System Performance

Pixel phones have been known to be among the best performing Android devices in the market. This is mainly due to the Pixel’s performance team taking the time and attention to tweak the software stack – kernel and userspace alike. This is one of the benefits of being one of the last flagships out of the gate for a given generation, as it gives time to optimize the performance. The Pixel 3 comes with the Snapdragon 845, and I’ve written many times this year how Qualcomm’s software, and in particular the kernel scheduler was a very significant factor as to why this year’s Snapdragon phones performed so marvellously.

One of the big questions I posed myself early in the year is exactly how Google planned to handle Qualcomm’s great divergence from upstream, and the divergence from the Google common kernel. As a reminder, the Google common kernel is now the “official” branch on which SoC vendors should be basing their BSP (board support packages, essentially the software stack) for their own products. This is a collaborative effort between vendors (Mainly Google, Qualcomm and Arm), and it’s also the target where Arm pushes its own EAS patches.

The matter of fact is, for the Pixel 3, Google is simply using Qualcomm’s custom scheduler. This is both a great win for Qualcomm given the expected device performance of the Pixel 3, and quite a blow to Arm’s own efforts, as the EAS improvements over the last year are just simply not being used. Qualcomm’s efforts as well as the resulting product are just too good to pass on, and I’m very much expecting next year to finally be a watershed moment where other vendors finally abandon attempts to keep things minimalistic, and in line with upstream Linux, and finally see the immense value in investing in actual immediate benefits for consumer devices of a given generation.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Web Browsing 2.0

Starting with PCMark’s Web Browsing 2.0 test, the Pixel 3 leads the pack, with a slight advantage over other Snapdragon 845 phones. The reason here is that Google seemingly uses the most up-to-date scheduler, as well as has some possible file I/O advantages which I’ll get into a bit later. There are also possible OS side improvements in the libraries, as the Pixel 3’s ship with Android 9.

I’ve updated the performance results for past Pixels with the newest OS updates, as well as for devices like the OnePlus 6 as these have received their OS updates as well.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Video Editing PCMark Work 2.0 - Writing 2.0

In the writing test, which is probably PCMark’s most important as well as representative benchmark, the Pixel 3 saw a big leap in performance over the previous Pixels – however I think this was due to Android 9 itself, as we also saw a big jump in the OnePlus 6’s performance with the latest OS update.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Photo Editing 2.0

The photo editing test is very much a scheduler responsivity test as modern devices are able to complete the workloads relatively fast at their peak performance states. Here the score wildly fluctuates depending on how fast the DVFS mechanism is, and we see the Pixel 3 among the best performers.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Data Manipulation

The data manipulation score is extremely high on the Pixel 3 compares to other phones, including the OnePlus 6. I wasn’t able to verify this empirically, but glancing over the scheduler the Pixel has some unique updates to it which facilitate better responsiveness and scheduling of single big tasks, and the data manipulation test is such a workload with a big single-threaded component.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Performance

Overall, the Pixel 3 takes the top position in PCMark, all thanks to its scheduler improvements as well as a slight advantage due to it running Android 9.

Speedometer 2.0 - OS WebView

Moving onto web browser tests, the Pixel 3 largely matches the other Snapdragon 845 devices. This is no surprise as Speedometer 2.0 is a high constant throughput ST benchmark, and as such isn’t as affected by scheduler as PCMark.

Apple still has a considerable performance lead here. After our recent iPhone XS review and SoC deep-dive, I’m more leaning towards the explanation that a big part of the advantage here is purely due to hardware and the microarchitectural advantages of Apple’s CPUs, with part of it also being Apple’s Nitro JS engine.

WebXPRT 3 - OS WebView

WebXPRT also looks in line with other Snapdragon 845 devices.

Pixel 3 – Now using F2FS

Section with credit and input by Park Ju Hyung (@arter97)

The Pixel 3 now has switched over from an EXT4 filesystem, to the F2FS filesystem. Google explains this switch due to the fact that F2FS now supports inline block encryption which has been the last major roadblock as to why Google hadn’t made the switch earlier.

Inline block encryption uses the SoC’s inline cryptographic engines, which just serve as an intermediate hardware layer to the NAND and offload any encryption workloads that were initially in past devices performed by the CPU.

The switch to F2FS now gives the Pixel 3 a number of advantages over previous filesystem; Previously, SQLite (which is used by almost all database files under Android) used another 'journaling' on its own to prevent corruption. This caused “double journaling” on top of EXT4, which in itself is a journaling filesystem. Since F2FS doesn’t need this kind of protection and the Pixel 3 includes Google’s SQLite changes in Android 8.1, the Pixel 3 is able to take advantage of this, as well as any other F2FS based device from other vendors which have the corresponding OS patches.

The result is that this will enable much higher write/commit speeds for SQLite, not to mention less wear and tear to the underlying UFS storage. Also, the Pixel 3 turned off barriers for fsync() system calls, which will improve general random I/O write speeds by a significant margin.

Another big improvement for file I/O is the implementation of “Host Performance Booster” in the kernel and UFS controller firmware stack. HPB is essentially caching of the NAND chip’s FTL (flash translation layer) L2P (logical to physical) mapping tables into the hosts (SoCs) main memory. This allows the host driver to look up the target L2P entry directly without betting on UFS’s limited SRAM to have a cache-hit, reducing latency and greatly increasing random read performance. The authors of the feature showcase an improvement of 59-67% in random I/O read performance due to the new feature. It’s worth to mention that traditional Android I/O benchmarks won’t be able to show this as as those tend to test read speeds with the files they’ve just created.

Overall, the Pixel 3 is the fastest Android device on the market right now. The one thing that puts it above other devices such as the OnePlus 6 is a noticeable faster response-time when opening applications – either a framework related boost or just an effect of the faster file I/O.

Introduction & Design GPU Performance
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  • Impulses - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    Bluetooth audio bandwidth has actually not increased since BT2.1+EDR AFAIK (half a decade ago), a lot of vendors trip over themselves to boast about the BT spec supported by the chip in their products but that's just all it is... The A2DP profile hasn't seen major changes and most of the bandwidth improvements in latter BT spec revisions were for BT LE and wearable devices that started off at a much lower floor (than A2DP over 2.1+EDR).

    The provisions for better 3rd party codecs like Sony's LDAC were even present in the BT spec all the way back then, that wasn't added in recent revisions, tho the codecs themselves have gotten better and now represent a decent improvement over stock SBC. I'm not knocking BT mind you, I think overall it's better implemented these days so there *has* been improvement in the user experience and SQ even if it's not due to spec revisions (and it's not).

    I'm still not in favor of dropping the jack myself, but it's not a deal breaker for me. I use a BT adapter most of the time if I'm on the go (EarStudio ES100 right now) and have the dongle as a backup if that's out of battery. I have a pretty decent home setup tho and BT would absolutely be a bottleneck there, it still hasn't become totally transparent or enough for lossless the way the stereo BT profile is laid out AFAIK.
  • melgross - Sunday, November 4, 2018 - link

    I can’t stand wired headphones for mobile devices. They’re more than annoying.
  • serjrps - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Any plan to include the latest OnePlus camera updates in the review, maybe along with a OnePlus 6T review?
  • HunterAMG - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    Ah yes, the only review that matters.
    The only thing I disagree with, though, is with the quality of the included ear buds. They are not great for sure, but in my experience they are okay, and they match or surpass the apple ear pods' quality, which I was using before. I'm curious if you just happened to get a defective unit.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Friday, November 2, 2018 - link

    The Apple headphones are significantly better. I'll follow up with actual frequency response measurements of both.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    Here's a very quick follow-up:
  • Rmrx8 - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    What's interesting to me is you now have ultra expensive phones that test your hearing and make a sound profile. Changing EQ to fit your profile and maximize your enjoyment of the music. Why would that be a thing if everyone heard all frequencies equally like a measuring device? You don't like them. That's fine. I like them and grab them more often than Apple's. I'll be the first to admit I'm older and my hearing is probably different from when I was a teenager. At the end of the day, it IS subjective for different people based upon age, ear shape, etc.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, November 5, 2018 - link

    > What's interesting to me is you now have ultra expensive phones that test your hearing and make a sound profile. Changing EQ to fit your profile and maximize your enjoyment of the music.

    The Pixels have no such option, the sound you get out of the box is what you're stuck with.
  • Rmrx8 - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    How old are you Andrei? It'll affect your subjective listening evaluations. I have no doubt google's buds will be inferior when scoped for frequencies. But a difference you can't hear is no difference. I find these less harsh in high frequencies than Apple EarPods, which I have used daily for over a year. I disagree strongly that Apples are "significantly better". They fall out of the ears too easily, and the earbud mic is too aggressive at staying off to avoid background noise. Then it cuts in and misses the first consonant of speaking. The Google mic stays "on" more and this the recorded sound is more even with less blasts of ambient hiss.
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, November 5, 2018 - link

    > But a difference you can't hear is no difference.

    Let me be clear here, I did the FR after-the-fact of simply listening to them and comparing them to the buds from all other vendors. There's no point in arguing about subjective evaluation validity when comparing subjectively between units.

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