Qualcomm sent out a bunch of reporters to Maui for their Snapdragon Summit, and during the week-long event, the company took the wraps off its latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 865. The chipset will make its way into many flagship phones in 2020, including at least one from Motorola who hasn’t made a flagship phone in a couple of years.
It’s always nice to have the latest and greatest processor, and it’s another thing to actually get use out of it. Luckily, Qualcomm never really disappoints when it comes to flagship chipset releases, and the 865 is no slouch. It’s actually one of the most important processors that the company has ever released, so as you can imagine, there’s plenty to unpack.
But I’ll try to be clear and concise.
Here are five new features the 865 is bringing to phones in 2020.
Guaranteed 5G Compatibility
Part of the reason the Snapdragon 865 is so important is because it’ll guarantee 5G support in any phone it’s in. That’s because when manufacturers buy the 865 from Qualcomm, they’ll also receive the X55 modem to go along with it which connects to 5G and reaches data speeds of up to 7 gigabits per second.
OEMs won’t be able to just buy the 865 and pair to to a standard 4G LTE modem – you need the X55 to pair with the 865, essentially. Because of this, virtually every flagship Android phone will connect to 5G, and manufacturers won’t be able to stop it without dropping down to a lower-tier Snapdragon chipset.
This means that if an OEM sells you a phone equipped with the Snapdragon 865, it also means you’ll get guaranteed 5G support. And if it has the proper carrier support, you’ll be able to connect to 5G networks from all the major U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
Of course, the new 865 is faster than this year’s 855, and Qualcomm provides some stats to prove that.
The company says the 865 is 25 percent faster than the 855 thanks to the new Kryo 585 CPU. In the graphics department, we’re looking at another 25 percent improvement over last year.
Every year, we get faster phones, and it’s all thanks to the improvements that Qualcomm adds to its latest silicon. But year over year, you don’t ever get massive performance differences, and 2020 looks to be no different. At least with the 855, Qualcomm switched to a 7nm process compared to the Snapdragon 845’s 10nm. There’s no big milestone difference in the case of the 865 to talk about, so it’s unclear if users will notice much of a difference over this year’s chip.
I’ll reserve judgement for when the first Snapdragon 865 phones start shipping.
Insane AI tricks
What the new 865 enables on the AI side of things should be much more interesting.
During the summit, Qualcomm showed off some pretty insane AI tricks that are enabled by the power of the Snapdragon 865. For instance, you could actively have your voice translated to another language while on a phone call and have the person on the other end translated into a language you can understand. That’s kind of crazy.
The Snapdragon 865 also enables Qualcomm’s new Sensing Hub which will allow virtual assistants like the Google Assistant or Alexa listen for wake words at much lower power levels. We’re talking around 1 mW of energy being used. In turn, this should give you better battery life and the same “Hey Google” or “Alexa” experience you’re used to.
Qualcomm’s AI Engine on the 865 is 2x as powerful as the one associated with the 855. This leads to the neat tricks the company showed off onstage that may or may not make it to phones in 2020. I say that because it’s up to manufacturers to build them into their phones, and it’s unclear if any of the big dogs like Samsung or Google want to throw them in.
We’ll know more soon. After all, January 1st is right around the corner.
For gamers, the 865 will enable a few new experiences. With the improved Adreno 650 GPU, the graphics are 25 percent better for smoother gameplay. Speaking of “smooth,” the 865 also supports displays with up to 144 Hz refresh rates. This means you could have a desktop monitor-class screen on your phone and enjoy a similar experience on the go.
I think there’s a strong possibility that some manufacturer somewhere will throw a 144 Hz display in a phone next year. We saw the first 90 and 120 Hz phones over the past 12 months emerge, and since the support is there with the 865, it would make sense for 144 Hz models to hit the limelight. Someone like Razr or Asus will likely be first to deliver a 144 Hz phone so play close attention to them in the new year.
8K video recording
Everyone loves taking pictures with their phones, and with the 865, companies will be able to enable new experiences in the camera app. Right off the bat, phones next year will be able to record 8K video thanks to the new chip which is absolutely insane. you’ll also be able to shoot 960 fps slow-motion videos at a resolution of 720p. You’ll also be able to capture Dolby Vision HDR content.
This is all thanks to the improved image signal processor (or ISP), the Spectra 480, which supports two “gigapixels” per second speeds. 2020 is gonna be a crazy year for cameras, and with built-in capabilities like these, the 865 is gonna enable a lot of creativity for companies to feast upon.
Overall, this sounds like a pretty sweet lineup of features. But keep in mind, there’s no guarantee that every flagship phone in 2020 will have the same feature set. Every manufacturer varies from phone to phone, so you’ll have plenty of diverse options to pick from when the new stuff comes out. Y’know, just like every year.
Still, the Snapdragon 865 is going to enable some experiences we’ve simply never seen before. Who knows? Maybe there will be a phone with 8K recording, live translations over phone calls, and 7Gbps 5G data speeds. Anything could happen.
Smartphones should be getting interesting again in the new year, and Qualcomm will be the pioneer of some of them. Whether they’re any good will ultimately be left up to each individual manufacturer, but I have faith we’ll see at least some of these features come to fruition and be as cool as they sound.