Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: Everything you need to know about the latest mobile platform
It's official: the latest and greatest mobile platform from Qualcomm to lust after is the Snapdragon 855. The new SoC, which is poised to power 2019's high-end phones, makes strides in performance, power consumption, networking, gaming, photography and more.
Qualcomm is, of course, talking up the Snapdragon 855's 5G capabilities as we get ready to head into the new frontier of the latest and greatest wireless networks. The 855 is the first commercially-available mobile processor that supports multi-gigabit 5G connectivity for Sub-6 and mmWave networks, using its X50 modem. Qualcomm also provides an all-in-one solution for antennas to connect to all of the forthcoming networks. Having a ready-to-ship SoC with an integrated 5G modem will hopefully ease our transition into 5G networks without the need for a complicated or inefficient secondary chips.
Consumer-ready 5G networks have yet to be deployed in earnest in the U.S., but Qualcomm is getting ahead of the curve by announcing its latest processor and modem so that it can be integrated into upcoming smartphones as the first networks go live. It's also working hand-in-hand with network partners for their 5G deployments, as there are dozens of carriers around the world committing to launching some sort of 5G network in 2019. Many have also committed to launching a 5G smartphone within the year as well.
The 855 of course still has the standard X24 modem for multi-gigabit LTE as well, which is what a vast majority of people will be using with their Qualcomm-powered device in 2019. The platform is also Wi-Fi 6, 8x8, and mmWave Wi-Fi ready — in a word, it's futureproofed.
The forthcoming 855 has a whole host of other improvements over the current Snapdragon 845, including dedicated AI processing and XR (extended reality) processing for the future of mobile device capabilities. The processor is based on Kryo 485 CPU cores in a new "prime core" configuration — that means there's one primary core to lead the charge at 2.84GHz, backed up by three additional "big" cores at 2.42GHz and four "little" cores for efficiency at 1.8GHz, each with their own L2 cache. Processor performance is up to 45% improved over the Snapdragon 845, and graphics performance from the Adreno 640 GPU is up to 20% improved. Qualcomm quoted up to a 2X improvement over competitors' 7nm processors.
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On the photography front, the 855 also has an all-new computer vision Spectra 380 ISP (image signal processor) for new computational photography processing and video capture improvements. The ISP is now handling computer vision processing itself, leading to dramatic improvements in computational photography processing times and efficiency. It's capable of capturing 4K HDR 60 fps video with hardware-accelerated depth sensing, opening up the possibilities of applying realtime portrait mode effects even to video. It also has hardware support to capture HDR10+ video, and capturing advanced images in the new HEIF file format.
Following the typical release cycle, Qualcomm is already well into sampling the Snapdragon 855 to partners, and expects flagship-level devices with the platform to launch in the first half of 2019. It's completely expected that the Snapdragon 855 will power the forthcoming Galaxy S10, and just about every other major device of the year. It's incredible to see the continued improvements Qualcomm is capable of pushing out year after year, and we once again get to enjoy the fruits of those developments in our phones.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.