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Top 5 reasons to be excited for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

When you're hanging out with other people as obsessed with the intricacies of technology as oneself, competitors and friends alike become sounding boards for whether you're on the right track with an idea.

One of the ideas I've been noodling with recently is the subtle way Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 — its flagship platform that debuted in late 2016 and came to devices in the spring of this year — upended the battery conversation in smartphones. Every year before this one I'd read about how, unless a phone had a massive battery, uptime was disappointing. No one really needs a phone to last a weekend, but there should be no anxiety about having to top up during the day. For the most part, barring a few outliers, phones running Snapdragon 835 delivered on that promise.

Like gas in a car, you only start to notice battery life when it begins to run out; as long as you stay within a certain (self-imposed) comfort level — and as long as you don't approach zero — your phone continues to work, and life goes on. I have a Pixel 2 sitting next to me at 55%; it's been off the charger since 6 a.m. and now it's closing in on 3:30 p.m. I won't have to charge it until I go to sleep, of that I am sure. It's a comfort thing.

Similarly, much ado (and rightfully so) has been made about improvements to camera quality in 2017, from devices like the Galaxy S8 and LG V30 to the champion, the Pixel 2. (Of course a Snapdragon 835 doesn't guarantee a great camera — see Essential Phone.) Then there's the gigabit movement, which pushed carriers and manufacturers to take more care about freeing up much-needed spectrum to make all LTE networks more efficient. I could go on.

This brings me to the Snapdragon 845. On the surface, it doesn't appear to move the needle much in terms of whiz-bang, marketable upgrades. It's faster and more efficient, sure, but the same line is trotted out year after year. What makes the Snapdragon 845 really interesting is how the minor individual improvements add up to something substantial.

It really is faster

Just because the chip is built on the same 10nm Samsung FinFET manufacturing process as the Snapdragon 835 doesn't mean the sequel can't be significantly faster. Back when the Snapdragon 835 was in development, Samsung Foundry's 10nm process was fairly young, so companies like Qualcomm couldn't necessarily push them to their full potential. A year later, that's changed with the Snapdragon 845.

'Seems faster' is an annual game we play with our flagships, but the Snapdragon 845 gives us reason to hope.

Not only is the new Kryo 385 CPU built on the newer Cortex-A75 and Cortex-A55 cores (for power and efficiency, respectively), but the designs are brand new, allowing Qualcomm to push clock speeds to 2.8GHz and 1.8GHz. That should turn into meaningful improvements in single-core and multi-core benchmarks, sure, but real-world applications will also feel the upgrades. Qualcomm also sought to minimize power usage by adding two megabytes of L3 cache, which should prevent the chip from having to dig into RAM as often to recall oft-repeated processes, reducing battery usage significantly.

Similarly, the Adreno 630 GPU is promising a 30% improvement in both performance and efficiency. Given that almost every app loaded onto a phone these days is graphically-accelerated, that should bode well for battery junkies and game enthusiasts alike.

The takeaway: The Snapdragon 845 isn't reinventing the performance wheel, and it's certainly not going to compete with Apple's A11 in single-core performance, but Android users will have nothing to complain about come 2018.

There are meaningful improvements to the camera

These days, it's not enough for a phone to have the best sensor or sharpest lens. They're physically limited by their size, so software — and the silicon pipes that software passes through — have to pick up the slack. A phone like the Pixel 2 has decent hardware credentials, but Google performs a bunch of its own magic behind the scenes.

Qualcomm has a part to play in that process, too: every photo captured on a Snapdragon-powered phone runs through the Hexagon DSP and Spectra ISP. And while running a Snapdragon chip doesn't guarantee great photos (see the Essential Phone, for instance) it does offer a turnkey solution to manufacturers that are willing to put in the effort to build on an already-strong base.

The Snapdragon 845 provides an even stronger base for manufacturers. Yes, being able to capture photos in 10-bit color with a Rec. 2020 gamut is impressive, but there's no real-world advantage to that just yet. What's more impressive to me is how the new Spectra 280 ISP facilitates 60fps photo capture at up to 16MP, and uses on-device programming to interpret the photos and bring out their best qualities. The only reason phone cameras are able to get photos as good as they do on such tiny sensors and stubby lenses is through intelligent pipelines that provide APIs the right tools to work. Google has the best APIs (with Samsung, Huawei and LG not far behind) but I'm excited to see how 2018 flagships will use with war chest of tools.

For instance, Apple continues to own Android phones when it comes to slow motion — 1080p at 240fps is still unreachable anywhere in the Android ecosystem — but the Snapdragon 845 gets phone makers closer. They'll be able to get 480fps slow motion at 720p with HDR detail, which is pretty great (though 1080p slo-mo is still capped at 120fps for some reason). Better yet, Android flagships will be able to draw in 4K video at 60fps next year, which gives videomakers so much more to work with. Imagine an LG V40 with all of the V30's video capabilities with the option to get 60fps 4K video. Amazing.

The takeaway: Cameras will only get better in 2018, and videographers are in for more than one treat.

Cellular speed and flexibility

This year, 2017, has all been about gigabit speeds. Next year, that's not going to change much with the Snapdragon 845. Yes, theoretical maximum speeds will increase to 1.2Gbps, a 20% increase over the 835, but what's more important, and impressive, is the availability of gigabit to additional carriers.

You'll probably never reach gigabit speeds outside of a lab, but the Snapdragon 845 makes it more likely you'll get closer more often.

This comes in the form of alternative combinations of bands to achieve those speeds; with the Snapdragon 835, carriers were limited to just two combinations; on the Snapdragon 845, that numbers swells to eight. Why does this matter? Because in the real world, carriers can't just switch up or acquire new spectrum to cater to the limitations of a modem; they have made investments in spectrum and equipment and will wait until the phones support the technology combinations in which they've invested.

According to Qualcomm, over 90% of the world's carriers now have the capability to offer gigabit speeds with just 10Mhz of licensed spectrum thanks to the growing support of unlicensed spectrum. Qualcomm's LAA (License Assisted Access) solution lets carriers glob onto existing 5GHz airwaves — the same spectrum used by Wi-Fi routers — to offer additional capacity in areas that need it, like dense urban environments. The beauty of LAA is that these small cell sites — boxes deployed in large cities to add much-needed relief to low- and mid-range spectrum — can be reused in 2019 and beyond for 5G.

The takeaway: Chances are, your carrier is going to be able to offer gigabit LTE sooner than later.

Making biometrics suck less

Android phones have a mishmash of unlocking methods, from front and rear (and side) fingerprint sensors to iris scanning, face unlock, and more. Companies, including Qualcomm, have been promising alternatives for years, including under-the-glass finger identification that has eluded even the Apples and Samsungs of the world, but the Snapdragon 845 is more realistic than that: it merely wants to make biometrics suck less.

Get ready for iris scanning that's fast and reliable in 2018.

Specifically, it's making the data less vulnerable to attacks, putting it in what's called the Secure Processing Unit. This is a separate core from the rest of the SoC, with its own power and runtime components, and will store both biometric data and key data components like payment credentials, passwords and personal identification cards.

But the Snapdragon 845 goes well beyond that: Qualcomm recognizes that, despite Samsung being the only big name in the Android space to currently use iris scanning, the technology is poised to expand big-time. And with it, the speed and reliability of what is arguably the best alternative to fingerprint biometrics is going to increase many times over. We've already seen speed improve considerably on devices like the OnePlus 5T, but that particular solution makes no claims to security itself, just convenience. With the Snapdragon 845, companies can build unlocking solutions that cater to both.

The takeaway: More secure, faster biometrics? That's good for everyone.

Totally wireless headphones that last

This one hits close to home. With the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm is adding a piece to the Bluetooth 5 stack that allows certain music apps to communicate with totally wireless headphones independently, as opposed to relying on a "master" to communicate in real-time with its counterpart. This promises to not only cut down on battery usage but potentially eliminate the common issue where one earbud loses sync with its twin.

Qualcomm says that users can expect up to 50% improved battery life from these kinds of increasingly-popular headphones — without having to actually buy new ones. Pretty great if you ask me.

The takeaway: 🎧🔋🎉

Your turn

What are you most excited about with the Snapdragon 845? Let us know in the comments!

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: Everything you need to know!

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

45 Comments
  • Nice write up...see Essential Phone
  • "It really is fast" - we heard similar stuff about the snapdragon 800!
  • Speed and efficiency is still going to hit a bottleneck if the software optimization up to speed. I want to move over to android so bad but it’s just not there for gaming performance in comparison to Apple. Which sucks but I love the android ecosystem, I just don’t like the optimization
  • Can you be more specific, because there are a lot of us here who game on android that don't understand this gaming performance bottleneck that you're talking about.
  • Torm558 - Are you speaking of launch times, or smoothness of game play?
  • Smoothness of game play, I don't concern myself over a few seconds saved in launch times. Just clearly not as well optimized games on Android, some even unplayable. That's where I worry about is it even going to matter of the 845 was one a11 performance levels of it doesn't have the optimization to back it up? It's the reason I went from a note 8 back to the iPhone. The phone itself wasn't the problem, it was the Android optimization that sent me away.
  • I don't think I've ever had a case of a game being that laggy . Can you give me an example so I can try it on my Pixel?
  • Same here not once have I thought a game on my Note 8 was laggy or was stuttering. In fact it even has better ram management then iPhones now. Never has to reload anything. I had apps stop working on my iPad that have never done that on any Android device I have.
  • Actually, I can vouch for what he said. I have an s8+ and an iPad and the same game runs smoother on the iPad, which is even an older model by today's standards. (iPad air 2)
  • No, he can't
  • Torm558 - Interesting. I did notice the screen movement was a bit smoother on my iPhone 7, but that was in comparison to my three year old HTC M8. I now own the iPhone 7 and the U11, and the U11 is smoother and quicker than the 7 and just a smidge faster than the iPhone 8+ we just got a couple weeks ago. Smoothness seems equal between the U11 and the 8+, but I play more on the U11 because, as Alex (or was it Andrew?) said here on AC, the screen touch response is perfect, and I have to agree. I can't bear to see poor Leo die as he falls to his death while I'm holding my thumb on the float button!
  • It's more than enough!
  • The Processor can only go so far. Until Google/Android (and oem) optimization takes place, it will never hit Apple-like speeds.
    Then after that, app makers have to care about their apps on Android like they do on iOS. Until then, apps will always run behind iOS apps.
    The A11 is already doing 4K/60fps on a phone that's $699. I always wondered, if Apple would let people have a few features that people love on android, how much market share would Android lose to iOS?
    Native app choice. Real Widgets. Launchers. (and turn off the stupid auto arrange on apps).
    either way. I love both iOS & Android. have Note 8 & iPhone 8. Both are Amazing tech.
  • Apple looks good in paper. But that doesn't translate to real life performance. I believe someone said the Note 8 beats the new IPhones in speed test.
  • Check PhoneBuff videos. It is a fact, Note 8 is quicker with latest iOS (11.1.2). Also the OnePlus 5T. Ditched the iPhone X for a Note 8 myself.
  • Also, what's the point of putting a CPU in a phone that is better than these in MacBooks? Sure, Apple can put even 12 cores running at 4GHz, whatever. It won't matter much. People often forget - it's still just a phone. App loading time is okay nowadays anyway. I'm using SD810 (yes, that long-forgotten crap), and loading speed is not any of my concerns.
    What is important is that Qualcomm manages to innovate in their CPUs. Sure, it's not that big of a change after 835, but the dual-channel Bluetooth sounds incredible. Enhanced biometrics security is also a nice touch. At this points, it's these features, rather than sheer speed, that make phones future-proof.
  • Speed for note vs IP eks goes back and forth across apps but definitely the note has much better ram management. As mentioned above rarely if ever do apps have to reload which can't be said for the eks.
  • I have both a Pixel 2 XL and an iPhone 7+, and the Pixel makes the iPhone 7+ look a little slow in comparison in day-to-day usage. The animations and transitions are faster on the Pixel, while still being very smooth. In fact I tend to see more frame drops on the iPhone, though they are very rare on both. As far as app quality goes, these I think most apps pretty similar in terms of features, with the biggest difference being Material Design on the Android side of things.
  • 4K/60fps only works in HEVC format on the iPhone X.
  • Real life performance doesn't translate to launch times. Real life performance is the ease of use and fluidity within the apps you're actually using, that's where apple takes the cake, raw horsepower and optimization. Who cares if the Android loaded the app .5 seconds quicker if once you're in it, its way clunkier. Trust me, I'm rooting for Android to come out ahead as I love the customization, just need the optimization to come with it. I feel like it's a race between apple and Android to see who reaches the full package first will apple add in more customization to their optimized platform or will Android finally get ahold of their is more and work of the kinks. Don't care who gets their first, just someone do it! Lol
  • Apple had the jump on fluidity, until iOS 11 anyway, which is clunkier and buggier than any Android phone I've used in the last two years. Also fast charging, battery life and AI are other things I feel Android has pulled ahead on.
  • Use a Pixel. Chrome, for example, used to always stutter a little whenI tried to scroll quickly on my Galaxy S6 and Nexus 6P. On
    my Pixel 2 XL it just flies and is just as fluid as Chrome on iOS.:
  • They have been manufacturing the same CPU since 8th January 2013, which is almost 5 years ago (equals eternity in Tech). The moment they tried something a little new like the 820 which was 64-bit, they messed up huge time. This company is lazy and have no innovation whatsoever, just a lot of friends in the US Tech-related departments (FCC...), that's why Samsung cannot sell the Exynos in USA or almost every phone sold there has to equip a Snapdragon. Good at the offices awful at the silicon. I wonder when on Earth are they gonna change architecture?
  • Samsung isn't forbidden to sell Exynos devices in the US (several of their Galaxy Tablets have Exynos CPUs, for instance). The biggest reason they don't use Exynos processors in their phones here is because they don't support CDMA. That would mean either having a separate radio module (increasing battery consumption), or selling a separate device for Sprint & Verizon customers (which they'd rather avoid).
  • Samsung should just abandon CDMA and go full in on Exynos
  • And miss out on all that money from Verizon lol na they wouldn't
  • Exactly - they'd be foolish to ignore Verizon or Sprint.
  • Did something change on that because I thought it had to do with the LTE Licensing for the us that Qualcomm holds the license/patent on? My Note 2 on sprint had a quad core Exynos chipset.
  • I'm not sure if LTE was integrated into Snapdragon SoCs at that time, and that also may have been when Samsung was still releasing different devices for each carrier (I might be wrong, as I'm thinking more along the time frame of the Galaxy S II with its crazy variants vs Galaxy S III/Note 2)
  • How did they mess up 'huge time' with 820? I think you meant 810. That was the first 64-bit one, and that one was a mess indeed. Still, the opinions were way overblown, my Z5 Premium with 810 never heats up higher than 43 degrees (nothing when compared to my Z on S4 Pro, I reached 55 once, and phone made an emergency shutdown, heh).
    And, again, how is Qualcomm lazy and without innovation? You can say exactly the same about Apple and Samsung, cause they 'only' add new features, make them faster and more energy-efficient...
  • The author loves his Pixel and takes every chance to say how it is "better" than Samsung. Haha. Love my GS8. 😁
  • The pixel would be able to compare if it had better ram management. Samsung and one plus are the best at that now.
  • Crazy too because the S6 was easily the worst phone I have ever owned wrt RAM management. Now if Samsung could just keep their software from slowing down after a few months.
  • I have a S7 edge, S8+, and the Note 8 and non have slowed down at all.
  • My S8 has not slowed down at all
  • Wireless earbuds aren't becoming more popular. Wireless earbuds are becoming the only standard that manufacturers are choosing to offer. There is a world of difference between the two.
  • Not really though. Functionally it is exactly the same, more wireless earbuds in the wild.
  • I think you're half right and half wrong in that yes newer phones are being made without headphone jacks so people are turning to BT but at the same time there's quite a few people who own phones with headphone jacks that use BT headphones simply because of the convenience of not having a wire. The headphone jack issue is magnified online because a very small percentage of the population who are self-proclaimed audiophiles are compelled to comment but the majority of the population aren't anywhere near as concerned with the intricacies of audio quality from their phone - of this I can assure you.
  • Early morning thoughts while drinking coffee - ugh... I guess I'm most excited about the AI support. If AI is the main reason why we are getting better battery life it's because the new programming style (and chip implementation) has found new paths to be more efficient - faster. We tend to be creatures of habits - good and bad - with a lot of bad habits in the mix - accepted bad practices... No other way to do things. Which makes me think - the next real innovation will be in chip design aided by AI. I'm guessing - hoping - it - will find a way to eliminate the poor chip \ bus design and create a true networking chip.... We have to find the next evolutionary step beyond 64 bit archetecture.
  • Until its actually implemented in a phone ... is there really any reason to be either excited or disappointed?
  • Maybe a little excited for power efficiency. I think the batteries may fare better with the 845!
  • Top 5 reasons:
    1. $
    2. $$
    3. $$$
    4. $$$$
    5. $$$$$
  • Interesting. Now, bring me a flagship that is compelling enough to justify the price.
  • To heck with that, let’s start with a phone with zero carrier bloat. Baby steps.
  • I will be happy to just have even an overall slight improvement across the board , the 835 was a nice power bump from the 820 , even though the 820 is still quite decent even today , an increase in ram in the 845 just to help keep things in memory will be a nice plus too imo .