The Galaxy Note 7 is this year’s best new phone, edging out Samsung’s own S7 Edge, and easily the most talked-about new device of the summer. But with great fame comes great scrutiny, and this week has seen the Note 7 subjected to allegations of having "embarrassing real-world performance." Well, I’ve been using the Note 7, out here in real-world Europe, as my main phone for 10 glorious days now, and I’m here to tell you that the benchmarks lie. This phone doesn’t have a performance problem.
On Monday, the performance obsessives at XDA — I use this term with kindness, for I am quite fanatical about speed myself — posted benchmarks and measurements showing the Galaxy Note 7 to be slower than the HTC 10 and OnePlus 3. Around the same time, someone else posted a speed comparison between the Note 7 and iPhone 6S, which showed the iPhone being faster in the completely realistic scenario of launching and immediately closing every app on your phone. Naturally, the internet reacted in its predictable, over-caffeinated fashion, casting doubt and shade at Samsung’s new flagship phone.
Read more: Benchmarks never tell the whole story
I’ve written previously about the issue of investing too much trust in benchmarks. Most testing suites put phones through synthetic or simulated tests that are only analogous to real world use. But even where tests measure actual performance in a meaningful way, there’s always the danger of us overestimating the impact of the numerical differences.
For example, XDA shows that the Note 7 launches Chrome in 0.493 seconds versus the HTC 10’s nippy 0.298 seconds. I’ve sat here and dutifully done that test myself a dozen times, throwing in the OnePlus 3 as well. How noticeable is the difference? It isn’t. On some occasions I see the Note 7 launching faster, anyway. Same goes for the Google Play Store, Gmail, Hangouts, and every other shared app that I have across my Android devices. Everything launches and operates at roughly equivalent speed across the HTC 10, Note 7, and OnePlus 3.
I don’t notice anything close to a substantial difference between the speed of the HTC 10, Note 7, or OnePlus 3 while I have them all side by side. Imagine how much less of a difference you’d feel when you only have one of these phones.
Disregard benchmarks and you'll live a longer and happier life
The only question to be asked about any phone’s performance is whether or not it gets in your way. Good performance is predictable, fluid, and fast enough not to frustrate the user. Is the Galaxy Note 7 perfect across all of these metrics? I wouldn’t say so, but I can’t say that I’ve yet encountered an Android phone that is. And once you get into apps, there’s the added complexity of how well designed each application is. It’s not Samsung’s fault, for example, that Twitter for Android is a buggy mess (I can reproduce the same picture-tweeting crash across all my Android devices).
Giving it some deep thought and focusing in, I can find slowdowns and performance imperfections on the Note 7, sure. But if you’re going to overanalyze to that degree, you’ll also find inefficiencies and flaws in Jimmy Page’s strumming technique.
The actual feeling of using the Note 7 is in no way slow or unsatisfying. I'm a demanding reviewer when it comes to speed and responsiveness, having slated the Moto G4 and the Xperia Z5’s camera software for their sluggishness in recent times, and I’m telling you that the Note 7 is fine.
Performance is one of the critical differentiators between middling and premium phones, so yes, it matters a ton, and no, the Note 7 doesn’t distinguish itself with its speed. But that’s not a huge problem for a phone that has the Note 7’s design, camera, display, battery, and waterproofing. Hell, even XDA felt compelled to write a follow-up about the other important aspects that make the Note 7 an excellent phone beyond its specs.