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Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 4K tablet hands-on review

We check out Qualcomm's ARM-based super chip for tablets
Tue Mar 11 2014, 14:53

AT MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS (MWC) this year we saw several processors appear on the scene.

Intel started things off when it unveiled its dual-core Merrifield and quad-core Moorfield Atom processors, and Qualcomm hit back with the launch of its top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 64-bit chip.

We got our hands on a 4K Android tablet running Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 805 chip, and put the processor through its paces.

Performance
On paper the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 is pretty impressive. Built with four Krait 450 cores that have a maximum clock speed of 2.7GHz, the chip also integrates an Adreno 420 GPU and a 128-bit memory interface. But a chip by itself is never the whole story, and it's all about how it works with the other parts and software in the device.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 4K tablet front

We got to test the Snapdragon running inside several demo Android tablets at Qualcomm's MWC stand, and we were very impressed by how well they ran. Trying out the first tablet with a variety of pre-installed applications, we found that the device was lightning fast. We were particularly impressed with how well it dealt with more demanding tasks such as HD 1080p 3D gaming.

This is due to the chip's upgraded Adreno 420 GPU, which is listed as offering 40 percent better performance than the older Adreno 320. It's also likely a consequence of the fact that the Adreno 420 GPU has new hardware tessellation and geometry shaders for 4K rendering.

Hardware tessellation is a feature traditionally only seen in discrete GPUs for PCs and it has only recently been incorporated into DirectX and next generation games consoles such as Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. For us the feature's inclusion on the Snapdragon 805 is a sign that Qualcomm is working to further narrow the gap between PCs and tablets.

4K Ultra HD resolution display
We noticed the biggest Snapdragon performance improvement on a second tablet, which had a 10.1in 4K ultra HD 3840x2160 resolution display. This display quality is only possible on the tablet thanks to the advanced GPU and CPU combination in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, and we have to concede that the 4K display is a big technical achievement.

Viewing a variety of images on the device, we found it one of the crispest and sharpest displays we've seen on a tablet. From, what we've seen of the test device so far, the display easily beat the performance of the iPad Air. Holding the tablet as close as we could, we still couldn't discern individual pixels on the screen.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 4K tablet city

As an added bonus the Snapdragon 805 also offers 4K video playback, featuring support for hardware 4K HEVC H.265 decode for mobile. However, we didn't get a chance to test this during our hands-on.

First impressions
So far there's no indication of when the first Snapdragon 805 tablets will go on sale, but from what we've seen of the Qualcomm demo devices, we're pretty excited. The demo tablets we tried seemed lightning fast and, while we didn't get a chance to benchmark them, they did seem to offer substantially improved performance over tablets with Qualcomm's previous Snapdragon 800 processor.

That said, the real question isn't how the Snapdragon 805 compares with the Snapdragon 800, it is how it well it will compare to the performance of Intel's Moorefield. We have yet to get a chance to test this, but with Dell, Lenovo and Asus confirmed to be working on devices using the upgraded Atom chips, we hope we won't have to wait very long to do so. µ

 

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