Qualcomm Snapdragon 888Source: Qualcomm

What you need to know

  • The Snapdragon 888 is now official, with Qualcomm touting significant gains in 5G, gaming, and GPU performance.
  • The chipset features the X60 5G modem and a new Hexagon engine for AI-related tasks.
  • 14 Android manufacturers will release phones powered by the Snapdragon 888, but Samsung is a curious omission in the list.

Qualcomm has introduced its 2021 flagship chipset at the annual Snapdragon Tech Summit. The Snapdragon 888 will power most flagships released next year, with Xiaomi already announcing that its upcoming Mi 11 series will be one of the first phones powered by the chipset.

We'll have a much more detailed breakdown of all the new tech in the Snapdragon 888 later this week, but for now, what you need to know is that the chipset comes with Qualcomm's third-generation X60 5G modem. The modem includes global Sub-6 and mmWave connectivity, global multi-SIM, and dynamic spectrum sharing.

But what's particularly interesting with the X60 5G modem is that it allows for 5G carrier aggregation between Sub-6 and mmWave bands, allowing carriers like T-Mobile to combine spectrum for significantly better throughput. This wasn't the case with the X50 and X55 modems, so carriers had to choose either Sub-6 or mmWave. But with T-Mobile holding spectrum in the low-band and high-band frequencies, this particular feature will deliver better speeds.

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The X60 modem is built on the 5nm node, with Qualcomm's earlier offerings based on the 7nm node. It is likely that the Snapdragon 888 itself is also manufactured on the same node, but we'll have to wait for official confirmation.

Qualcomm is also updating its Snapdragon Elite Gaming suite of gaming optimizations to support 144Hz displays, with the chip vendor noting that the Snapdragon 888 chipset delivers the "most significant upgrade" in GPU performance. There's also a sixth-generation AI engine, with the redesigned Hexagon module offering sizeable gains in AI-related use cases.

The Spectra ISP is also getting an overhaul, and Qualcomm notes that it now allows you to take photos and videos at 2.7 gigapixels a second, or roughly 120 photos at 12MP resolution — a full 35% increase from the previous generation.

The Snapdragon 888 will make its way to flagship phones starting early next year, and Qualcomm has announced a list of 14 manufacturers that will roll out devices powered by the platform:

  • ASUS
  • Black Shark
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Motorola
  • Nubia
  • Realme
  • OnePlus
  • OPPO
  • Sharp
  • Vivo
  • Xiaomi
  • ZTE

If history is any indication, we should see the first wave of devices featuring the Snapdragon 888 chipset to be announced sometime in February, with availability kicking off a month after that. But then again, with Samsung set to announce the Galaxy S21 series on January 15 and OnePlus rolling out the OnePlus 9 in March — four weeks earlier than the norm, we may not have to wait long to see what's on offer with 2021 flagships.

On that note, it is interesting that Samsung's name isn't mentioned in the list. Samsung uses Qualcomm's chipsets in the U.S. and Korea, but the fact that it is missing from the list of Qualcomm's partners suggests things may change next year. Of course, it could just be a case of Samsung not wanting to be bundled in with the rest of the manufacturers, and with the Galaxy S21 series slated for a launch next month, we should know more soon.

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