According to a report by Forbes Magazine, Samsung has secured first access to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors. This effectively means that no other manufacturer will be able to release a smartphone with Snapdragon 835 before Samsung releases the new Galaxy S8. Other well-placed sources, such as The Verge, have filed similar reports on Samsung cornering this market. Qualcomm, for its part, has held back from making any comments on these reports. That said, the indications are that the reports are actually true. What does this mean for those smartphones that are due to enter the market in Spring 2017?
The buzz surrounding the pending release of the Galaxy S8 has overshadowed the first half of 2017 in a way that we haven't seen in the smartphone market for quite some time. While other device manufacturers are expected to attract a lot of attention at MWC 2017, the S8 question mark will be hovering over every presentation - and will be an important influence on those customers who are on the lookout for an upgrade this year.
MWC 2017 will be the showcase for the next generation of smartphones for release over the coming year. For the manufacturers, regardless of the differences in the features on the actual devices, there has always been a common defining feature - the inclusion of Qualcomm chipsets. Thanks to Samsung, it could now be the case that the devices due to be released at MWC 2017 will include Snapdragon 821.
For some manufacturers this has not come as good news. LG is a case in point. According to the report from Forbes, the LG G6 will run on Snapdragon 821 due to Samsung getting first dibs. However, an LG insider has said, the company has opted in the past to not use the latest chip set as it was more important to have a proven SoC that could be tested thoroughly than the latest, fastest processor. The LG G4 didn't include Snapdragon 810 when it was released two years ago due to concerns about overheating, so the company should get a few points for forward thinking.
Technical differences between Snapdragon 820/821 and Snapdragon 835
Qualcomm had quite a bit of bad luck with Snapdragon 810: The processor was a hot head and was not a strong performer. This was thanks largely to the production process. The direct competitor of Samsung, the Exynos 7420, which was included in the Galaxy S6, was developed with higher manufacturing standards and had its advantages in terms of power consumption and heat production. The Snapdragon 808 was less powerful in comparison, but was better at controlling the heat it produced.
Is the Snapdragon 821 a good choice considering that the Snapdragon 835 will be available in a couple of months? The technical differences between the two are obvious: Qualcomm uses a middle path between ARM's cores and a Qualcomm-based ARM-compatible architecture. The Snapdragon 820/821 also introduced Qualcomm's first custom 64-bit CPU core, Kryo, which are largely based on the ARM Cortex A72 or A73 with additional optimizations.
Here we are dealing with an octa-core processor, where The Big Little Principle comes into play. Higher clock speeds, an accelerated graphics processor and improvements in energy efficiency through the modern production process all speak for themselves. We are not just concerned with an optimized Snapdragon 820/821, we are also getting a worthwhile upgrade.
Anandtech have done a very thorough analysis on the technical differences between the two, which you can link to here.
Who needs Snapdragon 835 anyway?
On a purely technical level, there are some differences between the two Qualcomm processors. That said, it's questionable who needs this power at all. Qualcomm, of course, promises that the processor consumes less power and smartphones have longer battery life. A real marathon runner will certainly not have Snapdragon 835 on their smartphone. If you need longer battery life and long standby times, you's be better off with a mid-range processor.
And the stronger computing power? Do we actually need it? For anyone who is interested the high-end smartphones are all fast performers, but for everyday use this is hardly an added bonus. Regardless of whether it is a Moto Z, Google Pixel or even a Galaxy S7, if there are performance issues the bottleneck has seldom anything to do with computing power. The fault usually lies with the network connection, a slow or congested memory or other factors.
Applications like games or extensive recording or editing for photos and videos are also affected. Even games with QHD run smoothly on Snapdragon 820/821, even if it isn't with the highest definition. Tricks such as reducing the resolution have a noticeable, though positive, effect on devices like the Galaxy S7. Graphics performance is certainly up there in terms of importance, especially for VR applications or VR games where high resolution is indispensable.
What does this mean for manufacturers and their MWC presentations?
For most users, the difference between a Snapdragon 821 and Snapdragon 835 is hardly noticeable. Depending on the manufacturer, there are - of course - some different considerations.
We've already looked at LG and it shouldn't make a huge difference for this company. LG can look instead to capitalize with a new design and adding features like Google Assistant or other useful features. Overall, the chances for LG to skip Snapdragon 835 without any issues are good.
At the moment the plans of manufacturers like HTC, Sony and others for the MWC are not as clear.
Sony could present a new high-end smartphone at MWC, just as it has done in the past, but it's not expected to have that much of an impact on the market. If Sony was to release a new mid-range device, like a successor to the Xperia XZ, then it could (and ideally should) be equipped with Snapdragon 835. In the short to medium term, the main question to consider is whether releasing two flagship devices in the same year is a good business decision.
Samsung's monopoly on the new Qualcomm chip sets could also prove to be annoying for Nokia. The brand is aiming to make its return to the smartphone market, but will need to re-enter with a big bang. Last year's specs won't do anything to help the brand in this achieving this goal.
HTC U Ultra is not expected to be a strong bid in 2017. A second high-end device would need to have very distinctive features or be a high performer. Under the circumstances, the only way HTC would be able to achieve this is with the Snapdragon 835.
There's a very good chance that Huawei could benefit from the new chip set. It's expected that Huawei will be showcasing the new P10 at MWC 2017, and its processor could fit into the performance class of a Snapdragon 835. The most surprising thing about the Huawei P10 is that its expected to be extremely expensive, possibly even more than the Mate 9.
The manufacturers who do opt for a Snapdragon 821 will actually face a completely different problem, specifically regarding the price. How can it be justified to have a price which covers the introduction of Snapdragon 835 in a device? Regardless of whether it is $500 or $600, the point is that a smartphone released in Spring 2017 should be more expensive than a new device that includes a 2016 processor.
2017 will officially start for smartphones at MWC, and manufacturers will be showing which of their ideas they will be implementing in the year ahead. It is already apparent that the focus will be less on the processors and more on the marketable features a smartphone can include. Innovations in terms of design and usability are in high demand this year. That said, the coming months will determine whether or not we will see more of how the Snapdragon 821 can perform.
Are processors an important factor for you when you are choosing a new smartphone? Do you think you'll start considering this along with the other features on a smartphone when you look to upgrade next time? Let us know in the comments below.