Benchmarking the new generation of Lumia flagships... the 950 bested by the 930!

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One common question fired at us over the last month has been how the new QHD-screened, Snapdragon 808/810-powered Lumias fare in terms of day to day operations, against each other and compared to yesterday's flagships in the Windows Phone world. Below, I attempt to answer this question with my usual real world benchmarks. The results are very surprising, though also good news if you already own a Lumia 930, Icon or Lumia 1520.

As ever, I completely ignore artificial benchmarks based on raw Javascript or computation performance - what matters is what the end user sees. How fast applications come up, how fast they work, and so on. Here are the four contenders, for your interest, the new Lumia 950 and 950 XL, side by side with the 'budget flagship', the 830 and the trusty editorial Lumia 930:

Lumia 950, XL, 830, 930

Testing the Lumia 950 and 950 XL against two Insiders Programme older devices, it's worth noting that the latter were on a slightly more recent build of the OS, but the difference only reflects bug fixes and I didn't think there was any impact on the results below.

Note also that all times are in seconds, first time launches only, where appropriate. And each test was done several times, with the fastest being recorded here - obviously there's some variation according to data transferred, network conditions, and so on. Which is also why there's zero point in me timing things more accurately than done here...

Windows 10 Mobile 10586

Lumia 950
(on build .29) 
Lumia 950 XL
(on build .29)  
Lumia 830
(on build .36)  
Lumia 930/1520
(on build .36
Specification Snapdragon 808

Snapdragon 810

Snapdragon 400

Snapdragon 800

Booting up to Start screen 34 34 35 33
Opening up Outlook Calendar 1 1 2 1.5
Bringing up the Photos view
in OneDrive
13 12 15 13
Bringing up the day's weather
in MSN Weather
4.5 4.5 7 7
Time to load up 10s of 4K video
for 8MP photo extraction...
6.5 6 11** 7
Time to extract and save
that 8MP JPG
6 6 6** 5
Launching MSN News to
opening graphics
3 2 7 3
Opening up Outlook Mail 2 1.5 2.5 1.5
Opening up Skype
i.e. signing in after boot 
7 5 8 5
Opening up Cortana to the
'look at the day' vertical
panorama, after boot
3 3 5.5 3.5
Opening the full New York
Times desktop web site to
the filling in of the
right side bar content
14 13 15 11
Starting Camera (first time) 1.5 1 2 1.5
Opening up Angry Birds
Star Wars
13 13 19 13
Total (seconds)
(+/- 5 seconds, lower is better!)
108.5 102 135 105

* this will always be extra-dependent on device loadout and Store.
** the Lumia 830 only shoots in 1080p, of course, so these are times for extracting 2MP shots from 1080p.  

OK, the numbers out of the way, what are the surprising takeaways from the real world benchmarks here, explicitly in the context of Windows 10 Mobile 10586?

  1. The speed differential between the 950 and 950 XL is quite small. The latter IS faster, consistently, but the differences are small and in real world use you simply won't notice them. This bears out the findings of many others across the wider smartphone world - the 810 isn't consistently faster than the 808 and in some cases may even be slightly slower. It all depends on what's being done, how hard the processor's loaded, how hot it is (notably the 950 XL was deemed to need specific liquid cooling, while the 950 didn't need this), and so on. So don't choose the 950 XL over the 950 purely on speed grounds at least - choose it for the extra screen size and form factor.
  2. The newer devices aren't really any faster than the existing Snapdragon 800-powered phones. Yet. In fact, the Lumia 930 consistently out performed the 950, which is just bizarre. My gut feel is that the potential of the newer devices and their chipsets hasn't been reached yet. Better use of the more powerful GPUs, in particular, in something I'd really like to see Microsoft work on. But in the meantime, if you have a Lumia 930, Icon or 1520 running the latest Insiders Build of Windows 10 Mobile then you're effectively running in the same ball park as the much newer Lumias.
  3. The huge number of Snapdragon 400-powered phones, led here by the Lumia 830, are appreciably slower, but even then only by 30% or so. In part this is because Windows Phone/Windows 10 Mobile has always run well on modestly-specced devices, in part this is the aforementioned lack of full optimisation for the Snapdragon 808/810 on the 950 range. Still, slower is slower, and the Snapdragon 200-based and older S4-based devices will be slower still again, so there's definitely something to be said for the 800-series and upwards as the baseline chipsets for an acceptable experience for enthusiasts.

Having already pointed out (at some length) that the Lumia 930 (and 1520, to some extent) has numerous plus points over the much newer Lumia 950 and 950 XL, to have some real world stats showing that the 950 is actually slower (the the moment, at least) than the older phones, and that even the 950 XL is only slightly faster, makes the case even more strongly. You'd have to really, really want that replaceable battery and the camera improvements to go down the 950 route, if you already owned the 930.

Hopefully the 950 range will get faster as Windows 10 Mobile is better optimised for the newer chips, of course. Ultimately (yet again) this all comes down to software, software which err.... in my opinion, at least, isn't remotely finished yet.