This is a daily opinion column written by Lowell Heddings, the founder of How-To Geek, featuring his take on the latest in the world of technology.
The news started spreading yesterday that your iPhone might get two hours less battery life if it contains a Samsung A9 chip instead of the TSMC version. But is it true, or is this just somebody trying to invent the next Bendgate or Antennagate? We have no idea but we’re going to pontificate on the subject anyway.
The whole story was based on a Reddit thread, as all completely trustworthy Pulitzer-winning stories are, where somebody had tested both phones and posted a side-by-side screenshot of the results. They had claimed to run the tests multiple times with the same results.
often usually sometimes happens, the tech press picked up the story and ran with it without any independent verification or testing. Hopefully somebody is actually looking into this — we would, but we don’t have a Samsung A9 chip to test with as ours are TSMC. And we’re too busy criticizing other people’s coverage — that’s where the money is.
Back it up! You are probably wondering right now why the iPhone has a Samsung chip in it and what TSMC stands for. Basically, Apple sources all of the components inside their devices from many different suppliers, and considering they had to ship out 13 million devices for launch day, they had to split the order between two companies (Samsung and TSMC) making the same Apple A9 chip for them. The Samsung chip is slightly smaller than the TSMC chip, as they are manufactured using a different process. And that’s where the believability of this story comes from. Or so we hear from Chipworks who supplied the world with the following picture.
You can figure out which processor you have by downloading the Lirum Device Info Lite app — just please don’t pay for it. It’s not exactly a high quality app, but the basic version should be free and show you the model number.
If the model number says N66MAP or N71MAP you have a TSMC processor, and N66AP or N71AP (notice the M is missing) would mean you have a Samsung processor. Supposedly. In fact, we did a lot of searching to try to figure out where these model numbers came from, and we can’t find any reliable source for this information. So we could be repeating nonsense just like everybody else. Everybody else is doing it!
What About that Benchmark Screenshot?
The first problem with this story is when you examine the benchmark screenshot, which shows that one phone has a SIM card and the other has none. But you can clearly see the location icon, indicating that both phones are trying to get the current location in the background, which usually involves using the cell towers and a variety of other tactics to get location information without having to use the GPS chip. Anybody that has used Google Maps for navigation can attest to the battery-killing powers of location tracking. Did that play a factor in the huge difference between the tests?
The second problem is that heavy benchmarks don’t actually showcase real-life usage. It’s also possible that running the benchmark at full speed makes the Samsung chip need more power, which drains the battery faster. You would think Apple would have figured this out before launching, but they also might be evil overlords with cult followers. After doing some research we came across this YouTube video that shows two phones being tested side by side and getting around the same score. That test isn’t very scientific either, and the two phones shown aren’t exactly the same. But it does seem a little more reliable than a screenshot from Reddit.
Perhaps the person that started this whole thing had a defective phone, battery, or chip? Maybe something else was going on? Perhaps restoring from backup had a glitch on one of the phones? We don’t know, because this is all based on a screenshot.
It’s entirely possible that there’s a difference in battery life, and only very thorough testing by researchers is going to uncover the truth. We definitely hope that people start doing that testing, and if we can get our hands on two identical phones with different chips so they aren’t really identical, we’ll be sure to perform some thorough testing.
So… We Don’t Know Either, Right?
Precisely. Update: see update below. You probably already skipped down to that part.
You deserve better from tech news. But you’re not going to get it, because everybody wants clicks. Including us. Please click everything you see. Everything! Except blinking banner ads. Never click the blinking banner ads. That’s where sadness comes from.
Apple responds to the controversy, says 2-3% difference in real-world testing. Which is what we figured, and what makes sense — I mean, why would Apple ship two separate processors that aren’t roughly the same in performance? They like money, and people don’t buy if they think they are getting ripped off.
“Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.”
You can read the rest of the response, and a lot of good points about how silly this whole thing is, in iMore’s excellent article.