often one of our paramount priorities. So much in fact, that many of the Galaxy phone users in our forums have preferred AOSP ROMs over TouchWiz for years, sacrificing the stellar camera and often-useful features that Samsung packs into its ROM, just to get rid of infamous lag that the Galaxy phones traditionally ship with. And we’ve noticed that despite the media outlets’ comments about Samsung’s above-average performance year after year — like we often see, those comments might change a month or two down the line, and what’s considered ‘fluid and smooth’ in one review can then ‘slow down to a crawl’ after a matter of days. Not out of malice nor ineptitude, but short review periods often don’t allow journalists to uncover the true face of Samsung’s software.
This is important to us because we are also enthusiasts, and we’ve seen reviews ignore, year after year, clear, delimited, replicable and often universal performance issues with Samsung phones, such as the infamous home button delay of the Galaxy Note 3, the always-delayed multi-tasking menu of the Galaxy Note 4, or the terrible memory management of the Galaxy Note 5 (which is still an issue on the Note 7, by the way). It’s important that we recognize that these issues exist so that consumers can make educated choices. We are putting this out there not to shame Samsung, or any particular media outlet, but so that people know that despite 6 years worth of releases, Samsung still has horrendous issues with software.
Most importantly, we don’t think the lack of reports on these issues come due to malice, nor from cronyism. But many of these problems can be fixed — they probably will be, as we’ve noted multiple times throughout the past year that Samsung updates have done a good job at improving performance or battery life. And to make ourselves heard and ensure they do, we must acknowledge they exist and put Samsung on the spot as well, because when phones that are half the price run laps around Samsung’s latest big thing, we can seriously ask for more for our buck.
Thanks to Daniel, Madina and Mario for contributing to this article through discussion on our common experience. Special thanks to Mario for heavily contributing to this article as well.