Qualcomm officially announced its latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 865, yesterday at its Snapdragon Tech Summit. But at the day two keynote, the company dove deep into all the details about the new chip and what it’ll offer for the next wave of top tier Android devices next year.
Qualcomm says that the new Snapdragon 865 will offer a wide variety of improvements over its existing chips, specifically when it comes to performance, AI processing, photography, and gaming.
Connectivity and performance
Clearly, 5G is a huge focus area for Qualcomm here. There’s not a lot of news here, given that Qualcomm detailed the X55 modem that will be paired with the Snapdragon 865 months ago. (The first phones with an X55, the T-Mobile and AT&T variants of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, are just being released this month, albeit paired with the current-gen Snapdragon 855.)
Still, it’s a big jump forward compared to last year’s X50 modem, with a maximum download speed of 7 gigabits per second (compared to 5 Gbps on the X50.) More importantly, the X55 supports a wider range of 5G frequencies, particularly in the sub-6GHz range — which is particularly important for things like T-Mobile’s just-launched 600MHz nationwide 5G network, or Sprint’s 2.5GHz 5G plans. As Qualcomm puts it, the X55 is its first modem that “supports all key regions and bands including mmWave and sub-6 in both TDD and FDD frequencies.”
That’s all very important for the Snapdragon 865, since the 865 itself doesn’t actually offer an onboard modem at all — it’ll have to be paired with the X55 modem for cellular connectivity. That’s a big difference from last year’s 855, which had an integrated LTE-only X24 modem that device manufacturers could use if they didn’t want to offer 5G. But with the 865, 5G support is effectively required now. Additionally, like the Snapdragon 855, the 865 will feature support for the Wi-Fi 6 standard.
There are improvements on the performance side, too: the company says that its new Kryo 585 CPU is 25 percent faster than last year’s Snapdragon 855, while the new Adreno 650 GPU offers 25 percent better performance. It’s not quite as big of a leap as last year (the Snapdragon 855’s CPU was the first chip from Qualcomm to use a 7nm processor and was up to 40 percent faster than the 845), but it should mean that Snapdragon 865 phones will be able to more than handle whatever you throw at them.
Camera and photography improvements
Another big area that Qualcomm is highlighting with the Snapdragon 865 is improvements to the camera. As expected, there’s a new ISP (image signal processor), the Spectra 480. Qualcomm’s big spec here is that the Spectra 480 supports “2 gigapixels per second” speeds, which it says enables a host of new photography features.
Phones with a Snapdragon 865 will be able to shoot 200-megapixel photos, capture 8K video, and shoot 960 fps slow-motion video at 720p resolution. Additionally, the new processor will support video capture with Dolby Vision HDR, a first for mobile devices.
Of course, all that requires phone manufacturers to actually meet Qualcomm with the camera hardware to shoot those kinds of pictures and videos, but the Snapdragon 865 at least lays the groundwork by supporting these features right out of the box.
There are also a few new gaming-focused features with the Snapdragon 865. The new chip will support phones with a 144Hz refresh rate for the first time, the same as many high-end gaming monitors. Qualcomm will also allow OEMs to update the Adreno GPU for the first time through app stores, allowing players to update firmware over time, similar to PC GPUs.
The Snapdragon 865 also promises better AI performance than the 855. Qualcomm says that the fifth-generation Qualcomm AI Engine on the 865 is twice as powerful as the fourth-gen engine on last year’s chipset, while offering 35 percent better power efficiency.
There’s also a new Qualcomm Sensing Hub, which is designed to allow for things like wake-word monitoring for AI assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant at extremely low power levels (less than 1 mW), with support for multiple simultaneous smart assistants.
Like with many of the improvements here, it’ll rely on device manufacturers and software developers building hardware and apps that can take advantage of the AI-powered potential of the 865.
The first phones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 are expected to release in 2020.