Android smartphone processors come in all shapes and sizes, with everyone from Qualcomm and Mediatek to Samsung and Huawei contributing their SoCs over the past decade and a half. In that time, we’ve even seen big players like Texas Instruments, Nvidia, and ST-Ericsson come and go with their own chips.
We’ve already looked at some of the worst processors in Android history, but what about the other end of the spectrum? Well, here is our look at the best Android processors in history.
1. Snapdragon 800 and 801
OnePlus X phone
2013 saw a period of turmoil in the Android processor space. Nvidia scaled back its smartphone SoC efforts, Texas Instruments was winding up its mobile operations, and ST-Ericsson NovaThor processors were dead. Qualcomm has been the biggest beneficiary here, solidifying the Android chipset’s leadership as a result. But you were wrong if you thought the company would rest on its laurels.
The arrival of the Snapdragon 800 to smartphones in 2013 bequeathed the flagship Snapdragon 600 that had been supporting several flagships earlier that year. While the Snapdragon 600 was a moderate upgrade from its predecessor, the Snapdragon S4 Pro, the Snapdragon 800 introduced a new CPU and the Adreno 330 GPU is said to be twice as fast as its predecessors (which share the same GPU).
The Snapdragon 800 and 801 support some of the most popular Android smartphones.
The company will follow up with the Snapdragon 801 in early 2014, which was a frequent upgrade but offered faster CPU and GPU speeds and a faster ISP. But no matter which option I chose, I received the sturdy silicone with plenty of bells and whistles.
The Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 801 powered some of the most popular smartphones in history in 2013 and 2014. Between the LG G3 series, OnePlus One, Samsung Galaxy S5, and Sony Xperia Z, the era has served a few smartphones. Qualcomm certainly had a role to play in this.
We’ve been saying for a while that this might be the greatest Exynos chipset ever, and we’re sticking with that opinion today. In fact, we go so far as to call it one of the best Android processors ever.
The 14nm Exynos 7420 was released in 2015 and was a 64-bit chip in Samsung’s second year, versus the 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810. Unlike Qualcomm, Samsung offered a processor that was not prone to overheating. The end result was that Samsung chose to use the Exynos 7420 exclusively in the Galaxy S6 series that year.
Further reading: When Samsung’s Exynos was the best Android flagship
The Samsung chipset was very capable at the time, featuring a 14nm design, an octa-core CPU (four Cortex-A57 and four Cortex-A53) and a Mali-T760 GPU. This processor and Samsung’s smaller software combination was built to provide a smoother experience on Galaxy flagships up to that point.
Using the Exynos 7420 also meant that Samsung evaded the bad stress associated with Snapdragon 810 overheating, with other OEMs like HTC and LG stuck with the relatively hot Snapdragon 810 chipset or the less powerful Snapdragon 808 instead.
Notable phones: Meizu Pro 5, Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy Note 5
3. Snapdragon 625
A budget chipset also makes our list of the best Android processors, and for good reason. The 2016 Snapdragon 625 may be lacking in major power, but it’s become the chip of choice for OEMs who want excellent battery life and a respectable level of performance.
The chipset has excellent endurance and battery life thanks, in particular, to the then-small 14nm design and octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU design. Snapdragon 625 devices like the Moto Z Play and Redmi Note 4 are known for offering two days of battery life, without the huge battery that was previously required up to that point.
More on Qualcomm: Explain all Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors for smartphones
Unfortunately, the slides suffered a bit in the horse stakes. There were no big CPU cores here and the GPU wasn’t great, but day-to-day performance was still pretty good at the time.
Xiaomi has used the Snapdragon 625 for a lot of phones, and there is an argument that it stuck to the SoC for too long. But it is a testament to the processor that manufacturers have used for so long. In fact, Qualcomm produced the Snapdragon 450 in 2017, which was basically a cheaper Snapdragon 625. The Snapdragon 450 has found its way into devices like the Samsung Galaxy A11, Galaxy A20s, and Redmi 5.
Notable phones: BlackBerry KeyOne, Huawei Nova, Motorola Moto Z Play, Xiaomi Mi A1, Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
4. HiSilicon Kirin 970
Huawei’s chip design efforts grew at an astonishing pace in the 2010s, and the mid-2010s saw it play a role in catching up to competitors Qualcomm and Samsung. The company finally introduced a competitive CPU to the market in 2016 and caught the lead on GPUs in early 2017.
The arrival of the Kirin 970 in late 2017 showed that Huawei was looking to outpace the competition. For an industry first, the chip introduced a neural processing unit (NPU), a custom piece of silicon used for machine learning tasks.
Further reading: Guide for HiSilicon Kirin . Processors
The Chinese smartphone maker has promoted use cases such as scene/image recognition for better images, offline language translation, better performance management, and noise cancellation. Many of these touted features don’t really require silicon dedicated to machine learning, but the industry has been fascinated by the capabilities of the new hardware.
Huawei beat Apple and the rest of the industry thanks to its silicon AI technology.
Apple unveiled its own machine learning silicon weeks after unveiling its Kirin 970 processor with the A11 Bionic, while competitive chips from Qualcomm and Samsung arrived the following year. Today, the industry relies on silicon AI more than ever before for features like real-time speech transcription, object removal, secure authentication, and more. But Huawei was the first to introduce this device.
Notable phones: Honor Play, Honor View 10, Huawei Mate 10 Series, Huawei P20 Series
5. Mediatek Helio G90T
Mediatek has focused heavily on the budget and mid-range area for most of 2019, having overtaken its flagship SoCs since 2017, the innovative Helio X30. But the Helio G90T, which was unveiled in mid-2019, showed that Qualcomm wasn’t the only third-party chip maker in town.
The Helio G90T was so powerful at the time that Mediatek even marketed it as a gaming-focused chipset. In this octa-core setup, you have two Cortex-A76 and six Cortex-A55, along with an impressive Mali-G76 MP4 GPU. This graphics part was found in competing flagships at the time, albeit with more graphics cores.
Related: Everything you need to know about Mediatek processors
However, Mediatek’s gaming focus held up. We found that the G90T-powered Redmi Note 8 Pro outperformed the Snapdragon 730-powered Mi 9T in 2019. This wasn’t a feat, as the Snapdragon 730 powers more expensive mid-range phones. Mediatek will later introduce a moderately upgraded SoC called Helio G95, which has found its way into phones like the Realme 7 and Redmi Note 10S. It was possible to play PUBG on the previous device with all settings turned on.
Bottom line: The launch of the G90T showed that a smooth gaming experience was not only the domain of Qualcomm’s flagship chips and its application to budget phones as well.
Notable phones: Realme 6, Realme 8 (Helio G95), Redmi Note 8 Pro, Redmi Note 10S (Helio G95)
6. Snapdragon 660
Much to say about the 2017 Snapdragon 660 that Qualcomm still offers chipsets that share some DNA with this design (like the Snapdragon 662 and Snapdragon 460). The processor is another big step forward for the mid-range segment, coming almost a year after the Snapdragon 625.
The 14nm Snapdragon 660 processor makes our list of the best Android processors because it brought a powerful octa-core CPU with four heavyweight Cortex-A73 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores, throwing the Snapdragon 625 CPU out of the water. In fact, we still rarely see four performance cores in mid-range processors today. It should be noted that this was not the first mid-range Snapdragon chipset with performance cores, but it saw much wider adoption than most previous attempts.
Read more: What is express shipping? Explanation of Qualcomm Express Shipping Protocol
In some ways, the Snapdragon 660 was a little brother to the Snapdragon 835. Aside from the similar octa-core CPU layout, it also got Hexagon DSP for the first time in the series, as well as features like Quick Charge 4, Bluetooth 5, and 4K/30 frames per second. No wonder it supports noteworthy phones like Nokia 7 Plus, Redmi Note 7 and Xiaomi Mi A2.
Notable phones: Blackberry Key2, Nokia 7 Plus, Realme 2 Pro, Xiaomi Mi A2, Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
7. Snapdragon 855
The 2019 Snapdragon 855 was Qualcomm’s last 4G flagship chipset and may be the culmination of the SoC’s flagship 4G efforts. More specifically, it offered an integrated LTE Cat 20 modem at 2Gbps for downlink speeds.
The 7nm Snapdragon 855 also introduced a number of other early adopters, such as the now standard triple-cluster CPU arrangement (performance, midrange, efficiency cores), Hexagon Tensor Accelerator chip for improved machine learning, Wi-Fi 6 support, and optional support for an external 5G modem. .
More Qualcomm coverage: Samsung Galaxy S22 – Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 benchmarked against Exynos 2200
Qualcomm’s flagship SoC also introduced for 2019 a chubby Adreno 640 GPU, 200MP single-camera support, Bluetooth 5.1, 4K HDR video capture, and Quick Charge 4 Plus. All this built for one of the most powerful and feature-rich Android processors ever released.
The performance of the Snapdragon 855 and its feature set was so impressive that the design can still be found today in the form of the Snapdragon 860. The 860 runs on the Poco X3 Pro and Xiaomi Pad 5 and is essentially the Snapdragon 855 Plus with faster clock speeds.
Notable phones: Google Pixel 4 series, LG V50 series, OnePlus 7 series, Samsung Galaxy S10 family (Snapdragon), Samsung Galaxy Note 10 series (Snapdragon)
8. Snapdragon 765G
Robert Treggs / Android Authority
The 5G era started in 2019 with flagship phones, but you can definitely say that it started in earnest in 2020 thanks to the Snapdragon 765G. Qualcomm’s first mid-range 5G processor helped make 5G more prevalent, introducing support for both sub-6GHz and mmWave and landing a handful of more affordable phones that year.
More about 5G: The best 5G phones you can buy right now
Qualcomm’s mid-range silicon provided an octa-core CPU that includes two Cortex-A76 cores and six Cortex-A55 cores, which is way far behind the main SoCs but still enough to get good day-to-day performance. The chip also introduced premium additions such as 4K/60fps support, 7nm design, Wi-Fi 6, support for a single 192MP camera, and Quick Charge 4 Plus capabilities. In other words, the wizard wasn’t just one trick.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G really helped accelerate 5G at an affordable price.
The Snapdragon 765G wasn’t perfect, because the GPU was worse than the older flagship silicon. It can still run many games at a smooth frame rate, but it wasn’t ideal for high refresh rates. But the fact that the LG Velvet and Google Pixel 5 were using this SoC showed major manufacturers’ belief in its capabilities.
Notable phones: Google Pixel 5, Google Pixel 5a, LG Velvet, LG Wing, Nokia 8.3, OnePlus Nord
Are there any other absolutely great smartphone processors that should be on the list? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.