Windows Phone 8.1 vs Windows Phone 8: Which version is faster?

With Windows Phone 8.1 developer preview now out, you are able to get your hands on the bits if you want to sign up for the program (which is free). But, with the new OS that brings a lot of new features, read our more comprehensive review of that here, we were curious if it actually made our phones any faster.

We have two Lumia Icons at our disposal, one with WP 8.1 and the other with WP 8.0 and have run them through a series of benchmark tests and various other ‘unofficial’ tests that help to determine if the updated OS will actually improve the speed of your device.

The video at the top of this post shows that the speed improvements during boot-up are quite noticeable but browsing apps and surfing the web, it's about the same. Windows Phone 8 did shut down faster but only by a small margin. Everything else, including text messages and the like, proved to show no real speed advantage.

WP 8.1 | WP 8

In the above test, using Multibench, WP 8.1 appears to edge out WP 8, but just barely. It's important to note that not all silicon, even if it comes off the same assembly line, is exactly the same in terms of performance. Yes, they will be really darn close spec wise, but performance from chip to chip can vary, slightly. What we see above is a close result from both phones, while WP 8.1 does appear to have a slight edge, other than the data test, we would bet that to the untrained user, they would never know the difference.

WP 8.1 | WP 8

The same story can be said here as above with Phone Mark. We did try to keep the devices in close comparison in terms of accounts that were synced; we performed a cold-boot before running the tests to remove as many background processes as possible and in the end WP 8.1 did edge out WP 8 but the improvements are marginal, but notable.

WP 8.1 | WP 8

Finally, with AnTuTu, Windows Phone 8 actually had the better raw score. What this means is that the differences between 8/8.1 shows marginal improvements, and at this time any major performance improvements, by simply updating the software, is not likely to occur when the bits roll-out to all existing devices. 

One way to look at this, though, is that Microsoft added more features to Windows Phone and the OS kept on-par, if not having better performance, with Windows Phone 8. So, by installing Windows Phone 8.1, not only do you get more features, but also an OS that is going to keep your phone running with no hiccups even with the extra bits powering Cortana and the other new functions.

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Author, you should qualify the article title with the word (preview) under windows phone 8.1 because you don't have the final release bits nor the final version of the apps. This is basically not to be trusted as the actual performance since MSFT has the habit of adding diagnostics code which slows down things for this type of preview program

Just remember people... this is just the preview version... there's still lots of tweaks and optimization being done... and most importantly the OEM firmware. It'll be faster when it officially launches. :-)

According to Basemark OS II, 8.1 is noticeably quicker on my Lumia Icon. Previous overall score was around 997; new score is 1064. On Basemark X, my previous score was around 23500; new score is 25780. That puts it just below the average for the 1520 at around 25900 or so. The 1520 is rated at number 1 in Basemark X video benchmark. I expect it to perform slightly better than the Icon due to the slight increase in CPU clock speed. With 8.1, this would suggest that it is capable of extending the lead further with the Icon likely at number 2. Provided that the average holds for Basemark OS, the Icon rates at number 3 (I got a bronze medal for whatever that means) just ahead of the iPad Air with LTE. The 1520 is currently ranked at number 10 for that benchmark but I would expect it to be quicker than the Icon when people start running it the benchmark with 8.1. So, according to benchmarks on the same hardware prior to the update and after the update, 8.1 is definitely faster and by a fairly notable percentage.

The update is faster, but it is not going to be as prevalent in a high end quad core Lumia icon.

Lower end and mid range devices should see more of a bump and more fluidity in the UI.

Also 512mb devices have a bit more free ram for background tasks.

elenarie said,
I think it is a bit slower, but that might be due to Nokia's firmware not being fully compatible with 8.1 yet.

I was about to say, firmware updates that come after 8.1 from the OEMs will be when we should do a new test.

elenarie said,
I think it is a bit slower, but that might be due to Nokia's firmware not being fully compatible with 8.1 yet.

Give it a bit of use. Initially after update the phone will be processing app updates and new data syncing. On my device with a ton of apps and data, it was running background progresses for about 30 mins or more even after it was functional.

It'll be faster in full production. You're running via the Developer Program and the firmware hasn't been released yet

Mine was slow right after the update, like the above poster said it was probably doing stuff in the background, but now it's nice and speedy again. Am loving the extra tiles, feels like I have a new phone :D

Studio384 said,
At my Lumia 520, the boot screen shows only the Windows logo, no longer "Windows Phone" next to it.

I noticed that after I installed 8.1 and it rebooted for the first time with it, I just saw the Windows logo like I see when I start up my Windows 8.1 PC and tablet. No Windows Phone text next to it.

Studio384 said,
At my Lumia 520, the boot screen shows only the Windows logo, no longer "Windows Phone" next to it.

Yes, it looks more like the regular Windows bout screen.

Like you said in the video, 8.1 has more going on, apps can do more when it comes to background tasks compared to the old background agents in 8.0. One thing to note is that apps that update to 8.1 and even just current 8.0 apps will see a performance improvement running on WP8.1. Maybe a few more comparisons between apps would have been nice besides just IE?

I don't think anyone would ever expect it to be faster, just have more features and of course as newer faster hardware came out, things would increase. Why think otherwise?

The usual thought is that newer software will run slower than the older software on the same device, but in this case the opposite is true

Sraf said,
The usual thought is that newer software will run slower than the older software on the same device, but in this case the opposite is true

This is true although we need to consider that the firmware is not optimized yet.

Sraf said,
The usual thought is that newer software will run slower than the older software on the same device, but in this case the opposite is true

That's hasn't been true on Windows for years. Since Vista, every iteration of windows has gotten faster.

92GTA said,
I don't think anyone would ever expect it to be faster, just have more features and of course as newer faster hardware came out, things would increase. Why think otherwise?

Normally yes; however there are considerable kernel and general performance additions to this update.

The performance differences are more noticeable on lower end hardware, especially dual core and 512mb devices.

The recent Windows 8.1 update also has the lower level optimizations.

greenwizard88 said,

That's hasn't been true on Windows for years. Since Vista, every iteration of windows has gotten faster.

True, but don't forget that there was a large requirement increase from WP7 to WP8

Sraf said,

True, but don't forget that there was a large requirement increase from WP7 to WP8


Now that Windows Phone is NT and sharing code with the other versions, the baseline is going to be locked for a few years, and with optimizations should get faster or stay the same even with a lot of new features, just as we have seen from Vista to Windows 8.

It seems to me the animation for getting back to the start screen seems ever so slightly faster. So does loading email, calendar, etc.. With as slow as the transition animations are for WP every little bit helps.

Mobius Enigma said,

The animations are faster than a user can react.

Not always.

But WP8.1 seems to have increased the speed slightly over 8.0. Makes the phone feel much faster.

mrp04 said,

Not always.

But WP8.1 seems to have increased the speed slightly over 8.0. Makes the phone feel much faster.

The important point is the animations aren't impeding the user, and should be in the low millisecond range. Even with the animations WP has nothing to apologize about in terms of speed.

Side Notes for other readers:
(The entire UI in WP uses accelerated drawing and an a composer that are offloaded to the GPU. This is in contrast to most of Android and even parts of iOS where only some elements have GPU assisted drawing.)

I can get into situations where I have to wait for the home screen to finish transitioning. If I switch between an email and a text, etc.. there can be a bit of a delay where I've tried it on iOS and Android and have found it a bit faster. Again nothing really negative just that transitions could be a bit faster. They seem so on 8.1 but I'd like to see them work on it more.

Skwerl said,
Funky animations?

Yeah like the way apps close, switching between screens etc, its a bit different how they move which makes the phone seem quicker, probably because these animations are faster moving.