WE KNEW IT WAS COMING; Qualcomm has taken the covers off the Snapdragon 855, which surprise, surprise, comes with artificial intelligence smarts, clever imaging tech, and 5G; because of course it does.
Unveiled at an event in Hawaii - our invite must have got lost in the post - because surf, sea and getting lei-ed is synonymous with tech, Qualcomm touted its latest mobile chip as more than just the next step up from the Snapdragon 845; yeah we know about the Snapdragon 850 but that was a Windows-centric silicon slice.
Built on a 7-nanometre process, the new Snapdragon will be flying the flag for 5G mobile SoCs thanks to its embedded Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G modem that plays nice with the 5G New Radio millimetre wave standard (mmWave) and taps into the sub-6GHz spectrum.
It also supports 4G, which will be handy as even though Qualcomm touted how EE will be rolling out 5G in the new year to dives such as Coventry in the UK, we suspect Blighty's rollout will be slow and steady.
Mind you, Qualcomm did champion a range of connections that form the 5G ecosystem, from wider area networks to small cells and licensed to unlicensed spectrum; but that's the pretty much the story with every tech firm with a stonk-on about 5G. To be fair, it now looks like 5G is starting to build momentum and 2019 looks like the year it will kick off, just don't expect a 5G iPhone before 2020.
Qualcomm appeared to make a song and dance about 5G's ability to facilitate more content streaming, help add intelligence into gadgets thanks to a snappier connection with more bandwidth, and enable better online gaming and content creation; to be honest, it's hard not to get swept up in the hype.
With the likes of Asus, LG, Samsung, Google, HMD and OnePlus all championed as firms working on 5G devices, the nippy mobile broadband connection looks to be more than just a blip on the horizon.
Qualcomm said Samsung will bring the first flagship 5G smartphone to the US; we'll make a hat out of polenta and snaffle if said phone isn't the Galaxy S10.
As for other stuff in the Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm championed the SoC's boosted multi-core AI Engine, which offers three times the smart tech performance of its predecessor.
Compute, graphical and gaming performance has also been enhanced, with the Snapdragon 855 rocking one high-performance core, three mid-range performance cores, and four 'efficiency cores'. Clock speeds haven't been revealed at the time of writing, but we suspect the Snapdragon 855 will have far more grunt than any current apps really need.
Developers will have more power to tap into, but as the Snapdragon 855 is likely to be in flagship phones like the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10, we doubt many devs will only build games that cater for high-end hardware, at least not in the early part of 2019 when the SoC is expected to get released into the wild.
That being said, Qualcomm did spout about 'Elite Gaming', which it said will bring "next level gaming experiences to premium mobile devices", which will mean working with developers and the makers of graphics engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine, to optimise the Snapdragon 855 for gaming greatness.
There are two particularly noteworthy things about the Snapdragon 855 other than the 5G stuff. The first is the image signal processor which will come with computer vision built into it, which Qualcomm claims is a world first. That should promise speedier and faster smart camera features like image recognition and the extraction of data from smartphone snaps, which should be a boon for Google and its use of smart software to get the most out of smartphone snappers - see the Pixel 3 and its excellent single-lens camera.
The second eyebrow-raising feature is the Snapdragon 855's support for Qualcomm's newly-revealed 3D Sonic Sensor which will enable ultrasonic fingerprint scanners to be located under the displays of new smartphones. Such a scanner could be snappier and less in-your-face as the optical 'green light' 2D under-display scanner found in the OnePlus 6T. Again, we absolutely expect the Galaxy S10 to come rocking an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner.
And that, dear readers, is that. There's a good deal of stuff in the Snapdragon 855 that should make it a SoC to look out for once 5G comes a-calling, and it promises all manner of performance hikes. How noticeable a step up from the Snapdragon 845 in real-world use remains to be seen, but either way, we can expect to see the Snapdragon 855 in a whole suite of high-end phones in 2019. µ
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