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Snapdragon 855: Qualcomm's answer to Huawei and Apple

The fastest smartphone chip gets even faster and smarter. The US chip manufacturer Qualcomm presented the Snapdragon 855 at the Snapdragon Tech Summit 2018 on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and it's got it all.

One thing straight away: the new processor is of course faster than its predecessor, both in terms of computing and graphics performance. The 7-nanometer Snapdragon 855 has eight cryo-485 cores on board and can clock up to 2.84 GHz. In everyday life, the increase in performance is to be reflected, among other things, in apps that start even faster. An Adreno 640 is responsible for the graphics, the successor of the Adreno 630 in the Snapdragon 845.

The most important points of the Snapdragon 855 in the overview, compared to the Snapdragon 845:

  • 45 percent more computing power
  • 20 percent more graphics performance
  • three times faster AI performance
  • LTE up to 2 Gbps
  • 5G capable with X50 modem
  • ISP with Computer Vision
  • HEIF image format

The fastest smartphone CI

One of the key features of the Snapdragon 855 is the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) called Hexagon 690, which now features a new component, the Tensor Accelarator, designed specifically for machine learning functions - a counterpart to the NPU in the Kirin 980 and Apple's Neural Engine on the A12 Bionic. According to the manufacturer, Qualcomm's AI chip achieves 7 trillion calculations per second, which is 2 trillion more than the A12 Bionic. Qualcomm states that the Snapdragon 855 is twice as powerful as the Kirin 980 for AI tasks and "noticeably faster" than Apple's SoC.

snapdragon 855 mobile platform chip front
So small, so strong: the Snapdragon 855 / © Qualcomm

Qualcomm uses the AI for scene recognition in photography, for real-time effects in video, for example for a good bokeh, but also for speech quality. If you activate the corresponding function on your smartphone, you can completely filter out annoying and loud background noises for the person you are talking to. Qualcomm demonstrated this impressively at the Snapdragon Tech Summit.

Better photos and videos with the new Snapdragon

With smartphone cameras, not only the lenses and sensors as well as the software have a great influence on the quality of the photos and videos, but also the chip, more precisely the ISP, the image signal processor. Qualcomm's Spectra 380 consists of two 14-bit ISPs and improves video recording through specialized hardware acceleration.

The Snapdragon 855 enables 4K recording at 60 fps and HDR10. Also using 4K and HDR, real-time motif-recognition for the bokeh effect puts Qualcomm a small step ahead of the competition. Multi-Frame Noise Reduction is designed to noticeably reduce image noise.

Also new for Qualcomm is the image format HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format), which will replace JPEG in the medium term and is already supported by Android 9 Pie. HEIF can store more data per image, such as depth information and RAW data, while even reducing the file size. 

snapdragon 855 mobile platform chip on wafer
Qualcomms new mobile chip brings many advantages / © Qualcomm

The Snapdragon 855 is 5G capable, but only in conjunction with the X50 modem. This is not part of the SoC, but has to be installed in the smartphone in addition and in a package with up to four mm wave antennas. The X24 modem, which is an integral part of the Snapdragon 855, supports KTE with up to 2 Gbit/s and WLAN with up to 60 GHz.

If a manufacturer decides to install the X50 modem, he has to accept that the smartphone gets a little thicker or that the battery gets flatter - the additional components have to go somewhere. The 5G smartphones with the Snapdragon 855 can radio simultaneously in 4G and 5G and are therefore always optimally connected to the network.

Especially in the upcoming folding smartphones there is more than enough space for the antennas and the 5G modem. The special requirements for the display - or even several screens - are no problem for the Snapdragon 855, only the software has to be adapted accordingly.

Safer with ultrasound

Not new anymore, but finally ready for the market is the 3D Sonic Sensor, a new fingerprint sensor supported by the Snapdragon 855. He uses ultrasound to create a complete 3D image of the fingerprint and should be able to detect dirty, wet or oil-smeared fingers just as quickly and reliably as clean ones.

The first smartphones with the Snapdragon 855 will be launched in early 2019 and the first manufacturer to offer one will be OnePlus.

Are you looking forward to the smartphones with the new Snapdragon 855?

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