Windows Phone 7.8 - Does it Deliver Performance Improvements?

Windows Phone 7.8 was a fine example of how NOT to deliver a major update to your loyal fans and users. First, Microsoft has said almost nothing about what they are going to provide in terms of new features. Then, the release schedule was not clearly communicated. To top things off, the first version brought performance issues to many users and the update was stopped. Only a month and a half later, issues were fixed and users all over the world were able to enjoy using this update. But, enough complaining. Now that Windows Phone 7.8 is live almost everywhere in the world, let's see what it offers in terms of performance and new features.

NOTE: All tests were run on my Nokia Lumia 800. I used the latest Windows Phone 7.8 update - version 7.10.8862.144, which fixes most of the initial performance issues Windows Phone 7.8 had. All tests were run three times and I recorded the average results.

Windows Phone 7.8 - The Promise from Microsoft's Part

Unfortunately, Microsoft did a very bad job at communicating with users about what to expect from Windows Phone 7.8. Until it was released, we knew that the only major new feature is the improved Start screen, with new sizes for live tiles, similar to Windows Phone 8. After it was released, the change log mentioned a couple of other things:

  • A new splash screen at startup. The phone displays the new logo of Windows Phone 8. Unimpressive if you ask me.
  • A new logo for basic applications such as Games, Office, Windows Phone Store. Again, an unimpressive feature.
  • 20 new accent colors. This emulates what is being provided in Windows Phone 8 in terms of color customization. A nice change but nothing extraordinary.
  • An improved lock screen similar to Windows Phone 8, with dynamic wallpapers (Bing), notifications and third-party applications support. This is a great feature. The new lock screen does a better job at providing notifications.
  • Expanding Windows Phone Marketplace and Xbox support to new countries and regions. This a long awaited feature. Microsoft should have provided this a long time ago. Finally! More users all over the world can fully access the Windows Phone Store, Xbox services, purchase apps, etc.
  • Enhances the Chinese font and improves the appearance of Arabic and other languages. Users in these regions will find these enhancements useful.
  • Other unspecified improvements.

Even though it is not a very long list of updates, some of these changes are welcome and useful to users. Unfortunately, this update has had many issues. After its initial release in February 2013 to a select few countries and terminals, many users complained about performance issues, the quick draining of their phone's battery and malfunctioning live tiles. Therefore its rollout was stopped and Microsoft released two new updates that solved these issues. I received this update on my Nokia Lumia 800 only in mid-March and it seems to be working fine this time around. But, except these new features, what do you get in terms of performance? Let's find out.

Windows Phone 7.8 Performance - About the Same but with Slower Data Transfers

First, I used the MultiBench 2 benchmark and compared the performance levels when working with the phone's processor (CPU test), when transferring data to its storage memory (Data transfer test), when using its RAM (Memory test) and its video chip (Graphics test). The MultiBench 2 benchmark revealed an interesting picture:

Windows Phone 7.8 is not able to squeeze as much performance as Windows Phone 7.5 when using the CPU (3% less efficient) and the phone's storage memory (37% slower data transfers). However, it is able to work with the RAM memory in a more efficient manner (2% more) and squeeze more performance out of the phone's graphics chip (5% more). However, these differences are minor. They don't tell a very clear story and you could say the performance levels are about the same. The only worrying fact is that the data transfers made by this benchmark are a lot slower than when using Windows Phone 7.5. Therefore, I ran also WP Bench to see if this benchmark reveals similar trends. The CPU test revealed a similar picture - Windows Phone 7.8 used the phone's processor in a less efficient manner - 6% less.

The memory test revealed no meaningful differences (less than 1%) and neither did the graphics test. The storage tests confirmed that Windows Phone 7.8 is indeed slower at transferring data to my phone's memory. The average speed is 10% slower than when using Windows Phone 7.5 on the same phone.

The overall score given by WP Bench is 2% smaller when using Windows Phone 7.8 on the Nokia Lumia 800. What conclusion should we extract from these tests? It seems the the average performance levels are about the same between Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 7.8, with one exception - Windows Phone 7.8 is slower at writing and reading data from your phone's storage memory.

Windows Phone 7.8 Browsing Speed - About the Same

I was curious to learn if there are any speed improvements while browsing the web in Windows Phone 7.8. I ran the SunSpider benchmark to see if there are any meaningful differences.

It turns out that the Internet Explorer, in Windows Phone 7.8, is 1.39% slower. The difference is very small though so you will not really sense a meaningful difference when browsing the web. I browsed quite a few websites and, subjectively speaking, it never felt slower.

Windows Phone 7.8 Battery Time - Slightly Better

In daily use, I have not noticed any important differences regarding how long the battery lasts on my Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.8 installed. Some days it lasted less and in others more. It all depended on how much I used the phone and how. Therefore, I used the WP Bench battery test, to make some synthetic measurements.

The benchmark revealed an improvement of up to 13%. I'm not sure if other users noticed similar improvements after the latest update to Windows Phone 7.8. Therefore, if you are OK to run the same benchmark, do share the results with us.

Windows Phone 7.8 Boot Time - Slightly Slower

The last test I made was to measure the time it takes to boot the phone up until the Start screen shows up.

My measurements revealed that on my Nokia Lumia 800, Windows Phone 7.8 added only 1 second to the boot timings. A good result.

So What Do You Get from Windows Phone 7.8?

After running so many tests and using this operating system for a couple of days, I would like to sum up what is being offered to users: a better Start screen that uses all the available screen space, a better lock screen with better looks and notifications, support for more countries, minor battery improvements and slower data transfers when using your phone's storage memory. Otherwise, the performance levels are about the same, even though sometimes, some things may run slightly slower than when using Windows Phone 7.5. If you have other phones, do run the same benchmarks and share the results with us. Many other users will find this useful.