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Processor speed not the most important component in smartphone experience

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Every year myriad smartphones are released and each time we see manufacturers tout improved performance. Adding to that discussion are benchmarking apps such as Geekbench which host lists of the top-performing phones on its site.

Things keep getting better with each generation and scores continue going up. On paper, the top phones are packed with performance and able to pull down incredible and impressive figures.

Of course, most of us know that benchmarks don’t tell the full story. And besides that, many phone makers cheat and fudge numbers, but that’s an entirely different article.

Instead, I want to focus more on how the overall mobile experience isn’t completely dependent on having the fastest phone. If that were the case, and we truly cared about speed, we’d all be using iPhones. Why? Apple’s handsets routinely top the charts in benchmarking apps.

User experience

When choosing your smartphone, one of the most important aspects is the overall user experience. This can include hardware features, such as having a microSD card slot, high refresh rate display, wireless charging, face unlock, and more.

Some of us like curved edge displays or screens that approach seven inches. Others might prefer to have something much smaller and easier to hold in one hand.

Just as important as the hardware preferences is the software. For instance, I recently had the opportunity to review the RedMagic 6 gaming phone, which I found to be extremely snappy performance-wise. Unfortunately, the software was one of the weakest points on that phone.

I encountered some bugs while using it, but even worse, the launcher was locked and there was no way to change it. That can be a deal-breaker for those of us who have a favorite launcher as it can impact our mobile productivity.

At the same time, the RedMagic 6 also included several hardware and software enhancements that are a real benefit for mobile gamers. Examples here include a fan and built-in mappable capacitive shoulder buttons. Whether or not that is of any benefit to you depends on how big of a mobile gamer you are.

There are other phones, such as the Pixel line, which put an emphasis on having a fantastic camera and a clean software experience with quick updates. If those are important to you, you probably don’t worry so much about the benchmarks for 3D gaming.

Software support

This brings us to the topic of software support. That is to ask how long the manufacturer will support the phone. How many OS updates will you receive? To use the RedMagic 6 again as an example, it is made by Nubia (ZTE) who is not exactly known for fantastic software support.

Not many handset makers can compete with Google when it comes to software support and that’s often why you see our site and other outlets recommend Pixel smartphones.

To that end, plenty of other brands have stepped up and began guaranteeing two or more platform upgrades and/or longer security updates such as Samsung, Nokia, OnePlus.

Camera

Many of us use our smartphones as our only camera these days, and for good reason. Most modern cellphones come with wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses, making it the only camera you really need. And while a speedy CPU can help with processing your photos for more impressive images, it doesn’t guarantee them.

Take a look at the Pixel 4a which has a phenomenal camera but uses a midrange Snapdragon system-on-chip. Even some smartphones with the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 won’t be able to match it in terms of image quality. This once again highlights the fact that the highest benchmarking score doesn’t mean that phone will be the best for you.

Battery life

It doesn’t matter how much horsepower you have under the hood if your phone can’t get you through the day.

Many times when I’m browsing for a new smartphone I put battery life at the top of my list of specs to check. While snappy performance is important to me, I don’t want it at the cost of not being able to make it through the day on a single charge.

Final thoughts

What makes the “best” smartphone is highly dependent on what your needs are, and what’s right for one person won’t be what’s right for everyone.

Raw power used to be one of the deciding factors when buying a new phone, but these days we’ve gotten to a point where most midrange smartphones are more than fast enough for our everyday tasks.

We’ve moved from simple bullet points to talking points when describing our preferred handset experience. That’s never been more evident than with Google’s Pixel a-series of phones. It’s why our site and many other outlets often highly recommend the Pixel 4a and other handsets in the a-series lineup.

See Also: Google Pixel 4a (5G) review

The Pixel 4a also has the benefit of featuring a fantastic camera and great battery life making it a terrific all-around phone despite its specs looking rather weak on paper.

Google, Samsung, and others all know there is a sweet spot to hit where performance is “good enough” and it doesn’t revolve around the fastest, most expensive SoC.

With Google set to release the Pixel 6 with its own Tensor silicon under the hood, it’s likely we’ll view it through the wrong lens. That is to say people will compare to Qualcomm’s latest offerings and look at how the processors stack up on paper.

Expect Google to make up for any low benchmark scores by steering the conversation around artificial intelligence and machine learning and how they make your phone work smarter.

Could this be enough to outperform chips with more horsepower? We’ll have to wait and see, but just remember, raw performance is only one aspect of a good smartphone. It’s ultimately about the entire package and how it serves your needs.

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