iPhone 5s Review: The Smartphone Goes 64-bit

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Performance & Benchmarks

Performance is always a delicate topic when it comes to Apple. Comparing the iPhone 5s to Android phones and Windows Phone can take some digging to level the playing field. However, there are few benchmarks you can look at across platforms, where equal workloads can be applied and conclusions can be drawn.

On the surface, it would appear Apple is behind the times with the A7 processor powering the iPhone 5s. The 1.30GHz dual-core A7 (ARMv7) processor is slower in terms of clock speed, and many Android phones are already shipping with 1.5GHz and faster quad-core chips. In addition, 1GB of system RAM is standard with the iPhone 5, which is half of what many flagship Android phones possess. But here's the thing: Apple is vertically integrated and they can hand-tuned their SoC architecture and OS to take excellent advantage of each other. You will not find a more optimized CPU/OS pair in the market today, than the A7 and iOS 7, and there's also a major ace in the hole this time around, 64-bit support. Apple has managed to one-up its competition in the silicon game by architecting a 64-bit chip into a phone by licensing ARM's ARMv8 architecture. It'll take some time for app developers to catch up and produce software that truly takes advantage of it, but the benchmarks below clearly display some of the early benefits.

Looking at Geekbench, we netted an overall score of 2183. For the sake of comparison, we also ran an in-house iPhone 4S through the Geekbench gauntlet. As a refresher, that device has an 800MHz A5 CPU and only 512MB of RAM. The score? A paltry 607. Even the iPhone 5, which astounded us last year with a Geekbench score of 1638, falls far short of the new mark set by the 5s. 

Android phones use an OS from Google and a processor from any number of companies. They work well together, but there are inefficiencies that Apple can more efficiently deal with. In other words, Apple makes the absolute most of its SoC. Apple can squeeze every drop of performance out of it, and also design future SoCs to better alleviate what Apple considers bottlenecks in iOS.  You could also argue that the A7's lower clock speeds help when it comes to battery life.

The simple fact of the matter is that the iPhone 5s is much faster than the iPhone 5 and 4S. In average use, browsing the web and flipping through the usual complement of apps, the speed increase is very noticable. Page flips are slightly quicker, apps load slightly faster. But there's additional graphical horsepower in here too.

Web browsing on the iPhone 5s is very quick. And our SunSpider javascript test rings up at an impressive score of 427.4ms, which is nearly twice as fast as the iPhone 5 (which sported scores of around 887ms in our testing) and even quicker than two of the newest Android rivals: the Galaxy S III and HTC One X, which ranged between ~1,600 and 1,800. The iPad 3 (1562) and iPhone 4S (1648) aren't even in the same league compared to the iPhone 5s.

The other browser-based benchmark we ran was Browsermark, which netted a score of  3507. That smokes the competition, including the iPhone 5, 4S and iPad 4. If you haven't noticed by now, the 64-bit A7 chip is seriously showing off in the benchmarking department. 

GLBenchmark specifically focuses on the graphics performance of the graphics core in a given mobile test device.  This benchmark measures OpenGL graphics performance across a number of rendering workloads. "The benchmark contains high-level 3D animations and low-level graphic measurements. GLBenchmark Egypt HD is the upgraded version of the old Egypt 2.1 test: it is more complex, uses more and higher resolution textures and is optimized for 1080p."

It's another impressive showing for the A7 SoC in the iPhone 5s.  Here the A7 clearly demonstrates a massive fillrate advantage, a traditional strong suit for Apple since the iPhone 4S.  The Egypt HD Offscreen test shows the A7 keeping pace with its closest rivals, falling only behind two tablet device, one of which is NVIDIA's Tegra 4-powered SHIELD Android gaming handheld.

Basemark X is yet another graphically-intense benchmark, and as you'd expect, the 64-bit A7 SoC dominates this test as well. While the iPhone 5s isn't exactly a hardcore gamer's weapon of choice, it certainly can hold its own based on the raw muscle sitting underneath its shell. 
Make no mistake: the iPhone 5s is no marginal improvement over the iPhone 5 and 4S in terms of raw speed. It more than doubles the speed in practically every test we threw at it, and it will surely show off its muscle as more and more apps are built to take advantage of the extra oomph provided by the A7 and its modest allotment of 1GB of system RAM.  Beyond elegant functional and mechanical design, the new Apple A7 processor clearly demonstrates Apple's design prowess when it comes to base silicon technologies as well. Our only wish? That the 64-bit chip were paired up with greater than 1GB of RAM. With 2GB+ in here, we suspect these numbers would have scaled even higher.

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