Kirin 980

Huawei won't fully unveil its next flagship smartphone for another month or so, but the first details around the Mate 20 are starting to trickle out from IFA 2018 in Berlin.

First, the Mate 20 series is confirmed for an October 16 2018 launch. Second, it'll be the first phone to run Huawei's next-generation Kirin 980 processor. And thanks to the details revealed about that chip, we can extrapolate a couple of new features of the phone itself.

The Mate 20 launch event is set for October in London — the first time Huawei has held a launch event for a Mate device in the UK. Huawei Marketing VP Benjamin Wang confirmed the details in a meeting with Android Central ahead of today's announcement. As in previous years, the new Mate will be the first device to use the new Kirin SoC from Huawei's in-house semiconductor company.

7nm process, Cortex-A76, Cat. 21 LTE, Mali-G76 graphics and a new dual NPU.

Kirin 980 will boast a number of firsts in a smartphone processor. Most significantly, it's based on a 7nm manufacturing process, in partnership with TSMC, potentially giving a power and performance edge over current 10nm chips from Qualcomm and Samsung. It's also the first smartphone chip to use ARM's Cortex-A76 cores, a chip which its designer claims can offer laptop-level performance. And for graphical number-crunching, Kirin 980 is first with ARM's new Mali-G76 GPU — though Huawei isn't yet confirming how many GPU cores are used in the new SoC.

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Other bragging rights include the first 1.4Gbps Cat. 21 LTE modem, the first smartphone platform to use 2133MHz LPDDR4 memory, Huawei's fourth-generation dual ISP (image signal processor), and a new dual NPU (neural processing unit) which should enable even more advanced AI features in the Mate 20.

Compared to the Kirin 970 used in Huawei's P20 and Mate 10 series, the new platform boasts a 20% performance improvement and 40% reduction in power consumption. Cores are arranged in a big.LITTLE configuration with three clusters: four low-powered Cortex-A55 cores at 1.8GHz, four mid-level Cortex-A76 cores at 1.92GHz, and two high-powered A76s at 2.6GHz. Huawei's flexible scheduler allows for the best combination of "big," "middle," and "little" cores to be used for the task at hand.

The CPU is only part of the equation, though. Huawei has made improvements across all areas of the SoC, and in a meeting ahead of today's launch event offered a scoresheet of performance and power efficiency improvements compared to last year's Kirin 970, and the current Qualcomm standard-bearer, the Snapdragon 845.

  • The new Mali-G76 GPU offers 46% faster performance, with 178% improvement in efficiency compared to Kirin 970's Mali-G72 GPU.
  • Game performance is up 22%, with a 32% reduction in power consumption compared to Snapdragon 845.
  • The new, faster LPDDR4 memory improves bandwidth by 20% and reduced latency by 22% compared to Snapdragon 845.
  • The fourth-generation dual ISP brings a 46% increase in processing speed, a 23% bump in power efficiency and 33% recording latency improvement.
  • The new dual NPU boasts an image recognition score of 4,500 pics per second, compared to 2371 for Snapdragon 845 and 1458 for Apple's A11 chip.
  • The new Cat. 21 LTE modem boasts better connectivity in challenging environments like metro and high-speed rail, while bringing peak Wi-Fi speeds up to 1732Mbps.
  • Dual-frequency GPS support allows for up to 10X better location accuracy.

The obvious takeaway is that everything should be faster and better than the previous generation of Kirin chips, with even better battery life. What's more, some of the NPU and ISP specs offer further clues about the Mate 20's performance and feature set. Processing improvements in the ISP should allow the phone to pull sharper details and improved dynamic range out of whatever camera system is fitted, meaning that even if the hardware hasn't changed much compared to the P20 Pro, we'll likely see further improvements in color and fine detail compared to that device. And Huawei specifically called out the new dual NPU's ability to recognize more granular details in images and videos, meaning AI video shooting modes could also be on the horizon.

With the Kirin 980 and its upcoming Mate 20 handsets, it's clear Huawei is keeping up the pace of technological advancement, and the result, once it's unveiled in just over a month, should be a powerhouse of a phone.