spons23nov1 23 Could Smartphones Beat Curren-Gen Consoles Now? 

Could Smartphones Beat Curren-Gen Consoles Now? 

Are smartphones and mobile games really catching up to consoles? In a way, they are. The answer ultimately lies in what you can consider as practical, as opposed to the absolute peak maximum that any gaming machine can offer, mobile or not. Much of the latest trends in graphics today such as raytracing are now technically available to the latest flagship phones. That being said, it is a neverending game of cat and mouse, in which smartphones are usually the ones who always need to catch up.

Where the Xbox Series S and PlayStation 5 Currently Sit

Beating current-gen consoles via phones is definitely no small task. Because as it stands, the Xbox Series S and PlayStation 5 are pretty beefy machines that are capable of going toe-to-toe with midrange PC hardware from 2021. Yes, they can stand against current-gen PC hardware, albeit not with the most expensive ones.

To give you a comparison, the Playstation 5, with its combined Zen 2 and RDNA 2 APU architecture, is capable of providing a theoretical compute performance that is similar to an RX 6700. And indeed, in most cases where settings can be equally compared side-to-side, it does seem that the PS5 can more less be equal to it. The Xbox Series S is theoretically higher, going as far as an RTX 3070 in theoretical numbers. But in practice, it is more or less the same.

As both are introduced at an MSRP of $500, most current PCs that use completely new components cannot hope to beat the two consoles in price-to-performance alone (as pure gaming machines). If you are going to build a similarly performing RTX 3060 + Ryzen 5600 with all other PC components, it would still cost you upwards of $700 or more. And good luck trying to maneuver your gaming rig against the recent trend of releasing unoptimized nightmares for the platform.

CleanShot 2023 11 23 at 07.19.55 Could Smartphones Beat Curren-Gen Consoles Now? 

Comparing the Most Powerful Phones Today

As of mid-2023, the most powerful phones today that we might be able to compare against the two consoles are:

  • Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate – Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (Adreno 740)
  • Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra – Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (Adreno 740)
  • ZTE Nubia RedMagic 8 Pro – Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (Adreno 740)
  • Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max – Apple A17 Pro (Custome 6-core chip)

Floating point operations per second, or FLOPS, is the general measurement of instructions that a certain chip or hardware system can perform. Though far from being a solid benchmark of gaming potential, it can be used as a comparison market. Today, we are at Tera FLOP or TFLOP levels of measurement when it comes to consoles and other electronic data devices.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and the Apple A17 Pro have respective TFLOP values (FP32) of 3.5 and 2.1 respectively. Quite impressive as a phone, but not when compared to consoles. For example, the aforementioned RX 6700 has a TFLOP (FP32) performance value of 11.3, or about three to four times that of any of the most powerful phones that we currently have.

(DISCLAIMER: These performance metrics show only the theoretical instruction-based graphical processing part. The overall system processing part of these SoCs provides much higher values especially in terms of overall usage and in accessing all available features of the phone.)

Practical versus Optimal

So that’s it, right? Phones are still weak when compared to current-gen consoles. Well, not quite. In terms of maximum performance value and the highest potential that a console can provide, then sure, consoles (and PCs) still dominate. But in terms of overall practical game development, we are already at a level of graphics that people can enjoy today on both machines, granted you’re not comparing web browser-based titles, of which one example can be found here. Here the experience is virtually the same. That aside, we can more or less conclude that a blur is forming between the two platforms, and therefore, phones are indeed “catching up.”

Call of Duty Mobile, for example, arguably one of the most popular FPS shooters in phones today, has a graphical fidelity that is almost indistinguishable from that of CSGO or even something more modern like Valorant and Apex Legends. Especially when viewed on smaller screens, where tiny details are often ignored for the overall look and feel of such a fast-paced action title.

Genshin Impact has a native app both for the PC and mobile. When the graphics are turned up to max, the difference is not even that noticeable, and it works just like any other game with modern lighting, particle, and texture effects from the last five years or so. The overall enjoyment is similar on both machines, given that we use the most powerful phones and PCs that can handle them freely.

Other Things to Consider

Aside from just pure performance, comparing the two platforms would also inevitably incorporate these other factors:

  • Cost and accessibility – mobile games tilt quite more towards the microtransaction model compared to consoles. Instead of the big screen experience at home, phones focus more on the convenience of portability and modality of the games available on the platform.
  • Gameplay experience – touchscreen-optimized games would play quite differently than those built for controllers. Of course, many mobile games support controllers as well. But the added factor of being able to touch the screen for additional input already makes it a significantly different gameplay experience, regardless of whether the base performance is better or not.
  • Details still matter, but not too much – for mobile games, playing triple-A games is less about looking at realistic blades of grass than about making the game as responsive and easy to access as possible on a tinier screen. After all, what good is it for a game that is cinematic if it is an unoptimized mess due to how laggy it controls during heavy sections?

Not Just Yet, But Very, Very Close

When it comes to accessing a wide variety of commonly played modern games released in the last five years, smartphones today can practically go toe-to-toe with the latest consoles. The feel and experience are almost the same, unlike in the last few decades when there is a clear divide between what is a “handheld”, and what is a “home” console from a graphics fidelity standpoint.

That being said, in terms of raw performance, phones will still be several steps away from consoles. Not only due to the constant march of technological progress, there is simply no need to catch up. Even if we factor in things like raytracing, both are still serving very different niches within the gaming market. Unless you are into emulation, chances are you won’t always be plugging your phone into a monitor a’la Nintendo Switch.