Qualcomm announced its next-generation Snapdragon 855 processor at the Snapdragon Tech Summit last December, showing off the chip that will likely make its way into many of 2019’s Android flagships.

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Qualcomm announced its next-generation Snapdragon 855 processor at the Snapdragon Tech Summit last December, showing off the chip that will likely make its way into many of 2019’s Android flagships. 


The camera is also getting a nice upgrade with the Snapdragon 855. The updated Spectra 380 ISP integrates things like computational processing for computer vision- powered portrait modes and AR/VR capabilities directly, so you should see a large speed boost and power reduction for these computationally intensive photography tasks. 

This means support for features like depth sensing at 60fps, real-time portrait mode previews, and 4K portrait mode videos with real-time HDR. 

In addition, Qualcomm is also moving from JPEG to HEIF images for pictures. HEIF files are roughly half the size of JPEGs, but are of better quality. A HEIF file can also be thought of as a container for files, where it can either be a single image or a sequence of images, so it’ll work with video-integrated files like Google’s Motion Photos. Better still, it supports up to 16-bit color, so it’s great for capturing things like HDR. 

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This goes without saying, given the faster CPU and upgraded Adreno 640 GPU. Qualcomm announced its Snapdragon Elite Gaming Platform in tandem with the 855, and the latter is the first chip to qualify for that label. In short, this means you’re assured of a certain level of graphics, audio quality, and even a good online gaming experience. 

The Adreno 640 is supposedly 20 per cent quicker than its predecessor, and it also adds an HDR pipeline for gaming and will enable physically based rendering techniques. The latter is a shading model in computer graphics that aims to more accurately model light flows in the real world, with the goal often being photorealism. In other words, this could facilitate better-looking graphics on your smartphone. 

On top of that, Qualcomm says HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are now supported for better, more immersive displays, with the chip even being capable of outputting HDR video at 120fps. To take things further, the company also cited 360-degree panoramic video at 8K as a possibility. Finally, there’s hardware-accelerated H.265 and VP9 video support, which should enable significant battery life savings when playing video. 

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The Snapdragon 855 ditches the big. LITTLE design of the 845, instead adopting ARM’s DynamIQ CPU cluster design. Instead of the 4+4 design of yesteryear, the 855 uses a unique 1+3+4 configuration. It’s still an octa- core chip, but the CPU cores have now been configured in a way that can offer higher single thread performance that can also be sustained for longer. 

It features four small Cortex-A55- based cores clocked at 1.8GHz, three bigger cores based on the Cortex-A76 clocked at 2.42GHz (dubbed the Kryo 485), and a boosted “Prime Core” that comes in at 2.84GHz. This allows the chip to cater to so-called low, mid, and high workloads, while improving single-threaded performance for apps that demand it. Huawei also implemented a similar modular design for their Kirin 980 chipset, which features a 2+2+4 configuration. 

The Snapdragon 855 will also be manufactured under a 7nm process, the same as Huawei’s Kirin 980 and Apple’s A12 Bionic, so Qualcomm finally matches its competition. 


Qualcomm is claiming up to three times better performance for AI- related tasks. It’s still using a heterogeneous approach to machine learning, where the CPU, GPU, and DSP work together for AI tasks, but there’s now a brand new Tensor Accelerator. This was designed for neural network work, and the chipmaker says something like Google Lens could see some large performance gains. 

The company said image processing was one of the reasons for the inclusion of the Tensor processor, and it’s also been working with Google to improve the open- source TensorFlow library for on- device mobile performance. 

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Surprisingly, the Snapdragon 855 doesn’t feature 5G connectivity by default. Instead, it uses Qualcomm’s X24 modem, which supports up to 2Gbps on LTE (Cat. 20), the first in the world to do so. However, the 5G X50 modem will be available as a separate add-on for companies that want it. One example of this is the 5G Moto Mod attachment, which also happens to contain the full Snapdragon 855 chip, in addition to the modem. 

Still, given that the X50 isn’t included by default, it seems like many of 2019’s flagships will still be 4G models. That said, there’s support for Wi-Fi 6 (formerly 802.11ax) and 802.11ay millimeter wave Wi-Fi.