We don’t usually obsess over benchmarks here at Android Police. While they’re a ballpark indicator of performance, some manufacturers (and even some chipset companies) manipulate them into meaning much less, and they're just numbers. I’m basically a professional consumer communicating my product experiences to you, when you get right down to it. And years of experience have stressed to me that the holistic whole-phone experience is much greater than the sum of its parts, even if I get excited for things like single-threaded performance gains, too. Measurements for one part in isolation don’t describe a complete product, though. And even if you do like them as a back-of-the-envelope comparison, they may not even measure the right things.
Still, the numbers we got for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 are worth discussing for one very important reason: Based on two numbers we have to compare, MediaTek’s upcoming chip might actually be winning when it comes to a couple of these arbitrary numbers.
First, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 benchmarks. Some of these scores were a group effort because specific tests crashed on some of the reference devices. (Thanks: Rich Woods, Anshel Sag, and Myriam Joire.)
- Geekbench (5.4.2): 1226 single-core, 3797 multi-core (three-test average)
- Antutu: 991349.66 (three-test average)
- PCMark 16940.66 (three-test average)
- Jetstream 2: 137.559
- Speedometer 2: 120.9 +-0.85
In isolation, these numbers are good but not incredible (excluding the AI gains here, which are huge and even Tensor-beating in spots). Some of them barely beat the Snapdragon 888. The place where we were most likely to see performance improvements, based on what Qualcomm told us, is in machine learning and AI workloads, but those benchmarks are a little more complicated.
Qualcomm told us its new chip should be able to break the million-point barrier in Antutu, but that wasn’t true in our testing on average. (Only one of three benchmarks did.) But, surprise! MediaTek says its chip can do the same.
I need to stress, MediaTek didn’t actually let us play with a reference device like Qualcomm did, so we’re comparing benchmarks I’ve proven myself on actual hardware with a company’s claims (read: take them with a massive grain of salt), but MediaTek says its Dimensity 9000 can break a million in Antutu, and it also claims its chip can hit a multi-core Geekbench score of over 4,000, which would actually beat what we’ve seen from Qualcomm out of the 8 Gen 1 in our testing if it’s true.
Again, these are just two numbers that don’t really matter out of a whole pile of numbers that don’t really matter. On top of that, manufacturers will undoubtedly apply their own tuning systems, further muddying the waters. But it is indicative of one significant thing: Even if Qualcomm still ends up leading the pack this year, it doesn’t seem like it will be ahead by a crazy margin like we’re used to. MediaTek is right there with it — or, at least, nipping at its heels. There could yet be some huge gotcha out of any of these chips (more on that in a second), but based on what little we’ve seen so far, the gap is narrower than it’s ever been. And, for customers, it’s a difference that might not actually matter — other specs could be more critical.
Many customers are used to the Android flagship formula and buy phones based on marketed features rather than specs, at least partly because basically all the flagships had the same Qualcomm chip inside them. Customers at the high-end Android postpaid market shop by comparing things like camera performance and what you can do with the phone rather than a spreadsheet of components. (That’s less true in other markets, but we’re primarily concerned with the US.) The spec-based cause of a bigger camera sensor or a newer chip = snore, but the effect-based result of better photos = 👀. If MediaTek (and other custom solutions) can even approach Qualcomm’s level, customers probably won’t directly care which chip is in it, and phones with that hardware will sit right next to Qualcomm-powered models on the carrier store displays.
This is the first time in years that we’ve really anticipated a “flagship” chipset from a company other than Qualcomm — Samsung’s halfhearted Exynos chipsets don’t really count. Moderating that, though, is what I think of as “the rule of firsts.” I’m not sure if it’s a real thing or something I just made up, but it’s like the early adopter rule, or the bleeding edge rule. Basically, the first time you do something you’ve never done before, you’re gonna suck at it. So it follows, the first product in a new lineup or category is almost guaranteed to have issues. And, I should stress, the Dimensity 9000 is MediaTek’s first flagship chipset — they might suck at it.
Of course, there have been some stumbles, as anyone that owned a smartphone with a Snapdragon 808 and 810 can easily remember. Even this last generation of phones and the Snapdragon 888 saw some variety in performance across devices (and, presumably, cooling solutions). Now that MediaTek is ready to move upmarket, although I don’t expect it to, Qualcomm really can’t afford to stumble. With supply chains already stretched to their limits for consumer gadgets and companies reengineering products to fit what’s available, a misstep now could seriously cost Qualcomm — if not immediately in 2022, then later in 2023 if engineers designing phones today decide that things have changed.
MediaTek has also seen some “big wins” (as the corporate-speak goes) in the last few years, and the momentum is behind it. The new e-ink Kindle and Peloton’s hardware are both powered by MediaTek chipsets, and they’re sure to be big movers. And, as OnePlus continues its stratospheric rise, it’s a journey made partly on the wings of MediaTek and the Dimensity 1200 inside the Nord 2. For all we know, a company like OnePlus could already have a flagship bound for our shores with a Dimensity 9000 in it. It’s a move that would hardly make MediaTek a household name, but, to be fair, neither is Qualcomm, and on carrier shelves it wouldn’t matter.
Customer priorities are also shifting amid the rise of foldables and the expectation that phones will last longer and longer as customers keep them longer — and, importantly, keep getting updates. Chipset features that better work with new form factors and software support could be equally important, and those are areas where Qualcomm might have an edge. On top of that, AI performance improvements for applications like ambient computing are where the real gains are to be had now (and I suspect Qualcomm will soundly beat MediaTek there).
But whether Qualcomm or MediaTek has the best chip (my money, for the record, is on Qualcomm given its experience), as long as they’re even remotely close to one another, it’s a big win for customers — and that’s ignoring in-house custom designs from companies like Google and OPPO, or the possibility that Samsung’s Exynos might actually be good again. We may finally see chipset competition at the high-end in the US market for the first time in nearly a decade.
In 2021 we started to see prices inch down after they flew through the roof in 2020. More competition in 2022 could drive down chipset prices and further reduce product prices, maybe making a dent in the face of inflation or even supply chain constraints. And with the new types of specialization that companies like Qualcomm and Google are putting in their chipsets when it comes to specific workflows (Qualcomm’s always-on camera and Leica camera processing, Google’s Tensor-optimized real-time translation and photo effects, etc.), a return to chipset competition could push even more variety in features in response.
This is going to be an exciting year for smartphones — and, with supply chain constraints, one that could see a lasting impact for whichever company “wins.” But one thing is for sure: With the extra competition, every customer this year is a winner, too.