Qualcomm has announced its next-gen mobile platform, the Snapdragon 845. Introduced at the company's Snapdragon Summit it is aimed squarely at 2018's most exciting devices.
This platform takes the Snapdragon 835, which powered over 120 different devices in 2017, and brings a range of enhancements. Some of these as a customer you'll never see, some you'll be exploiting but you'll never know, while some of the enhancements will be squarely aimed at developers looking to bring out the latest and greatest devices like connected speakers or VR devices.
Here's a breakdown of all the details you need to know about Snapdragon 845.
A quick summary
- Faster and more powerful CPU and GPU
- More efficient for better battery performance
- Faster and more efficient connections across wireless protocols
- Powerful imaging capabilities like 10-bit HDR video capture
- 3x boost to AI operations
- More secure with a Secure Processing Unit
- Devices coming H1 2018
Performance boosts across the board
Delivering the power are 8 cores in the new Kyro 385 CPU. Using a big-little configuration, four cores run up to 2.8GHz, while the other four cores run more efficiently at 1.8GHz. The Kyro 835 is a 10nm chip and will be manufactured by Samsung, as the previous Snapdragon was.
On the graphics front Qualcomm is saying that there's a 30 per cent uplift in performance in the new Adreno 630 GPU. There's also a range of boosts for things like VR - which we talk about below - but overall there's a graphical boost in 845.
However, all this in abstract really means nothing, with Qualcomm's big change being the addition of a shared 2MB L3 cache and a 3MB system cache that's designed to reduce the power consumption and boost speeds.
The result should be that you see faster application launch times, better graphic performance and all with a lower energy demand than Snapdragon 835.
Battery life often the number one complaint about smartphones and it remains a key area of enhancement for all hardware manufacturers.
With each iteration of the Snapdragon platform we see efficiencies to ensure that devices will run for longer and that's also the case for 845.
It's not just about efficiency, there's support for Quick Charge 4, which Qualcomm says can deliver up to a 50 per cent charge in just 15 minutes. Of course we need to qualify this statistic and it depends on how large the battery is - we suspect that most smartphones will be able to fully change in about 1 hour or less - based on the experience with 2017's Quick Charge smartphones.
Smarter and faster photography
Powering the camera experience of the new Snapdragon 845 is the Spectra 280 ISP, a second-gen image processing engine. This is all new, looking to focus on bringing you the best photos and video from your mobile device.
But the really exciting thing is that Snapdragon 845 is that going to support is Ultra HD Premium video capture, perfect for the latest generations of UHD TVs.
The aim here will be to increase the colour depth and volume, allowing you to capture better and more accurate colours, thanks to a wider colour gamut. You'll now be able to encode at the 10-bit Rec.2020 standard.
Qualcomm also has dedicated hardware in the Spectra 280 ISP to handle multi-frame noise reduction, meaning those burst photos you take in the dark should look better.
There's support for 720p HDR10 capture at 480fps. Sure, it's not the fastest capture rate, but importantly it's supporting HDR, so again you should get great colours and depth even on slow-motion capture.
Exactly how this HDR support is used by manufacturers remains to be seen, but it could deliver the power needed to really boost photo and video capture in 2018. We suspect that supporters of HDR - like LG - will be keen to take advantage of the functions that Qualcomm is offering here.
Expanded reality: AR and VR gets a boost
Whether you're a fan of augmented reality and virtual reality or not, there's more and more talk about the mobile applications of these "expanded reality" (XR) experiences.
This is something that's been supported by the Snapdragon platform for a number of years, but with Snapdragon 845 you get six degrees of freedom as well as room-scale tracking, or SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping). This is handed by the CPU, the DSP and the ISP, and potentially gives you lots more options for XR applications.
Snapdragon is already powering some standalone VR headsets - like the HTC Vive Focus - but with Snapdragon 845 at the heart there's greater potential to make these devices more sophisticated.
Artificial intelligence gets a 3x performance boost
AI is one of the hot topics in the computing and mobile space (and goes hand-in-hand with XR we mention above), from the likes of Google Assistant to Amazon Alexa, but running into a whole range of services and experiences. It's not just a cloud experience, however, to bring real-time experiences, you need local AI rather than always having to relying on the out and back cloud model.
Local AI is faster, more private and more dependable because you don't need a constant connection, and Snapdragon 845 is designed to deliver many of these experiences - across XR, gaming, health or interactive audio for example.
The new 845 platform is Qualcomm's third-generation mobile AI platform and the changes here are really about core optimisations in the Kyro 385 CPU, Adreno 630 and Hexagon 685 DSP. These optimisations deliver a 3x performance boost over the Snapdragon 835, giving developers more power.
From a customer point of view, it's in things like photography where AI can help, for example to bring bokeh effects to photos. Doing this on the device, as we said above, is faster, so you have an immediate result with less lag, rather than needing the input of AI that's in the cloud. Whether a manufacturer will choose to use Qualcomm's AI in this regard remains to be seen.
For personal assistants - and voice assistants are hugely popular right now - on-device processing cuts out latency so that things are more conversational and natural. Again, 845 brings a boost across AI so these experiences can be more enhanced, which we could see in new smart devices like wearables in the future.
Faster and more powerful modem
Qualcomm has been talking about the new X20 modem for some time, and it's a key component of the new Snapdragon 845 platform - and of key interest to smartphone owners.
In terms of improvement over the X16 modem in Snapdragon 835, there's the potential for a 20 per cent boost in performance. Of course, there are a lot of caveats to apply to any data speeds, because so much is based on the network you're connecting to. The X20 modem supports data speeds up to 1.2Gbps - but much depends on how you're getting that data.
There's support for dual SIM and dual VoLTE, so there's no limitation on what your SIM cards can do, whereas previously there may have been some limitations on what the second SIM might be able to offer you.
When it comes to Wi-Fi, the Snapdragon 845 can deliver 30 per cent more efficiency, reducing the demand on the Wi-Fi network, while boosting connection speeds up to 16x, so it's faster to get onto a network - in theory, lowering the demand on the network should lead to better overall performance for everyone connecting to that network.
On the Bluetooth front, Qualcomm TrueWireless can look to boost the experience with your wireless headphones, by offering a connection to each ear bud. If you're using separate wireless buds then typically the Bluetooth connection is to one ear bud, then sent from one bud to the other.
TrueWireless can talk directly to each device, making for a much more reliable connection and again reducing the battery demand on that device. However, in this case it really needs the headphone manufacturer to use this. While talking about audio, Qualcomm also said that aptX HD gets a 50 per cent power saving, so listening to high quality wireless headphones won't take such a huge chunk out of your battery life.
Enhanced hardware-based security
Everyone is interested in security at the moment and rightly so. The aim of the Snapdragon 845 is to bring vault-like security, with a new Secure Processing Unit. This has its own hardware isolated from everything else, so it's like a secure island, and it's here that things like biometric data and authentication can be safe.
While there has been a TrustZone on many platforms for some time, this area has been subjected to sophisticated hacks recently, so Qualcomm has this third isolated ultra-secure area to separate things out.
Things like secure digital keys can be generated in the Secure Processing Unit to ensure that apps have the authentication support they need, while the SPU can also give you the secure elements that you'd get in a bank card or SIM card, for mobile payments. Again, some of these things will depend on how developers and OEMs choose to deploy the Snapdragon 845 - but with mobile payments appearing in things like sports watches, keeping thinks secure is only going to get more important.
When will Snapdragon 845 be available?
Qualcomm has confirmed that the Snapdragon 845 will be appearing in devices in the first half of 2018.
So far there has only been one device manufacturer to confirm plans for snapdragon 845 and that's Xiaomi. The Chinese company confirmed at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit in December 2018 that it would be launching its next flagship phone on SD845.
There are already rumours that the Samsung Galaxy S9 will be running on Snapdragon 845 - alongside an Exynos version - and the launch timeframe for that device is around March 2018 if rumours are true.