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Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from last fall beat this year's top Android flagship phones in a series of raw performance benchmarks. However, despite often having a pixel resolution advantage, Android phones also typically deliver worse looking graphics on top of being slower, as revealed by GameBench.
Back in April, AppleInsider detailed graphics performance of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus against Samsung's Galaxy S5, S6 and Note 4 (detailed above).
Shortly afterward, gaming-oriented benchmarks firm GameBench performed its own video games evaluation of iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6, as well as Google's Nexus 6 and the HTC One M9, evaluating median frame per second performance while playing a variety of different types of games from various developers.
Overall, those tests showed that Apple's iPhone 6 performed best in terms of median FPS as well as in the minimum FPS achieved during testing. iPhone 6 also scored best in "FPS stability," a measurement of how well the device could sustain high performance gameplay.
The firm's full report also detailed that "iPhone games use around a quarter of the RAM of the Android games we tested," highlighting the fallacy of comparing hardware numbers alone, or raw benchmarks without any context or sanity checks.
"iPhone games use around a quarter of the RAM of the Android games we tested" - GameBench
In our own testing, we have consistently found that iOS devices not only outperform their Android counterparts, but do so using less RAM and lower CPU clock rates.
Being faster while using less hardware indicates that Apple's iOS software (along with the platform's third party apps) is better optimized, which also helps iOS devices to claim better battery life on smaller, thinner devices.
What about screen resolution?
Android fans are often quick to blame poor graphics performance on the higher resolution screens that many Android phones use. This is partly correct: as we have frequently noted before, Samsung's use of extremely high resolution screens — paired with relatively anemic processors — is a primary reason why its high end devices perform more like basic gear, despite Galaxy S6 having a retail price higher than iPhone 6.
However, to get around the engineering flaw of too many pixels and not enough GPU horsepower, many game developers scale down Android graphics to the point where games look no better or sometimes even worse, in addition to being slower overall, as GameBench notes in its latest report on iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy S6.
To get around the engineering flaw of too many pixels and not enough GPU horsepower, many game developers scale down Android graphics to the point where games look no better or sometimes even worse
As the site observed, "does the Galaxy S6 even offer a perceptibly higher resolution during gameplay? From what we can tell, it usually does not: it appears to upscale games from 1080p or, in some instances even 720p, to the point where our testers really couldn't tell much difference."
GameBench testing revealed that the same games can perform differently on iOS and Android, depending on how well optimized their code is, whether the developer chooses to set a maximum frame rate (which limits quality but enhances the frame rate stability of the game), and what resolution and rendering quality level the developer sets for the title.
For example, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, GameBench found that while game frame rate and resolution appeared similar across iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Android devices, it wasn't a matter of Samsung being 'faster but held back by its higher screen resolution.'
Instead, to achieve compatible performance with iOS, the quality of graphics was scaled back on Android, something that isn't apparent when looking at benchmarks but is visible when looking at GameBench's comparative screenshots.
Android struggles in real world gameplay
The site also found that the first of two driving games, Asphalt 8 and Real Racing, appears to fix the maximum frame rate of both iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 at 30 FPS, which allows the HTC One M9 to achieve a higher frame rate in the first game, albeit with less consistent stability. Google brought up the rear, with the report noting that "Nexus 6 offered the least smooth experience, with very frequent and serious frame rate drops."
The second driving title fixes the top resolution of iPhone 6 at 30 FPS, but allows all three Android phones to achieve unlimited frame rates. This results in the title playing back smoothly and consistently on iPhone 6, while other phones occasionally max out frame rates but do so at the expense of smooth gameplay.
"Specifically," GameBench notes, "the Galaxy S6 doesn't appear to cope well with having multiple cars in view at the same time, which means that races often start at a low frame rate and only become smoother when the player's car separates from the rest of the pack. The M9 and Nexus 6 are also quite shaky."
Galaxy S6 doesn't appear to cope well with having multiple cars in view at the same time, which means that races often start at a low frame rate and only become smoother when the player's car separates from the rest of the pack
In Dead Trigger 2, GameBench reports that the developer didn't set a maximum frame rate for iOS, with the result that "iPhone 6 delivers extremely smooth, almost console-like graphics that are a sight to behold," while the Galaxy S6 was capped at 30 FPS. The HTC One and Nexus 6 performed even worse despite a similar frame rate cap, with the report noting, "these phones struggled during outdoor levels, when the device had to render multiple zombies at the same time as relatively large chunks of open environment."
Another shooter game, Kill Shot imposes a frame cap on iPhone 6 but not Android, enabling Android devices to reach higher max frame rates but with lower frame rate stability (inconsistently). Conversely, Modern Combat 5 imposes a frame rate cap on Android devices but not on iOS, so that "iPhone 6 is able to get to 60fps, creating a very smooth and console-like experience. The graphics in this game are quite incredible and the iPhone 6 does them justice."
Despite having a 30 FPS frame rate cap that should help it achieve better frame rate stability, however, the Galaxy S6 came in at "second place partly because it suffers more severe frame rate drops on a couple of occasions."
GameBench noted that XCOM: Enemy Within is "a mobile port of a full sized PC game," and notes that iPhone 6 "plays the game at a very steady 30fps with only occasional drops down as far as 18fps," but conversely, Samsung's Galaxy S6 "struggled when the player's soldiers and aliens were onscreen at the same time, and especially during the zoomed-in animations that show each side taking shots at each other."
Samsung's Galaxy S6 "struggled when the player's soldiers and aliens were onscreen at the same time, and especially during the zoomed-in animations that show each side taking shots at each other"
These titles show off software differences on iOS and Android where games play better on iPhones often because developers spend more time bringing the title to iOS, where apps tend to make more money. GameBench also profiled Boom Beach, a highly optimized game that plays back at high frame rates across the board. This indicates that part of the problem with Android games is that fewer games are actually optimized for Android.
Overall, GameBench concluded, "our test puts the iPhone 6 in the lead, because it shows that the iPhone 6 delivers roughly a 10 percent smoother experience than the Galaxy S6 across our basket of ten real-world, high-end games."
Samsung's stumbles are further weakening Android gaming prospects
While Apple's iPhone 6 turns in better performance than the fastest Android phone from Samsung, its also worth noting that Apple's less expensive iPhone 5s from 2013 also packs 64-bit high performance with its lower screen resolution, allowing it to run top games smoothly as well. That can't be said for second tier Android phones, including Nexus 6, a device that is still relatively expensive within the huge range of Android devices.
In fact, the collapse of HTC and poor showing of LG, combined with the disappointing sales of this year's Galaxy S6 flagships (which Samsung predicts to drive even lower revenues than last year) mean that the higher end of Android is losing market share faster than Android overall. That means developers hoping to bring their games to both iOS and Android will have to target an even larger proportion of low end Android products, leaving even less optimization for the small fragment of expensive Android devices that can claim some support for 64-bit CPUs and advanced GPUs.
Google itself is fixated on bringing Android to the "next billion" users, few of whom will be buying Samsung's most expensive products. That holds little hope for Android ever becoming the leading gaming platform many expected it to become. A series of Android video game system flops, including Google's own Android TV, are failing to attract serious game development to Android as well.
Samsung's poor showing over last year's iPhone 6, despite being newer and packing ostensibly improved hardware (including faster and more RAM), may help to explain why the company is rushing to launch its next Note 5 model in advance of Apple's revamped iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Last year, its Note 4 did not stack up well against iPhone 6 Plus in graphics performance, despite being similarly rushed to market.