Android Oreo Review: Performance and Stability

This is part 5 of a multipart series on Android Oreo. The subsequent parts in this series will be posted daily to BirchTree, so subscribe via RSS, Twitter, or Apple News.


Apple users have long been able to tout high speed performance and buttery smooth scrolling over Android and…well it’s still true today. I’ve been using Android Oreo on a Google Pixel 2, which has the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB RAM. You literally can not do better than the 835 chipset, and 4GB RAM is in line with most other flagships, although some can go up to 8GB. Regardless, when you consider this has “pure” Android, this is about as fast as Android gets in 2017.

Benchmarks

Let’s get these out of the way first: the fastest Android phones can not match the latest iPhones when it comes to performance. In the always popular Geekbench CPU test, the Pixel 2 scores a 1,915 in the single core test and 6,348 in the multi-core. The iPhone 8 Plus gets 4,255 and 10,083 in those same tests 1. It’s not even close.

Here’s how the Pixel 2 compares when it comes to web benchmarks:

So the Pixel 2 falls far short of even last year’s iPhone 7 phones in web benchmarks. This is more a credit to Apple’s silicon team than anything else, but Apple does also seem to do a better job of harnessing that power.

Real world differences in speed

But synthetic benchmarks don’t tell the whole story. In day to day use, Android on the Pixel 2 does not feel much slower than the iPhone 8. Apps launch quickly on the Pixel, sometimes even faster than they do on the iPhone. Part of this is due to the shorter animations on Android, but other times it is just that the Pixel is just as fast or faster than the iPhone. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say this before, but apps actually tend to launch a tiny bit quicker on Android than they do on iOS.

Once you get into apps, the experience changes a bit. While iOS takes milliseconds longer on average to load apps, once you’re in apps everything seems to go in iOS’s favor. First is general performance things like scrolling, which holds steady at what appears to be 60fps much more often than Android. Scrolling through lists or websites is where this is more noticeable, as Android has a slightly harsher feeling to moving around pages. It’s not bad by any means, and may be a preference thing, but i just feel more like I’m directly manipulating content on iOS than I do on Android.

Adding to this feeling of direct manipulation is the touch response on the Pixel 2 is noticeably slower than it is on the iPhone. There’s a slight delay in my finger moving and the screen updating behind it on iOS, but on Android the delay is much more pronounced. This lends to the overall feeling I sometimes get that I’m imputing commands to the phone rather than directly moving around the content on screen.

Finally, I have had some inconsistency when tapping a notification on my lock screen to go straight to that app. Usually it’s fine, but there have been dozens of times where the phone locks up for about 5 seconds between entering my fingerprint to unlock and the app actually coming up.

High end software and games

You really see the additional power offered by iOS (through the A11 chip in the latest iPhones) in higher end applications. A prime example is when shooting portrait mode pictures in the stock apps on both phones. The iPhone will show you a preview of the blur effect that’s pretty darn close to what the final image will look like while you are framing the shot. The blur updates in real time, and at a very high frame rate so it looks quite convincing. I can tap the shutter button and the photo is saved to my library with the blur appropriately applied in less than a second. No matter how fast I am, I can’t get to my camera roll before the image is saved. It’s fast!

Meanwhile the Pixel 2 shows you no preview of the blur effect while you’re taking the picture. When you tap the shutter button, the image will save to the camera roll and you can see it take about 3-5 seconds to render out a final image. Unlike the iPhone, I can easily go to the camera roll and look at the image before it is processed. There is a progress ring on the image for a few seconds while it figures out the blur and then it updates to show the final image. This can lead to situations where you think you’ve lined up everything perfectly, only to find out that the phone was confused and misinterpreted what you wanted to do2.

I also saw a notable difference in Lightroom, where I actually do quite a bit of image editing. This results in exporting RAW image files to JPEG, which is an incredibly CPU-intensive task. The iPhone performed this work in about half the time of the Pixel. This is again in line with the synthetic benchmarks I mentioned earlier.

Likewise, games load much faster on the iPhone, and those same games tend to perform better as well. Each game I tried, from Animal Crossing to Super Mario Run to Pokemon GO all ran at a higher frame rate than they did on the Pixel. The Pixel was good and was a totally fine way to play all these games, but it simply was not as smooth as the experience on iOS. It was close, but the Pixel was never the faster phone.

RAM management

RAM management has always been something iOS has been able to laud over Android users with, as iOS has just been much better at utilizing less RAM to do more. The iPhone 8 Plus I’m using has 3GB RAM and the Pixel 2 has 4GB. They’re pretty close on paper, although the Pixel 2 technically has 33% more RAM to play with than the iPhone. So how do they compare?

Well I’m not doing a deep dive here to look at the very technical details, but the phones performed almost identically in my testing. In day to day use, I don’t think “wow, that app closed too soon” when using the Pixel any more than I do on the iPhone. In my limited semi-scientific testing, I was able to open 25 apps before either phone started having to relaunch apps, which is far more than anyone likely needs.

Stability

I don’t even want to talk about this because it fills me with a fiery rage. My time with Android has shown it to be anything but the “stable” alternative to iOS. Just 31 days into my time with the Pixel 2, I had to restore my phone to factory settings to fix the errors I was experiencing. In addition to the issues raised in that post, I have also had issues with apps crashing, notifications staying on silent even though I have them set to vibrate, random reboots, and more. After a few weeks I actually stopped reporting my Android bugs to Twitter because it was getting too depressing.

Everyone’s bug experience will be different, but I’ll say that the past month and a half has been a mess for me, and despite some of the things I really like about the Pixel 2, I’ve wanted to throw this phone against a wall on a shockingly regular basis when another of these bugs interrupted my workflow.

Battery life

This is one of those things that is going to vary by device, but Google made some changes to Android this year that are supposed to address some long-standing battery concerns, and I think they’ve done quite a good job.

Ironically, the things Google did this year are specific things that Android fans have made fun of iOS of doing for years, but now that it’s in Android, everyone seems to think these features are great! For example, limiting how long apps can stay in the background as well as what they can do when they are back there. These are good things, and it’s a good thing that Android is getting this under control, because Apple did this in iOS 4 in 2010.

But that said, battery life on my Pixel 2 has been good. I’m most impressed with the idle battery life, as my phone really just sips power when the screen is off (despite the always-on display feature). In my testing, the Pixel drained about 20-30% faster than my iPhone when both had their screens off, but because they’re both so good, that difference is incredibly small. Basically, if you charge your phone to 100% before you go to bed, feel free to leave it unplugged overnight and it will still likely be over 90% when you wake up.

Overall performance and stability

Overall, I think Android Oreo is the best version of Android yet when it comes to performance. It feels fast most of the time, and while there are definitely some places where it lags behind iOS, it’s good enough at the everyday things that you probably won’t even think about the differences all that much.

This whole discussion is based on the best that iOS and Android have to offer, so I do not know how these OS’s fare on lower end hardware. I know that my iPhone 7 ran iOS 11 well and the iPhone 6s was good for my wife, but people have reported some speed issues there. Whatever issues there may or may not be for Android or iOS, I can’t say, but things are relatively close at the top of the line right now.

iOS on the iPhone’s latest A11 processor is absolutely faster than the latest Snapdragon 835 from Qualcomm, but Android is harnessing that power better than I have seen from it before. Android on the Snapdragon is not as fast as iOS on the A11, but it’s darn close.

As for stability, it’s frankly not even close in my experience. Everything from the operating system itself to third party apps are all more buggy on Android than anything I have ever experienced on iOS. Apple is getting a lot of heat right now for iOS 11’s stability (as they should) but I dream of a version of Android that’s only as buggy as iOS 11.


  1. The compute scores tell the same story; 7,312 on the Pixel 2 and 15,418 on the iPhone 8. 
  2. Also, unlike iOS, there is no way to modify the blur effect after the fact. All you or third party apps have access to is the flattened JPEG image, not the depth data.