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Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 preview: 2018’s flagship phones will be faster, more efficient and have better cameras

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Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 845 processor at its annual Tech Summit event, today, with a focus on improved camera technology and AI capabilities.

The new chip has a “grounds up” CPU redesign, a beefed up GPU – the Adreno 630 – a better ISP, DSP and more power efficient X20 modem as well. The Snapdragon 845 will also be the first Snapdragon processor to have a system level cache.

Snapdragon 845 preview: Camera, VR and AR

The most interesting new component, however, is its Spectra 280 ISP – Qualcomm’s second generation image processing chip, which will usher in a new wave ultra high-quality smartphone cameras.

The headline is the ability to not only watch Ultra HD Premium video but also capture it at frame rates of up to 60fps.

With the ability to capture footage in the Rec.2020 colour gamut, as opposed to the Rec.709 gamut the 835 was limited to, videos ought to look more vibrant and more colourful.

And for still image capture, things are also improving, with new multi-frame noise reduction of up to 60fps for less grainy low-light shots and an extra feature called ImMotion that will allow users to capture an image and designate a portion of it to be played back as video.

The Spectra 280 ISP should also pave the way for more advanced facial recognition through its new “advanced depth-sensing” capabilities, while the general improvement in performance will allow phones to apply creative video filters in real time and capture portrait-style blurry background images without the need for a dual-camera setup.

The Spectra 280 isn’t just aimed at improving the camera performance on smartphones, though. It will also be used by manufacturers of AR and VR devices to deliver, among other things, higher resolution displays. Also expect superior motion sensing and hand-tracking capabilities from 845-based AR/VR headsets.

Snapdragon 845 preview: Performance and battery life

Along with better cameras, the Snapdragon 845 will, of course, be faster than the 835, but it will also be more efficient and that should mean better battery life.

The greater speed and efficiency won’t be due to a new manufacturing process, though. The new chip will still be built by Samsung using a 10nm manufacturing process just as the 835 was. It’s a refinement of that manufacturing process, but fundamentally it’s the same thing.

However, it’s still a faster chip. The 845’s octa-core Kryo 385 CPU has four cores that run at up to 2.8GHz, delivering a performance boost of between 25% and 30% over the 835, and four “efficiency” cores that run at a clock speed of up to 1.8GHz, providing a 15% improvement on the 835.

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There’s also a new 3MB system cache, aimed at reducing memory power consumption and delivering better power efficiency, which will enable phones to shoot “up to four hours” of 4K video. And there’s a tweak to the charging system, too, with Quick Charge 4+ on the table, capable of charging your phone from 0 to 15% in 15 minutes.

And the GPU is new, too. The Adreno 630 GPU, or “visual processing subsystem” as Qualcomm prefers to call it, delivers a claimed boost to graphics performance of 30% and a power efficiency boost of 30%.

Snapdragon 845 preview: Artificial intelligence and security

AI, a topic that’s “changing everything” according to Qualcomm, is another big part of the 845’s new set of capabilities. Following Huawei’s NPU (neural processing unit), the Snapdragon 845 will have some AI capabilities baked into the silicon, meaning certain features, such as voice and image recognition will be available on phones without the need to be online.

Qualcomm’s approach is different to Huawei’s, however. Instead of dedicating an entire discrete component to neural processing, it spreads the load across existing components – the main CPU, GPU and Hexagon 685 DSP – and in the 845, improvements to those components delivers three times the performance of the  Snapdragon 835.

One aspect that does get its own new discrete component, however, is security. Dubbed the Secure Processing Unit (SPU), this “secure vault” will enable sensitive operations, such as those associated with fingerprint, facial and iris recognition, to take place wholly within the SPU, without data having to be transferred around and stored in less secure parts of the chip.

The SPU will also allow superior encryption for files and could open the way for more than just your credit card information to be stored on your phone.

Snapdragon 845 preview: Connectivity

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Qualcomm announcement without talk of faster cellular speeds, and the Snapdragon 845, inevitably, has a host of improvements on this front, courtesy of the new Snapdragon X20 LTE modem.

This should deliver, Qualcomm says, 20% better peak speeds over the X16 modem in the Snapdragon 835 of up to 1.2Gbits/sec. There’s also “more robust” 802.11ac Wi-Fi performance and new Bluetooth capabilities, which allow a phone to connect and broadcast audio to multiple speakers and headphones simultaneously with “no technical limit” on the number of devices supported.

Snapdragon 845 preview: Final thoughts

It’s impossible to say at this early stage whether the Snapdragon 845 will be the success that 835 was. Last year’s flagship processor delivered on most of its promises: we’ve found that, in general, smartphones with the 835 on board have had great battery life, good camera performance and superb performance.

If the 845 can build on that, next year’s smartphones – and Qualcomm-based Windows 10 laptops – will be better than ever. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on one.

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