Qualcomm unveils Snapdragon 865: Everything we know so far

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Updated at 11:34 p.m. ET: 5G connectivity is integrated on the Snapdragon 765; a 5G modem is included with the Snapdragon 865. We've clarified that in this report.

WAILEA, Hawaii — We now know officially which processor is going to power 2020's top Android phones, which likely includes Samsung's Galaxy S11.

Mobile processor maker Qualcomm just took the wraps off the Snapdragon 865, a mobile chipset that comes with a 5G modem that's likely to feature in a number of flagship phones from the likes of Samsung, Google, LG and OnePlus.

But the Snapdragon 855 will have some company. Qualcomm has also taken the wraps off the Snapdragon 765, a more mid-tier chip that features integrated 5G. In addition, Qualcomm promises advanced AI processing for the Snapdragon 765, and a gaming-focused version — the Snapdragon 765G — should bring optimized graphics performance and power consumption features to midrange phones in the same vein as the Snapdragon 730G chipset released earlier this year.

5G Connectivity

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It's no mystery why Qualcomm would produce more chipsets with built-in 5G connectivity. That gives phone makers more options for ramping up the number of 5G-ready phones at a wider range of prices. The first 5G phones to arrive this year are on the pricey side — the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren costs $899 at T-Mobile, while the Galaxy S10 5G and Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G from Samsung both start at $1,299. Getting 5G to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 700 series of chipsets should mean more affordable 5G phones in 2020.

And 5G networks figure to be more prevalent in the coming year. While all four major U.S. carriers have flipped the switch on 5G coverage in some areas, it's still largely restricted at this point to select parts of certain cities. That's starting to change — T-Mobile launched its nationwide 5G network which promises coverage for 5,000 cities, and AT&T also plans to introduce a more extensive 5G network in select cities this month. Qualcomm wants phone makers to have devices ready as those networks extend their reach.

While the Snapdragon 765 comes with integrated 5G, the Snapdragon 865 only includes the X55 modem alongside the chipset, despite Qualcomm's indications since Mobile World Congress last February that it would integrate 5G with its mobile platforms.

Snapdragon 865

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Qualcomm is saving the nitty-gritty details on the Snapdragon 865 until later in the week at its developer summit. (Check back Tuesday for a deeper dive into what to expect from the process.) But it did tease some of the features centered around mobile photography, gaming and artificial intelligence.

The image signal processor in the Snapdragon 865 is going to be capable of 2 gigapixel per second speeds. That's going to enable features like the ability to capture 8K video at 30 frames per second. Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile at Qualcomm, also said the Snapdragon 865's ISP can capture 4K video at 64 fps, with each frame displayed at  very high resolution. The Snapdragon 865 will be able to support 200-megapixel cameras as well.

On the gaming front, Katouzian says to expect a 25% increase in graphic performance from last year's Snapdragon 865. Qualcomm is also promising to bring "desktop features to mobile gaming," something we're hoping to hear more about during the week.

As for artificial intelligence, the Snapdragon 865 sports Qualcomm's 5th-generation AI engine, which is capable of 15 trillion operations per second — twice what the AI engine in the Snapdragon 855 was capable of. Katouzian says that faster AI engine will support features like more advanced photography and real-time translation.

As for 5G connectivity, Katouzian said the X55 modem included alongside the Snapdragon 865 will be capable of 7.5 Gbps speeds — far faster than what current 5G networks can provide.

Snapdragon 765

It would be a mistake to think of the Snapdragon 765 as a stripped-down version of its higher-tiered counterpart, though some features don't quite match what you'll get with the Snapdragon 865. The X52 modem in the Snapdragon 765, for example, supports 3.7 Gbps speeds, though like the X55 modem, it's capable of supporting 5G networks built on both millimeter wave and low-band spectrum. And it's integrated with the chipset, as Qualcomm had indicated it would be in the fall.

The Snapdragon 765 has Qualcomm's new AI engine, too, and it's capable of 5 trillion operations per second. The image signal processor can support 192-megapixel cameras and capture 4K video. "[The Snapdragon 765's ISP rivals some of the best in the market with premium tier capabilities brought down" to lower-priced phones, Katouzian said.

As for gaming, the Snapdragon 765 will support some of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Elite Gaming features, which include hardware and software optimizations aimed at mobile gamers. We're waiting for details on that front, which are likely to emerge this week.

What phones will get the new processors

Qualcomm typically doesn't detail which phones will run on its new chips, leaving those announcements to partners. But given that the Snapdragon 855 powered most of the big Android releases this year, including the Galaxy S10 family, the new Galaxy Note 10s, Google's Pixel 4 lineup, LG's V50 and G8 flagships, and both the OnePlus 7 Pro and OnePlus 7T, it's a safe bet the successors for those phones coming out in 2020 will adapt the Snapdragon 865 as their chipset of choice. The Galaxy S11, expected in the first few months of 2020, is one of the phones expected to feature the Snapdragon 865, though no formal announcement was made at today's Qualcomm event.

However, a few phone makers did announce plans to make use of Qualcomm's 5G-integrated chips. Xiaomi says it will feature the Snapdragon in its Mi 10 smartphone in early 2020, and fellow Chinese phone maker Oppo plans to use the Snapdragon 855 in an upcoming flagship, too. Motorola also says it plans to use the Snapdragon 865 in an expanded 5G lineup.

As for the Snapdragon 765, Motorola also pledged that it would use the new chip to bring 5G to a wider class of devices. And HMD Global will use the new chip in its Nokia phones, too.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.