After hosting an online-only Snapdragon Tech Summit in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Qualcomm is back with a physical event this year. The Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021 event is being held in Kona, Hawaii. On Wednesday, Qualcomm announced its next-generation SoC that will be powering premium smartphones in 2022 (potentially an OEM or two in 2021). Qualcomm is changing the naming system with this successor to the Snapdragon 888 series. Ditching the three-digit numbering, the new platform will be called Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.
The new SoC aims at offering premium experiences with cutting-edge features, from faster 5G to AI, gaming and camera improvements. Commercial smartphones powered by the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC are expected to be available by the end of 2021. This is happening for the first time in the last half-decade where consumers will not have to wait until Q1 to get a smartphone powered by the latest and greatest Snapdragon chipset. OEM partners such as Black Shark, HONOR, iQOO, Motorola, nubia, OnePlus, OPPO, Redmi, SHARP, realme, Sony, vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE are already working on smartphones powered by the new Qualcomm chipset. Let us look at the new features and improvements that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 brings over its predecessor.
Fast and efficient CPU made on new process node and architecture
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is the first mobile platform fabricated on Samsung’s 4nm process node. Qualcomm says that the new Kryo CPU is 20% faster than the previous generation, while also being 30% more efficient. The SoC still uses a tri-cluster CPU featuring one prime Cortex X2 core clocked at 3GHz, three performance Cortex-A710 cores clocked at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A510 efficiency cores clocked at 1.8GHz.
Qualcomm’s new chipset will compete with the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 SoC, which is also made on a 4nm process node (TSMC). The CPU core architecture on the Dimensity 9000 is the same as on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, having a slightly faster prime core clock speed of 3.05GHz, and 2.85GHz for performance cores. MediaTek is going all out with its true flagship SoC, but design wins will hold the key.
Lightning-fast connectivity with speeds up to 10Gbps
The new SoC is equipped with 4th gen Modem-RF system which Qualcomm claims is the world’s first 5G solution that can reach peak download speeds of up to 10Gbps. One of the improvements in this new generation is that the modem is compatible with 3GPP Release 16, which brings new features like 5G uplink carrier aggregation. Qualcomm and Verizon also demonstrated a live 8K video call. As mmWave deployments rise, this should come in handy for high-res video calls for work, learning and keeping in touch with family and friends. With FastConnect 6900 Mobile Connectivity System and both Wi-Fi 6 and 6E on board, it can offer peak speeds up to 3.6Gbps.
Up to 4x faster AI performance
The new 7th gen AI engine brings up to 4x faster AI performance. However, Qualcomm did not specify the number of TOPS (trillion operations per second) this time around. For reference, the Snapdragon 888+ offers 26 TOPS. There is also a new always-on camera and always secure AI system powered by 3rd gen Sensing Hub that can process data streams while using low power. At the keynote, Qualcomm also spoke about its partnership with Leica to bring Leitz Look filters that will allow users to capture pro-quality images with bokeh effects.
There are other improvements as well, such as a partnership with Sonde Health to analyze vocal patterns of users to detect health condition risks such as depression and asthma. Other hardware improvements include 2x Tensor accelerator performance and 2x large-shared memory while being 1.7x more efficient.
8K HDR, better low-light, and more camera features
The camera system has become one of the biggest differentiators for smartphone vendors. We recently spoke about camera trends for 2022 in our Innovation Talk webinar, and how OEMs and camera module vendors are enabling better photography and videography experiences for their users. With the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC, Qualcomm is bringing its new Snapdragon Sight technology with an 18-Bit ISP, a first for smartphones. With speeds up to 3.2 gigapixels per second, it can capture 4000x more data over the predecessor, including color, sharpness, and extreme dynamic range. In burst mode, it can even capture 240 12MP photos in a second, which is impressive.
The new Snapdragon mobile platform is also the first to offer 8K HDR video capture even with HDR10+ format. Users will also be able to record 8K videos and 64MP photos simultaneously. The platform also includes a dedicated bokeh engine for 4K video capture to help you record videos with beautiful background blur. It is similar to the cinematic mode in the new iPhone 13 series, but the benefit here is that the resolution is not limited to 1080p.
The triple 18-bit ISP supports camera sensors up to 200MP. There are many other camera additions such as a new dedicated ultrawide engine to de-wrap and correct chromatic aberration. There are also neural nets for auto exposure, autofocus and auto face detection. Qualcomm also claims that the new ISP offers 5x better clarity for low-light photos.
The new Snapdragon SoC also enables an always-on camera. So, the front camera will always be securely looking for your face, even if it is lying flat on the table. The goal is to be able to unlock your device in messy situations (say when your hands are full when in the kitchen). It eliminates the need to raise your device or tap the screen to wake it. Qualcomm says the aim here is to maintain your privacy.
In case someone is looking over your shoulder while you are reading something, it can black out your screen, or even lock your phone. But then there are times when you are showing something to your family members or colleagues, and a notification pops up. Here, the always-on camera will hide notifications and other pop-ups. While this sounds good to protect privacy, things could get difficult when you are using public transport where many other people are traveling along with you.
Snapdragon Elite Gaming with 50+ new features
According to the data shared by Qualcomm, there are over 2.5 billion mobile gamers across the globe. It is a huge community to cater to. During the keynote, Qualcomm mentioned that it works with game developers, smartphone OEMs and gamers to bring premium experiences with Snapdragon Elite Gaming features. There is a new Adreno GPU with next-generation architecture that offers 30% faster rendering while saving 25% more power over the previous generation.
Over 50 features are coming to the platform, such as Game Quick Touch to reduce the latency between touch and the corresponding reaction. Other features include Game Smoother, support for high frame rate up to 144fps, true 10-bit HDR, Game Color Plus, Desktop Class Rendering, and updatable GPU drivers. There are also features like variable-rate shading, which increases the rendering quality and performance by changing the shading rate for different areas of the frame. Qualcomm has also added a new Frame Motion Engine that can double the frames for a game, thus offering a smoother gaming experience. There is also the Adreno Control Panel to customize GPU parameters such as resolution, FPS (frames per second) cap and texture filtering. This is similar to what we have seen on the Asus ROG Phone 3 and ROG Phone 5 devices.
Qualcomm also briefly spoke about its partnership with ESL, which is the world’s biggest eSports company. The companies did not reveal the exact details of the partnership. A big announcement is expected sometime next year.
Snapdragon Sound for CD-quality Bluetooth audio streaming
With this pandemic and prolonged working from home, global TWS sales grew 27% in Q2 2021. People are using TWS earbuds to listen to their favorite music, watch TV shows, play games, and even take calls on platforms like Zoom, Teams and Slack. Qualcomm is looking to deliver premium audio experiences with Snapdragon Sound technology on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC.
Support for Bluetooth LE Audio enables an end-to-end broadcast audio experience, stereo recording, and more. The Snapdragon Sound tech can offer CD-quality, 16-bit/44.1kHz lossless audio streaming over Bluetooth. It also supports AptX Lossless wireless audio. This will come in handy when more TWS earbuds offer high-res and lossless audio support to further enhance the listening experience.
Key takeaways: Camera, 5G, audio are key differentiators for Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC
- 18-bit Triple ISP, a dedicated bokeh engine for 4K video capture, always-on camera and 8K HDR are some key camera features that will differentiate the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered Android smartphones from the competition.
- 4th gen Snapdragon X65 5G modem with support for mmWave with peak download speeds of up to 10Gbps, upload speeds of 3.5Gbps, and Sub-6GHz carrier aggregation are some of the key features showcasing 5G advancements Qualcomm is bringing to Android smartphones.
- Support for CD quality, 16-bit lossless audio streaming over Bluetooth will pave the way for headphones and TWS earbuds to deliver music in its purest form, especially when listening on platforms like Apple Music and Amazon Music HD.