What's Best For Gaming: Apple Or Android?

Which is better for gaming — an Android phone or an iPhone? (The answer is obviously a proper big-rig gaming PC, a giant monitor and a comfy chair, but we won't get into that argument.) Three million mobile device benchmarks later, the creators of 3DMark have the definitive comparison of mobile graphics power when it comes to Apple's iOS smartphones and tablets versus the Android powerhouses of Samsung, Nvidia, Sony and Motorola.

One graph from Futuremark tells you everything you need to know. It's a distribution of average device scores from Futuremark's 3DMark Ice Storm mobile benchmark over the last two years until now — every significant phone and tablet release, the best of their respective eras — since the reign of the iPhone 5S and iPad 4. It includes the original Apple iPad Air, the slim Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, the Nvidia Shield Tablet, the Motorola Nexus 6 and Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge+ — the current smartphone champion.

And that graph shows a few interesting trends. Look at the rise of Apple's tablets, for example. Every release — iPad 4 to iPad Air to iPad Air 2 — is a significant improvement, jumping from 10K to 15K to 20K in 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited. The story is a little different for the iPhone; the 5S already scored a respectable 15K, but the 6 Plus only jumped to around 17K. And, tomorrow, we'll likely see at least one new top iOS device — maybe even two, if the rumoured new iPad Pro turns out to be real.

Sony's Xperia Z Ultra was the smartphone gaming king in 2013 with a score around 18K, but a quick succession of new best Android phones and ceaseless competition means that the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the current champion at 25K. Android tablets effectively mirrored the smartphone of the day two years ago, but the launch of Nvidia's Shield blitzed the competition mid-last year and it has remained the supreme mobile gaming device since then. New releases from a dozen major companies continue at a much faster pace than the Cupertino competition.

What's just as interesting is the fact that Apple's devices, despite being more conservative in their results and benchmark performance, are a lot more consistent. That is, there's a lot less deviation in the results as reported in 3DMark Ice Storm when you compare an iPhone 6 (when it was Apple's best performer post-September 2014) to the Nexus 6 (when it was Android's, between November 2014 and January 2015).

The iPhone 6's average score of 17278 is remarkably consistent — barely any devices register 18K scores, and barely any register 16K — where Nexus 6 devices have a distribution from any score as low as 18K and as high as 24K. That wide spread means the Nexus 6' average is only 21663, likely due to many devices throttling performance due to heat.

At the end of the day, though, Futuremark says the results are clear. When it comes to mobile gaming, whether it's on tablet or smartphone, Apple has always been playing catch-up with its Android competitors. Part of that comes down to the fact that Apple only (usually) iterates on its mobile devices once per year, but even then, comparing any Apple smartphone with any Android smartphone, or any Apple tablet with any Android tablet, you'll find there's a performance gap. Just how big that gap is tends to vary, but throughout the last couple of years of Futuremark's benchmarks it's been between 2K (phone to phone, the 5S versus the Z Ultra) and a whopping 15K (tablet to tablet, post-Shield launch).

So if you want to use your mobile device just to play games, you're always better off with an Android device. (Although you could argue that Apple gets all the best games, and it gets them first.) Who knows, though? That might all change with tomorrow's massive Apple launch event in San Francisco. Maybe the new iPhone or new iPad will sport a hugely powerful processor and will become the mobile gaming device of choice (moreso than it already is)? Maybe the Apple TV will become the ultimate couch gaming machine? But then another Android phone will come out in about a minute. We'll be reporting live, so stay tuned — our coverage kicks off from 3AM AEST on Thursday morning.

Here's the entire Futuremark infographic on Apple versus Android performance in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. It's full of interesting facts — 3DMark is by far most popularly run on Apple iPhone 5Ss, although it has been run on over 3000 different phones and tablets. A new benchmark is generated on average every 30 seconds. China and the US love the Apple version of the app, whereas for Android it's Russia and the US — China really doesn't care about Android phone gaming benchmarks, with only 1.6 per cent of Android downloads coming from that location. [Futuremark / Google Play Store / Apple App Store]


    I'm an Apple guy. People generally develop for Apple first, or at least at the same time - so for gaming, it'd be Apple all the way.

    I also appreciate having some QA around the games I play. Google just let anyone in.

      I started on apple but once you break free into the android market everything is just so much easier. Apple is simpler for the masses but Android doesn't keep throwing up walls all over the place.

      With the blessings of Android i can play Biker Mice from Mars on my Note 5

    Owning both, the games that are cross platform seem to run more smoothly on the iPhone.
    I think the devkit and way the games are written have a lot more to do with it than the tech specs and synthetic benchmarks.

    Last edited 16/09/15 12:14 pm

    Depends on the games. If u talking about games bought from an app store then Apple due to the range and earlier release dates. If u like playing games on an emulator then Android. For me it's android; snes, megadrive, dosbox and scummvm.

    You could easily argue that Androids have better specs, and you'd be right. However, the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx had much better specs than the Game Boy, and I think we know how that turned out. If pure computing power was all that mattered, then we'd all be PC gamers.

    I have to say Apple, simply because game are released on iOS first. Recent example is Fallout Shelter, as soon as it was announced I could go download it, if I had of been an Android user I would have been enraged at having to wait to play this.

      Yeah, this article is more, which is best at 3DMark, Apple or Android.
      What is best for gaming is a much bigger question than that.

    Well how about that I had no idea that 3D Mark existed for phones/tablets.

    Once I won the Tilt to Live world championship on iOS, mobile gaming lost all meaning. I now regal my children of tilted adventures from a bygone era and they ask me, "what's for dinner dad?". Yes, their enthusiasm is tantamount to my love for mobile gaming. I have since switched to Android and discovered Threes! there. Rumor has it it exists on all platforms. What magical wizardry is this? In other news, bacon is the new bacon.

    Android for me, just has way more options, plus with emulators as well.
    Not that I really play games on them anyway, thats what I have an xbox and PC for lol

    I'm a pro Apple user, one search of my username through Google alone will prove that as a well published fact. Despite this I have witnessed over the years a great demise in the industry in a whole.

    Although I can't comment on the state of the Android market (I have owned Android devices but never used them for games) I can comment on iOS, one which I have been writing about, testing, and playing for many years.

    To start with when the market was first released it was great. This was partially because of how simplistic the games were. At launch they used the tilt controls and swipe controls of the iOS device perfectly. Game like Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds and Flight Control (RIP) were very popular and put all three of those developers on the international map Halfbrick, Rovio and Firemint. One thing they all had in common was they were all cheap, yet PAID.

    Over the years people tried to replicate these successes and failed. With failure came other ways developers were to release games. With that came the dreaded iAPs. It was very rare that a game that came out had a fair and well working payment system. This was really the downfall of the store. Which hasn't been the same every since.

    Now the store is going into the more hardcore market which in truth the iPhone isn't built for. You can add better processors, better screens, better this and that. It doesn't change the fact its a small mobile device that lacks real buttons. Meaning the only way to implement these buttons is to take up screen space.

    This is why I am excited for Apple TV. Sure it will have its flaws, specifically its lack in storage (REALLY APPLE!!!?) but it is a step in the right direction which will hopefully pull the app store out of its horrible iAP state and into one that has reasonably priced games that people will buy.

    Is it not weird that the two most successful games on the App Store in Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja were paid!?

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