As far as high-end smartphones go, you can essentially classify the market as a duopoly. On one hand, you have Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) wildly popular iPhone line. The newest generation -- the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus -- has sold nearly 140 million units in its first two full quarters of availability, as consumers have enthusiastically snapped up the larger form factors. On the other, you have Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) Galaxy S line. Last year's version -- the Galaxy S5 -- was widely considered a failure as sales landed 40% lower than the company's expectations.
The verdict is still out for the current-generation Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge models. While the reviews have been positive -- many have complimented the new design and build quality -- there have been conflicting reports regarding unit sales. Samsung has been mostly sanguine about the latest models' prospects, with The Korea Times reporting that the company expects to sell 70 million units combined in 2015 -- far above the high-water mark of 45 million the company attained with the Galaxy S4 in 2013.
In any case, there's one area in which Samsung's Galaxy line generally excels over Apple's iPhone line: computing speed and performance. And, according to a new real world performance test, Samsung beat Apple in this category with the companies' latest models.
Tom's Guide is good news for Samsung; Apple takes bronze
For Samsung, Tom's Guide brings positive news for a company that prides itself on computing performance. Summing up the website's results of its six-device test for fastest smartphone, it stated, "[T]he Galaxy S6 blew away the field, finishing first in 6 out of 9 real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks." Surprisingly, in Tom's Guide's tests, Apple actually took third place, with the silver medal claimed by the LG G4, a highly reviewed model that has failed to catch on in a meaningful way in the heavily contested luxury smartphone market.
On paper, the competition between Apple and Samsung seems quite lopsided. Compare Samsung's Exynos octa-core (2.1 GHz quad-core and 1.5 GHz quad-core) processor versus Apple's dual-core A8. In addition, Samsung's Galaxy S6 has 3GB of RAM versus 1GB RAM for Apple's iPhone 6. Not only does Samsung have more gaming-friendly RAM, it also has DDR4 RAM, a faster -- albeit more expensive -- component compared to the standard DDR3 RAM that Apple uses.
While more cores don't necessarily translate to better performance, that hasn't stopped the great smartphone core war. Of the other four tested phones, two were octa-core, one hexa-core, and one quad-core. In addition, all other phones had 3GB of RAM. For Samsung to dominate the competition is a positive for the company.
Unfortunately for Samsung, we've reached a "good enough" market for performance
The problem for Samsung is that we've reached the point of diminishing returns as it relates to increased computing performance and unit sales.
For example, one of the Tom's Guide tests was the time the phones needed to pull up a rather large PDF: Samsung opened the file in 127 milliseconds while Google's Nexus finished much slower than the rest of the field at 482 milliseconds. The difference between the two phones is a little over a third of a second, for a highly intensive computing function that should occur infrequently. In the end, that is probably not enough on which to base a phone purchasing decision.
More likely, potential shoppers are basing their decisions on ecosystem, design, and brand familiarity. Unfortunately for Samsung, as well as the other four phones Tom's Guide tested, only one company has its own ecosystem and is the world's most valuable brand, and that's Apple.