Real-World Performance Comparison

If there's one thing entry-level smartphones need to absolutely nail down these days is performance. Having a slow, sluggish, or laggy handset hurts the user experience more than having a poor camera or 'just ok' display. Even less demanding users will notice (grandpas and uncles out there) the speed they can interact with their smartphones. If a task takes a particularly long time to complete, or a transition is unpleasantly juddery, they’ll probably be dissatisfied and annoyed.

Sub-$150 phones have gradually gotten to the stage where everyday performance is quite good, first thanks to Microsoft’s optimization of Windows Phone on low-end hardware, and then with Google’s various efforts on the Android side.

With the latest Moto E I was very impressed with how capable the handset is from a performance perspective, even if it'll just set you back $100. The device loads applications quickly and navigating through the operating system is quite smooth.

The bump up to a Snapdragon 410 SoC cuts out a lot of the slowdowns I experienced with the first Moto E (Snapdragon 200) especially when multi-tasking. The whole device feels like it has received an extra bit of polish as a result, which goes a long way to improving the experience.

However not everything is perfect. The Moto E is generally a lag-free device with smooth animations, but there are times where this is not the case. Most notably, navigating to Google Now from the homescreen feels a bit sluggish, and the phone does slow down quite a bit if you have a background task running (such as downloading and installing an app). But overall these seem like minor complaints when the performance is pretty great the rest of the time.

So how does the Moto E’s performance, especially in day to day tasks, compare to the Samsung Galaxy S6? Is the difference between a $550 phone and a $100 really all that great? Just from my subjective observations using both devices, the Galaxy S6 is definitely faster to use, but the differences aren’t as large as I would have expected for a device that costs five times as much.

To explore this further, I tested both the Galaxy S6 and the Moto E 2015 in a range of real world tests such as opening apps and performing tasks. The following benchmarks show the time it takes to perform said tasks; anything that takes less than one second to execute can be classed as ‘very fast’, while anything less than half a second is essentially ‘instantaneous’. Both devices were updated to its latest software revisions and had the same collection of third-party apps installed.

Powering on a smartphone is usually a very processor-intensive task, which is why both devices take a relatively long time to turn on. However, the SoC power of the Galaxy S6 allows it to power on in less than half the time of the Moto E, which makes the Moto E feel slow in a side-by-side comparison. Luckily this isn’t a task you’ll need to complete regularly.

What did surprise me is how quickly the Moto E turns the display on after pressing the power button. Both devices executed this instantaneously (around 250ms from press to screen on), but the Moto E was slightly faster (by 17ms).

Above we have the results for opening a variety of apps. There were two cases for opening each app: a ‘cold’ open where the app is opened for the first time after powering the device on, and a ‘repeat’ open where the app was launched a second time, immediately after being opened for the first time. Cold opening is a more hardware intensive task, whereas repeat opening mostly just accesses the device’s RAM.

Across all of the apps I tested, the Galaxy S6 held a decent lead over the Moto E in cold opening load times. The Moto E was anywhere from 1.5 to 2.0 seconds slower loading apps, taking 3.1 seconds to open an app on average, which is somewhat slow. The Galaxy S6 opened apps in 1.5 seconds on average, which feels somewhat fast.

What really impressed me is how the Moto E performs in repeat opens. Here the gap between the Galaxy S6 and Moto E shrinks to an essentially unnoticeable 340ms, with both devices repeat opening apps in under a second. This is a great result for the Moto E, because the vast majority of app opens you will perform will be repeat opens as the app will still be loaded in RAM. The Galaxy S6 does have more RAM so more apps can be ready for repeat opening, but in general the Moto E was very speedy in this situation.

The Moto E was essentially just as fast as the Galaxy S6 performing a range of system-related tasks: opening the app drawer, opening the recent apps menu, and opening the settings. The difference between the devices was a mere 128ms on average in favour of the Galaxy S6.

The Moto E also performed surprisingly well in multi-tasking. The low-cost handset was just 100ms slower than the Galaxy S6 in switching to a recently used app, and although this extended to 558ms when loading an old app (used 20 apps prior), the difference was small enough to class the Moto E as fast in both situations.

Opening a game is the other task I tested where the Galaxy S6 was significantly faster than the Moto E. I tested with Crossy Road, a 3D platformer that loads the game immediately after opening, to see how the devices would go loading an app and 3D assets in succession.

The Galaxy S6 loaded Crossy Road 11 seconds faster than the Moto E when the app was opened for the first time after installation (which includes ART optimization). This lead reduced to a still-significant 5.7 seconds when cold opening without ART optimization. When repeat loading Crossy Road, which won’t happen too often as the game consumes a decent amount of RAM, the Galaxy S6 was 0.6 seconds faster.

The Moto E was almost as fast as the Galaxy S6 when voice searching and opening an article within the Play Newsstand app. The Galaxy S6 was over a second faster opening TechSpot in Chrome the first time, though this lead reduced to just 16ms when the webpages loaded for a second time.

I thought I’d also throw in results from PCMark and GFXBench to show how the Moto E performs relative to the Galaxy S6 in synthetic benchmarks. Unsurprisingly the Galaxy S6 dominates, but in PCMark in particular the Moto E holds its own against Snapdragon 801 flagships like the Xperia Z2.