The Snapdragon 888 is here to turbocharge 2021 Android flagships

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (Image credit: 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.

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.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

  • Could Samsung be absent because they have plans to use their own chipsets across the board?
  • I think your right?
  • Perhaps they are going to use Whitechapel chips with Google?
  • Wasn't 875 just announced as well? I thought S21 was 875?
  • nevermind, saw 875 was being renamed 888.
  • I wonder why the name change to Snapdragon 888 from 875? I hear that 8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture. Or it could be to show an increase in performance gains?
  • They are totally pandering to the Chinese. Motorola did this years ago with a flip phone called the DPC 888. I was working in Cellular at the time and our store in an area of Toronto with a large Asian population couldn’t keep them in stock.
  • Who cares? How much faster internally does any cell phone need to be? The software as it is cannot keep up right couldn't keep up two years ago! As for 5G??? Where is it any better than the LTE we (maybe) already have? This is just anther reason for people to think: "OMG my phone needs to be replaced because it is so slow!"
    This is all just another money grab. If people are so gullible then go's your money!
  • Wonder what Google plans for it's pixel 6 flagship lineup?
  • The 865processer is still a very powerful chip. My S20 FE is blazing fast with it. Actually how much more power do you need? It's still a PHONE?
  • Not trying to knock anything.. I love Android devices! My question is.. When a new gpu comes out such as the 888.. What about the operating systems Kernel? I understand how how the company will express the hardware specs.. But What about how they will make improvements on the OS? Maybe I'm not asking the right thing.. Does this type of thing rely on Linus's group when they make the Linux kernel??