Snapdragon 845: What It Means for Your Next Smartphone

After teasing its upcoming Snapdragon 845 mobile processing platform earlier this week, Qualcomm has revealed more details about the next-generation chip. And it sounds as if the Snapdragon 845 could potentially impact everything from your future phone's camera to how quickly you can download movies off a cellular network.

Snapdragon 845 (Credit: Qualcomm)Snapdragon 845 (Credit: Qualcomm)The Snapdragon 845 will feature the usual improvements to speed and power management you would expect from the latest iteration of a mobile processor. From what Qualcomm has outlined, though, the most intriguing changes introduced by the Snapdragon 845 involve its image signal processor, its modem and the way it will handle technologies like virtual reality.

Our sister site AnandTech drills down into the nitty-gritty details about the Snapdragon 845 and how it's designed. But here's an overview of some of the changes Qualcomm's new mobile processing platform will introduce when it arrives in 2018.

How Fast Will the New Processor Be?

The Snapdragon 845 features an 8-core Kryo 385 CPU running at up to 2.8GHz. An Adreno 630 serves as the graphics processor for the new system-on-chip.

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Qualcomm promises a 25 percent improvement in what it calls "performance uplift" over the Snapdragon 835. That should mean faster app launches and smoother performance in processor-intensive apps. Look for a 30 percent improvement in graphics performance from the new GPU.

This added power comes with more efficient performance. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 845 can improve power efficiency by 30 percent for tasks like games, video capture and mixed reality experiences.

What About the Camera Capabilities?

The Snapdragon 845 includes a Spectra 280 image signal processor. It's capable of capturing images at up to 16 megapixels at 60 images per second, and it can capture HD slow-motion video at 480 frames per second.

Qualcomm sounds particularly proud of the ISP's HDR prowess, claiming the Spectra 280 can capture 64x more high-dynamic range color information compared to its predecessor. The inclusion of multi-frame noise reduction, the same technology Google employs in its HDR+ mode, should make low-light photos look better as well.

When Qualcomm was previewing the new Spectra ISP earlier this year, it talked about three new modules that support iris authentication as well as active and passive depth sensing. The iris scanning will help with phone unlocking features while depth sensing can assist with everything from more realistic blur effects on portrait photos to improved performance for mixed reality apps.

Depth sensing will also enable Face ID-like facial recognition, if companies choose to use it. It could be more precise than what Apple's achieved too; whereas the iPhone X uses a web of 30,000 infrared dots for mapping purposes, Qualcomm's system uses 50,000.

What Modem Will the Snapdragon 845 Use?

A key component of the Snapdragon 845 is the new mobile processor's X20 modem. Like its predecessor, the X16, this new modem can deliver Gigabit LTE speeds of 1,000 Mbps — at least on cellular networks that are optimized to support it.

I got a taste of Gigabit LTE last month, albeit with a Snapdragon 835 and an X16 modem on T-Mobile's network. In that demo, a Galaxy Note 8 reached speeds of 673 Mbps on Ookla's Speedtest app. The X20 figures to continue that faster connectivity, which should help with real-world activities like rapidly pulling files off a cloud server, downloading multi-gigabyte movies in minutes and seamlessly streaming data-rich virtual reality content.

What About Wireless Accessories?

Snapdragon 845 will bring multi-device broadcasting to Bluetooth 5, which is good news for smartphone owners forced to invest in wireless headphones because the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack has gone bye-bye. As more flagship phones arrive without a headphone jack, the improvement of Bluetooth will be incredibly crucial going forward.

New phones will be able to stream media to multiple connected devices simultaneously, which should greatly improve playback. Previous Bluetooth formats couldn't achieve this, which specifically complicated things for wireless earbuds: content had to be sent to one bud exclusively before being relayed to the second of the pair, leading to a slight delay.

What Other Features Can We Expect?

Look for more details to emerge about the Snapdragon 845 as we get closer to its launch. But the noteworthy additions include a secure processing unit that Qualcomm says can add vault-like features to its existing security offerings for improved biometric support and encryption. This subprocessor is virtually sandboxed from the rest of the chip, and even has its own memory and power supply.

The new processing platform also supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4+ fast-charging technology, for delivering a 50 percent charge in 15 minutes. A third-generation Hexagon Vector DSP promises improvements to artificial intelligence, potentially boosting the performance voice-powered digital assistants. Additionally, smarter AI will allow for portrait mode shots without the need for a second lens, like how the Pixel 2 achieves the effect.

Finally, if you need to run dual SIM cards in your smartphone of choice, the Snapdragon 845 will make your life a little easier. Currently, phones with two SIM cards on-board can only use LTE on one of them at a time, while the other is relegated to 3G. The new chipset will change that, allowing for LTE and Ultra HD Voice on both simultaneously.

When Will the Snapdragon 845 Arrive?

Well, Qualcomm hasn't disclosed every detail about its new mobile processor. We don't know officially which phones will feature the Snapdragon 845 or when they'll arrive. All Qualcomm has said is that the chip will ship to its phone making partners in early 2018.

It's not a big leap of logic, though, to assume that the roll-out of the Snapdragon 845 will closely match what happened with the 835 this year. That mobile CPU first appeared in Samsung's Galaxy S8 smartphone in the spring and stayed there exclusively for a few months before rolling out to other leading Android flagship from HTC, OnePlus, LG, Google and others.

Should that pattern repeat itself in 2018, expect the Snapdragon 845 to debut in Samsung's Galaxy S9 — whenever that rumored flagship finally arrives. At its Snapdragon conference this week, Qualcomm also brought out Xiaomi executives to talk up the Snapdragon 845, though that China-based phone maker's devices have yet to reach the U.S.

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