During my event with Qualcomm, they were obviously keen to talk about their latest and greatest product, the Snapdragon 845. For several years not the 800 series of chips have been used in the vast majority of the flagship Android phones you can buy. The only real exceptions are Samsung Exynos used in the European Galaxy S models and the Hisilicon Kirin chips found in phones from Huawei and Honor.
The Snapdragon 845 was announced in December 2017 and products will likely start to ship in the first half of this year. We will almost certainly find out about several phones that plan to run this chip during MWC 2018, and Xiaomi has already announced their next flagship will run it.
But what do the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 bring to the table?
First let's see how it stacks up against previous generations:
|Snapdragon 845||Snapdragon 835||Snapdragon 821|
|CPU Core||Semi-custom ARM Cortex - Kryo 385||Semi-custom ARM Cortex - Kryo 280||Fully-custom - Kryo|
|CPU Config||4x 2.8GHz (Cortex-A75)||4x 2.45GHz (Cortex-A73)||2x 2.35GHz Kryo|
|4x 1.7GHz (Cortex-A55)||4x 1.9GHz (Cortex-A53)||2x 1.6GHz Kryo|
|GPU||Adreno 630||Adreno 540||Adreno 530|
|DSP||Hexagon 685 with HVX||Hexagon 682 with HVX||Hexagon 680|
|Process||10nm LPP FinFET||10nm LPE FinFET||14nm LLP FinFET|
Every generation brings a boost in speed, and we are at the point where this is an incremental upgrade each year.
The Snapdragon 845 boasts a new Kryo 385 CPU architecture and an upgraded Adreno 630 GPU. The octo-core design has four performance cores clocked up to 2.8 GHz and is paired with four energy efficient cores that can reach 1.7 GHz. The performance cores are up 0.45Ghz from the previous generation.
The GPU is the new Adreno 630 where Qualcomm state there is a 30% improvement to graphics and video rendering and reduction in power consumption over the Adreno 540.
This improved processing power has allowed them to improve the virtual reality aspects considerably, and the Adreno 630 supports displays up to 2K x 2K in resolution at up to 120 Hz, for a crisp and fluid display.
On top of the improved resolution, the new 845 offers room-scale 6DoF with SLAM which is the first mobile platform to provide this. In layman’s terms the 6DoF part means that there is full tracking of the X, Y and Z axis, it won’t just track your head movement, but it will also track your location physically, so as you walk so do the VR experience.
What is more impressive is the SLAM part, this stands for simultaneous localisation and mapping and means that the Snapdragon 845 will dynamically map the environment in your room and simulate the environment. This is quite important as it will allow you to move around a room without crashing into objects because they will be visually represented in the VR world
This year we saw Huawei heavily promote their AI processor, but Qualcomm takes a different approach using an integrated method. While this may sound less impressive than a AI processor, the Snapdragon 845 boasts a 3x gain in AI tasks over the 835. The new Digital Signal Processor (DSP), the Hexagon 685 is also heavily optimised for AI.
Image Signal Processor
The new Spectra 280 ISP introduces a number of new video capture options, including 480 fps slow motion 720p video, 60 fps video recording at up to 16 megapixels of resolution, and the ability to capture 64x more high-dynamic range colour information than before.
5G isn’t quite ready for prime time, but there is still plenty of headroom with 4G, and the new X20 LTE modem is capable of faster than gigabit data speeds.
The modem also supports License Assisted Access (LAA) for unlicensed spectrum, 5x carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO on up to 3 carriers, and dual SIM-dual VoLTE.
That all sounds very complex but basically chip is capable of using as much of the 4G spectrum as possible to achieve high speeds. Similar to ADSL or WiFi the claimed speeds are theoretical maximums so you will never actually get a gigabit connection, but this new chip is more than capable of handling all the demanding data needs of new phones.
Considering all the cybersecurity issues in the past couple of years, it is no surprise that chip makers are taking security seriously. The Secure Processing Unit (SPU) acts as a vault for any saved biometric information, such as fingerprint, iris, or face scans, and builds on Qualcomm’s existing security software. The hardware can also be used for storing user and application security keys used for encryption, keeping them well removed from any potential software breaches that may occur at the app or even OS level.
With phones abandoning the 3.5mm headphone jack it is essential to be able to get the best quality Bluetooth connection possible. Bluetooth 5 support is included for connecting to the latest peripherals, along with aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth codec.
Bluetooth 5 is a big step up from the current Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy), it's twice as fast, has four times as much range, and can transfer eight times as much data.
A good Bluetooth connection is no use without good audio, and that’s why the Snapdragon 845 boasts 130 dB of dynamic range, -109 dB THD+N, and support for 32-bit / 384 kHz PCM and DSD64/128 music playback support for audio enthusiasts.
We won’t be just seeing the 845 in phones and VR units, but several news PCs are being released running Windows 10 on Snapdragon. These will be fully functional ultra-light laptops that have mobile connectivity built into them, all with a price point lower than the current ultra-thin 2-in-1s.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 offers some very impressive upgrades from the previous generation. In reality, most users won’t notice a vast difference from the 835 to the 845, but it is always great to see improvements. These chips are now so powerful; the limiting factor is how a phone company actually implements the features.
The VR aspects of the new chip sound fantastic, and this is something that will be big for the 845 as it broadens its horizons from Smartphones to standalone VR units that are fully enclosed and don’t require long cables attached to your PC or console.