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How we test smartphones: Expert Reviews’ benchmark process explained

An in-depth guide to Expert Reviews’ smartphone testing and benchmarks – including how we interpret the results

At Expert Reviews, we’ve been testing, benchmarking and reviewing smartphones for over a decade. Every single handset that passes through our doors receives the same testing treatment, helping us to deliver definitive, comprehensive verdicts you can trust.

There are a number of key aspects we test when we receive a smartphone for review. These include the quality of the display, overall performance, battery life and the phone’s cameras.

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How we assess smartphone design, build quality and features

When we first take a smartphone out of the box, we assess how it feels in the hand and the overall build quality, to give us a general impression of how durable the handset might be. We make a note of any IP waterproofing rating at this point, as well as whether the ports and connections are located in sensible places, if the screen has a protective coating and the quality of the materials used in the phone’s construction.

A phone’s looks can be subjective but it’s here where we judge how the handset compares to its similarly priced rivals and whether its aesthetics and overall feel are in line with the asking price. We always ensure the software of the phone we’re reviewing is entirely up to date before we begin our tests.

How we test smartphone displays

Every phone’s display is tested using an X-Rite colorimeter paired with the DisplayCal calibration tool for Windows and macOS. Using this method, we receive a breakdown of the overall colour accuracy of the screen we’re testing – demonstrating how well it can reproduce different colours and shades – as well as the measured brightness, contrast, white point and black level.

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If there are multiple display modes in the phone’s settings menu, we run these tests for each one. We measure peak brightness with auto brightness turned on and off and during HDR playback.

How we test smartphone performance

We test smartphone performance using third-party benchmark apps downloaded from either Google Play or the Apple App Store.

The first tool we turn to is Geekbench, currently in its sixth iteration. Geekbench 6 incorporates a number of different CPU tests, and produces a total score for single-core and multicore tasks when completed. Essentially, the higher the number, the faster the performance. One thing to note is that these scores can’t be used to compare against previous release versions (Geekbench 5 versus Geekbench 6, for example).

We also perform a number of anecdotal tests in order to gain a more representative feel of the sort of day-to-day performance you might experience. We use applications such as Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome and the camera app to determine everyday speeds, switching between them and also making a note of boot times.

How we test smartphone gaming/graphics

The GFXBench app allows us to test mobile gaming performance. There are a number of tests to choose from as part of this benchmark, with the Car Chase onscreen and off-screen tests being used as part of our reviews.

The onscreen Car Chase benchmark is limited to the phone’s display resolution and refresh rate, whereas the off-screen portion is rendered at a standard 1080p resolution with an unlocked frame rate. Both of these tests provide the total number of frames that the phone’s GPU rendered during the benchmark run, as well as an average frame rate.

The list of games we use for real-world testing changes as new titles are released, but we typically use games that allow you to control visual settings such as Call of Duty: Mobile and Genshin Impact.

How we test smartphone battery life

For battery testing, we turn off all brightness settings and set the phone’s display brightness to 170cd/m² using our display calibrator and the DisplayCal software. We also turn on flight mode and make sure the phone is fully charged to 100%, closing all background apps before running the test.

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We then play a 20-hour low-resolution video in the VLC app, ensuring the video is set to repeat and filling the entire screen. When the phone dies, we charge it up, reopen the VLC app and make a note of the timestamp. At this point, we also record how fast the smartphone charges to 100% from empty.

How we test smartphone cameras

The latest smartphones come with multiple sensors, lenses and shooting features. So while our camera testing methodology is consistent across all reviews, the individual elements we need to test can vary slightly.

That being said, we always ensure that our smartphone camera testing is as exhaustive as possible, putting them to the test in a variety of shooting scenarios, including scenic shots, low-light and indoor photography, as well as rapid video panning in a range of modes.

We never test a smartphone camera in isolation, however, and always choose a competitor handset to provide a control for direct comparison, especially for outdoor shots, as the lighting is never quite the same. This is usually a smartphone within the same price bracket or the predecessor of the handset we’re currently reviewing. We publish these images side by side in our reviews for comparison purposes.

How we refine our smartphone tests

It’s important that testing methodologies remain stable, as this allows us to compare the currently reviewed product with others we have reviewed in the past. However, technology changes and, as it does, our tests need to move with the times.

We regularly review our testing methodologies and update them as and when necessary. Usually, this happens when a third-party benchmark we use receives an update. But we’re always on the lookout for new ways to improve our tests in other ways, too.

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