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Qualcomm Snapdragon 888: Detailing the 2021 flagship mobile platform

(Pocket-lint) – Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 888 platform is a major upgrade to the company’s previous 865/865 Plus chipset and is the “culmination of many years of work by thousands of engineers”.

Snapdragon 888 is unashamedly premium and will be seen inside flagship phones in 2021 from Asus, BlackShark, Lenovo, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, Realme, OnePlus, Oppo, Sharp, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE. And there will be more. 

So what does it do? That’s what we’re here to explain.

Firstly, the 888 is a 5G platform only. That’s because Qualcomm’s X60 modem – announced in February at what would have been Mobile World Congress – is tightly integrated onto the silicon. It enables full beans 5G connectivity for Sub-6GHz and incoming mmWave networks (standalone and non-standalone) and also carrier aggregation, which essentially enables networks to cleverly increase coverage and speeds.

It’s capable of up to 7.5Gbps in terms of out-and-out speed, which is way in excess of what 5G networks can actually deliver at present. 

The platform supports 5G roaming across multiple SIMs and will connect to almost every 5G network globally. 

The Snapdragon 888 platform is based on 5nm technology. This is the same process technology that Apple is using for the iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic, for example. Here’s a block diagram of the platform: 

Qualcomm

The Kryo 680 is an octacore CPU led by a 2.84 GHz Prime core with 1MB of L2 cache based around the more customisable ARM Cortex-X1 design – this design promises around a 30 percent uplift in performance versus ARM’s previous A-Series core design.

The Prime core is backed up by four Cortex-A78-based cores clocked at 2.4GHz and with 512KB of L2 cache. Both these ARM Cortex designs are new for 2020. While Cortex-A1 is a brand new design designed for peak performance, the A78 is an evolution of the A76 and A77 designs we’ve seen in recent devices albeit with around a 20 percent uplift in sustained performance on the same power. 

Finally, four Cortex-A55 low power cores run at 1.8GHz with 128KB of L2 cache per core. The new design gives a 25 percent uplift in performance according to Qualcomm. 

Qualcomm

Qualcomm says it has designed the cores to provide more consistent power over a sustained period. Power efficiency is also 25 percent better meaning that despite the increased performance, battery draw should be reduced. 

Graphics tech has always been a key area of focus for Snapdragon and indeed, the Adreno 660 offers around 35 percent faster rendering compared to the previous generation. Variable Rate Shading (VRS) is introduced for the first time on a mobile device, previously only available on the new generation of consoles and high-end PCs.

Qualcomm

A new tech – called Game Quick Touch – means your inputs are also more responsive even on fast fps games. Qualcomm claims a responsiveness increase of around 20 percent.

There’s also support for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E (6GHz) – the latest generation of that technology while there’s also support for the very latest Bluetooth 5.2 tech. Qualcomm’s proprietary FastConnect 6900 tech enables rapid connections across three Wi-Fi channels as well as support for high-quality Bluetooth audio. 

The camera tech has been vastly improved. That’s because the Spectra 580 ISP (Image Signal Processor) is capable of capturing simultaneously from three different lenses. That means all three lenses can be ready to go – switching between them is instant. The new ISP also supports 120fps burst snapshots for high-res action shots.

Qualcomm

You’re also able to simultaneously capture three 4K HDR video streams. And there’s improved low light photography, too. There’s also support for new next-generation Staggered HDR image sensors that will capture three different images and composite them. 

Interestingly, Snapdragon 888 will be the first platform to support the incoming Content Authenticity Initiative standard. Pioneered by Adobe as well as Twitter, the initiative clearly references the source of an image so you can see if it has been altered when it is posted elsewhere. Expect to hear a lot more about this tech in the coming weeks.

Qualcomm

AI-capabilties are often talked about for smartphone chips these days, primarily because of the complex things we ask our phones to process. The Qualcomm Hexagon 780 is the new AI chip inside the Snapdragon 888. It’s now capable of 26 TOPS, which means 26 trillion operations per second. As well as this out-and-out processing power, there’s also a low power AI processor on board as well to cope with regular interactions like screen wake and phone lift detection. 

Finally, the Snapdragon 888 includes a new Hypervisor, which enables you to be able to run different instances of the same operating system. So you could have one version of Android for work and a whole different experience for home. App data can be isolated between both. 

The first Snapdragon 888 phones will be with us early in 2021. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.

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