Samsung Galaxy S9 battery life problems and what they mean for Apple

Lithium-ion batteries are getting a lot of attention these days. Everything from the Galaxy Note 7 recall to, yes, Apple's discounted battery replacement program for older iPhones, means that it's top of mind for many customers. So, it's not surprising the Exynos version of Samsung's Galaxy S9 is making headlines for its battery performance this week, and not in a good way.

From Yonhap News Agency:

The battery performance of Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S9 smartphone trailed behind rival products, industry watchers said Monday, causing consumers to express discontent.

From the same report:

Phone Arena, another industry tracker, also said in its report that the battery of the Galaxy S9 lasted 7 hours and 23 minutes in its test, which is an hour below the Galaxy S8's 8 hours and 22 minutes. Apple Inc.'s iPhone X and LG's V30 held comparable figures of 8 hours and 41 minutes and 9 hours and 34 minutes, respectively.

AnandTech tests were even more brutal:

The Exynos 9810 Galaxy S9 absolutely fell flat on its face in this test and posted the worst results among our tracking of the latest generation devices, lasting 3 hours less than the Exynos 8895 Galaxy S8. This was such a terrible run that I redid the test and still resulted in the same runtime.

Yonhap theorizes that Samsung Electronics has become more conservative about battery capacity, given the catastrophic failures consumers experienced with the Galaxy Note 7. But capacity alone is seldom, if ever, an issue, as Yonhap itself explains:

 "Although the battery's capacity is also important, the phone's optimization algorithm is very crucial," an industry insider said. "The Galaxy S9 came with various new features, which possibly led to more stand-by power consumption. (Samsung) may have failed to develop power-saving algorithms properly."

It's possible there's something going wrong at the system level that's just burning power, even when it shouldn't, and Samsung can address it with an update. It's also possible Samsung's team, which is super smart in its own right, chose to ship the way it did in order to mitigate against other, potentially greater issues. We just don't know.

What we can infer is that Samsung recently began to care about single core performance. It's something Apple has cared about, and architected towards, for years. Samsung has obviously seen the advantage and is now making it a priority as well. But, drastically increasing single core performance has cost. Absent a die shrink or previous generations being so inefficient that there was significant room for improvement, that cost is power consumption.

AnandTech put it this way:

This is such a terrible battery performance of the Exynos 9810 variant that it again puts even more clout into the new SoC. My theory as to why this happens is that not only do the higher frequency state require more energy per work done than competing SoCs – because this is a big CPU complex there's also lots of leakage at play. The DVFS system being so slow might actually be bad for energy here as we might be seeing the opposite of race-to-sleep, walk-to-waste. The fact that Apple's SoCs don't have any issues with battery life in this test showcases that it's not an inherent problem of having a high-power micro-architecture, but rather something specific to the Exynos 9810.

Also, this:

Unfortunately it feels like S.LSI keeps being one generation behind when it comes to efficiency – the A72 beating the M1, the A73 beating the M2 and now the A75 beating the M3. If you were to shift the microarchitectures one year ahead in Samsung's favour then suddenly we would have had a much better competitive situation. What needs to happen with the M4 is a much larger efficiency boost to remain competitive with ARM's upcoming designs and actually warrant the use of an internal CPU design team. Currently a 17-22% performance lead does not seem worth a 35-58% efficiency disadvantage along with the 2x higher silicon area cost.

The same applies to Samsung and Apple. Samsung perpetually feels a generation behind when it comes to efficiency.

Android Central's take:

That sort of battery performance is abysmal for a flagship phone like the Galaxy S9.

The truth is, hardware is tough. And silicon is especially tough.

Given infinite time, any good silicon team could design a system-on-a-chip that would achieve maximum performance at maximum efficiency up to the limits of known physics in our universe. Release schedules are the opposite of infinite time, though. You get a few years to plan, but you have to ship every year.

What Apple's done to meet that demand is to establish a solid foundation and to build and iterate on it each and every year.

Apple A7 was the first 64-bit ARM chip in a phone. Apple A10 Fusion introduced paired efficiency and performance cores, so that reaching higher wouldn't leave a gap beneath. Apple A11 Bionic increased the performance of the efficiency cores, while also introducing a neural engine and everything required to support Face ID. And all with at least the same, sometimes better battery life.

It's not just a multi-year plan, it's a multi-year investment.

To complicate matters, unlike Apple, Samsung has chosen to use two different chipsets for its phones: Exynos, which is made by Samsung's silicon company, and Snapdragon, which is made by Qualcomm. It's the Exynos version specifically that's experiencing these problems.

With Apple and its consistent processor architecture per year per device, everything is a known quantity. This season's iPhone X and iPhone 8, for example, all run on the same Apple A11 Bionic system-on-a-chip (SoC), on every carrier, in every region.

That means every component, from the rest of the hardware to all of the software, is a known quantity, and can work as part of an integrated whole to eek out as much performance while maintaining as much efficiency as possible.

Having two silicon targets just means, as opposed to infinite time, you have half the time to optimize for each.

Meanwhile, customers have come to expect phones that are faster and more battery efficient than ever. Oh, and lighter too.

(Internet experts love to talk about increasing battery size, but lightness is an incredibly important part of usability — never mind thermal insulation and RF interference, no one wants to buy the heaviest phone on the carrier shelf.)

Meeting and exceeding those expectations is a huge challenge. Pack a battery wrong and it burns. Boost performance wrong and it burns out.

But architect it right and the performance doesn't come at the expense of the efficiency. The efficiency enables the performance.

Not everyone thinks about these things when buying a phone, or when arguing about specs on Twitter.

But it's clear Apple is thinking about it deeply. And it shows in iPhone X, where the custom silicon drives everything from the machine learning-based biometrics to the display technology to the industry leading performance and, yes, the power efficiency that allows for extended battery life as well.

And it's absolutely something consumers should think about not just when buying a phone but when investing in platform.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

39 Comments
  • Whenever Renée sniffs any opportunity to bash Samsung he goes for it. Like usual, completely missing the mark. Why are you so interested in talking about Samsung phones? Why do you feel the need to defend your.... Is it pride in Apple?
  • He is highlighting the competitive advantage of Apple's investment in chip architecture a few years ago. The neural engine or a tensor processing unit by another name is the latest fruit of this investment. It will become so obvious in near future if not already that architecture is most important. Historically it was all about speed or hertz's count, but not anymore. Google, nvidia, soon Tesla and Apple just to name some of the big players are all designing their own chips for AI.
  • AI is huge. It's interesting that Apple of all companies shipped 64-bit on mobile first, and AI on mobile silicon first.
  • The Snapdragon 845 is a much better chip. I'd agree that Apple's CPU is 1 to 2 years ahead of Snapdragon but the GPU isn't. I'd put the GPU closer to 6 months behind as it's faster than the A11 currently but that is what like 4 months old and it's possible A12 will have a faster GPU by September. The thing is on the phone I'm not sure you can tell a difference except if you are exporting 4k video which is done rarely on a phone and more on a tablet.
  • Never read anything to agree with that, but, if true, no wonder they started making GPUs for the first time. Also, GPUs are becoming a misnomer as they are used for AI and machine learning too, and tests need to catch up with that. Still, all that doesn't matter, as games are always faster on iOS. http://gizmodo.com/when-it-comes-to-gaming-the-iphone-will-always-stomp-...
  • Tomshardware and Engadget had a couple of tests that showed the 845 best the A11 in the graphics field, but overall the Apple processor was faster.
  • Why do Samsung sycophants lurk and stalk Apple centric sites waiting for an opportunity to bash Apple? Are they that insecure in their choices?
  • It's not quite as back and white as that. I've been an Apple customer for three decades now and even I become exasperated with Rene when he posts PR puff pieces like this.
  • I think both sides are pretty bad, but the black and white bit is that both OS's have their own advantages. It's clear to see when you have extensively used iOS and Android as I have.
  • Are you still using Android? I use both on a daily basis (work iPhone 8Plus and personal Pixel 2XL) so find it very easy to spot when the two warring factions talk nonsense about their perceived OS enemies. If you haven't used Android for a few years then you'll be amazed how far it's come.
  • Because telling the truth is bashing? Why do people attack Renee whenever he says something critical about Samsung. It's not like he doesn't say negative things about Apple products. Though you'd never know that by listening to the Android fans. They seem to be a tight bunch. (For the record, just bought an S9 a few weeks ago for the son.)
  • In my years of covering smartphones and tablets, Android has never been known to power a device I would recommend to someone looking for battery life. As for Samsung, if they were not so focused on squeezing in numerous features the great majority of customers could not care less about and are used a few times right after purchase, then they would have slightly better results. In regards to the statement "Given infinite time, any good silicon team could design a system-on-a-chip that would achieve maximum performance at maximum efficiency up to the limits of known physics in our universe. Release schedules are the opposite of infinite time, though. You get a few years to plan, but you have to ship every year.", companies do NOT have to release a new device each year. They could actually do a two year release cycle and the complaining would die down after most people got wise to the benefits to not only pocketbooks, but also the environment. This is the first cycle in a long time that I am actually sticking with my 7+ and skipping a generation to wait until September/October to get the iPhone X1 or whatever they will call it.  If people want good battery life in 2018 they will need to grab a Nokia 3310.
  • It's hard to imagine the kind of damage it would do to a company if they were the only one to skip a yearly update, especially an America company that trades publically. It'll eventually happen, the way iPads and Macs have gone 18-48 months without updates, but only when there's a product people care about more.
  • Not all of us are on the same cycle. Still using a 6S+ here. Consumers have a choice, because Apple gives us one. Android phones need more than 2-3 support for a two year cycle to even be an option, and that neans Qualcom drivers for each version of Android, which it doesn't do (see Pixel C tablet and how it can't run the newest Android after only two years!). https://iphone.appleinsider.com/articles/18/03/08/google-to-kill-support...
  • "and, yes, the power efficiency that allows for extended battery life as well" . Leave it to Rene to pooh-pooh Apple's extremely deceitful throttling of iPhones by calling it a feature that Apple thinks about deeply. Is it really that difficult for you to admit that Apple got caught doing something deceptive and insulted & belittled its customer's intelligence in the process?
  • Are you dense? Apple explained a perfectly valid reason to why they throttled iPhones. The only thing that was deceptive was that they weren't transparent about it. They did think about it deeply, and they certainly didn't "insult" or "belittle" their customers' intelligence (and yes, that's _customers'_ and not _customer's_, what were you saying about intelligence?)
  • Correct, having a phone die unexpectedly can be dangerous, and it can hurt the phone as well. And the same thing has happened repeatedly with Android phones, they've just throttled them in advance and then been caught cheating at benchmarks to make it look like they weren't throttled. No one has special magic when it comes to battery chemistry. At least not yet.
  • My 6S+ still will get years of updates. I'm waiting until November to upgrade the battery. So far my phone just works fine, if a pinch less snappy. I'm not happy about the throttling, but I am happy that I don't have to buy a new phone. Meanwhile, iPhones are going into landfills after 2-3 years anyway: https://iphone.appleinsider.com/articles/18/03/14/refurbished-high-end-i...
  • You don’t believe that anymore that I do. Apple knew they under specced the battery or had a bad batch and they lied flat out.
    It’s especially telling because they were refusing to replace bad batteries when they’d had a myriad of diagnostic reports from iPhone - Mac sync operations as well as hands on access to customer phones.
    Internally this was not a secret.
    Guess what the battery in my car had lasted 10 years. Why, because the quality and capacity was sufficient to withstand what the manufacturer predicted for it.
    They didn’t know I was going to fit a 300W amplifier and subwoofer but the cars electrical system still supported it.
    They planned ahead and made sure that use case was within the envelope.
  • As far as I'm aware, Apple's batteries last as long as they say they will, at which point they will suffer what every Li-ion battery suffers with. I think this is much a case of "YMMV", and it depends on how you use the device, or abuse the battery. Maybe Apple released a bad batch, but I don't think the throttling was in response to that, and plenty of companies do release bad batches from time to time, it's a difficult process.
  • No. They undersized it. Any company regardless of market should have an idea of the usage profile of their customers.
    In the case of my car, the OEM has looked at the warranty terms, they’ve looked at the temperature I’m likely to use it in, the charge/discharge regime and then add a little to be safe.
    They then choose the size of the battery based on such calculations so that it’ll start your car and support you for at least the warranty without problems.
    Apple got that calculation wrong.
  • Apple do test their devices, saying that the batteries are "undersized" is a matter of opinion. I don't remember hearing about any that went much quicker than usual, not to the extend that I would consider it something abnormal, anyway.
  • No. If the battery isn't capable of X charge and discharge cycles after X time it's too small. Let me exaggerate again. If the phone with processor as is, was powered by a 100Ah Lithium Ion block you reckon we'd be seeing this problem?
  • Eventually, yes. The problem happens with _every_ Lithium Ion battery. There are many Android phones that you could say don't have a big enough battery. Some throttle the same as the iPhone, some don't, which is worse because then you have the problem of the phone turning off unexpectedly.
  • Wrong. They replaced my 6s battery when I brought it in, which was before all this hit the fan.
  • Lead car batteries are completely different in how they perform compared to lithium ion batteries.
    The comparison between the two is ridiculous.
  • No. It is not. Please explain why in more words than u have.
  • The name should give a lot of it away. A "lead" battery is going to perform very differently to a "lithium-ion" battery. It's comparing oranges and apples
  • In my experience, Samsung and good battery life do not go together. Plus, Android in general does not manage apps and memory nearly as well as iOS does. I have a company-issued Galaxy S7, and an older S6. Both are on Android 7. Both have the same weird problems. The fact that Samsung added the “device maintenance” thing in settings is all you need to know. This is an app that I need to run daily. If I don’t, then an app that I manually closed yesterday will today be “a background app is consuming too much battery”. I CLOSED the app. Why is it still running? None of this nonsense in any of my iPads or iPhones. Closed apps remain closed. Suspended apps do not suddenly start running again. Also, the fact that Samsung uses 2 different chipsets in the same models is absurd. Why add needless complications like that? All of this - and many more - is what led me to conclude that Android is just a mess. I started with Windows phones. Yes, I know. I was young and stupid. I then moved to Android. It was great at first, compared to Windows. But then, 2 soup cans connected by a string would be an improvement over WP. But the more I used Android, the less I liked it. I even had a couple of Android tablets. But I eventually got tired of the weird problems, and the overall slowness of Android. I then moved from Android to Apple. That was over a year ago and all is still fine. Sold the Android tablets on eBay. The next upgrade time for my work phone will be an iPhone. I am done with Android.
  • To be fair, the two chip model is for CDMA vs GSM use the US.
  • Ah, I did not know that. Thanks.
  • This article is about the current Exynos, which is not relevant to the domestic market. What about the performance of the 845? That is much more important as a harbinger to what we could see in phones for the rest of the year.
  • Much slower in bench marks. Like, significantly slower than iPhone 7. It's closer to a 6S+. The point is Samsung is making its own chips to catch up to Apple, but it isn't easy. (Goolge is going to do the same thing, having pulled a lead chip guy from Apple.)
  • This is tricky to judge because the Exynos line was relatively more efficient than same generation Snapdragon, had slightly faster CPU but slower GPU compared to Snapdragon. But this current Exynos is even less efficient than it's predecessor, 8895 on the S8/Note8 line.
    Agreed that Android as a whole is a problematic OS in terms of efficiency, look at how Samsung uses the own Tizen OS on their smartwatches, even the ones with small batteries can last longer than Apple's Watch OS, not to mention the very poor efficiency of Wear OS by Google.
    So yes besides Rene's simingly jumping for joy in this latest saga of bad silicon by Samsung, Samsung dropped the ball big time. They have had a lot of bloatware for years on lesser SoCs without this level of inefficiency.
  • I was not going to comment, but seeing the amount of uneducated comments here I feel compelled to: hThe Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL according to many tests, have better battery life than their comparable iPhone variants. So those who are saying blanket statements like "I would never recommend an Android phone to someone who wants a long lasting phone" are just plain wrong.
    Secondly, yes, the Snapdragon 845 is slower than Apple's chips...but in real day to day usage when you're not comparing loading times of a game - the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL just as fast as the newest iPhones.
  • To be fair, if you were to use the same size battery on both an Android phone and an iPhone, iPhone would win, however many Android phones have bigger batteries to compensate, and some have even bigger ones to beat the iPhone's battery life. The advantage you have with Android is that you can pick the phone that's right for you, specs and all. If you want to use Android but care about speed or battery life, you can simply pick a phone that has good specs in that area. Samsung would help themselves if they didn't overload the OS with their own apps and TouchWiz, Google have specifically designed their own applications to work in a power-efficient manner and integrate well with Android itself, but Samsung seem to care more about branding and showing what they can do. I like Samsung phones, but if I were to own one I'd want it with stock Android
  • Yes, iOS seems to be more efficient if you look at battery draw in a usage/mAH way. Practically speaking though - that means nothing to the end user. Especially since Google isn't as greedy in this regard as Apple and includes a fast charger with the device, even though they don't charge 1K starting for the Pixel 2 - which according to TomsGuide and other tests I've seen, lasts longer than the iPhone X. I'm not hating on the X, I really like that phone - I'm just pointing out that it's misleading to make a blanket statement such as "Android is a terrible choice if you want a long lasting phone". And as far as it being an advantage for android to have different devices to choose from - I don't really feel that way. I mean there's a reason the Pixel and Pixel 2 are so loved. They just work, just like how we traditionally view iOS devices - although I suppose with how laughably bad iOS 11 has been - and Apple even admitting it - maybe it's that *stock* Android that just works. But the problem is that the average person isn't aware of this nuance. The average person equates all Android handsets and that's a serious problem for Google imo. When you get a Pixel 2, you get an excellent phone in almost every single regard. Battery life, stereo speakers, waterproofing, excellent performance, still the best stills camera and so on....but if you get another Android device, it's like getting a car, not from the manufacturer, but from some shop which has modified the absolute heck out of it, and then you can get something that doesn't run well, isn't reliable, doesn't maneuver well and so on. So that's why I think that if you get a Samsung phone, you are just asking for problems. I wouldn't be a phone that had a modified version of iOS either.
  • When did you last use a Samsung phone? TouchWiz is far less power hungry than it was of old and is rather pleasant to use. My wife has an S8 and it's always around the 40% battery mark after a day's reasonably heavy use. Also many Android phones have components that are more power hungry than iPhones such as higher resolution screens and faster modems so comparisons aren't that simple.
  • I don't dispute that TouchWiz has gotten a LOT better than it was. I don't own a Samsung phone (and have not for a couple years), but one of my good friends - who's opinion I value because the guy owns every major phone (S8, Note 8, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel XL, iPhone X) - and in his experience, while the original Pixel XL is still as snappy as it was when he got it - the S8 did not retain the original speed and consistent performance. That's disappointing but not surprising. I realize that's better than what it used to be like (getting slow within 3 months), but it's another reason I'm very hesitant to drop any money on a non-Pixel Android phone.