Mobile World Congress 2018 is just a week away, and we will undoubtedly see multiple phones announced with the next generation of system on chips (SoC). The Snapdragon 845 is likely to be used in the next flagship phone which is due to be announced at the Nokia event on the 29th. Historically Samsung has used 2 different SoCs on their flagship Galaxy device; if they follow a similar pattern as the S8, it is likely it will use their own Exynos 9810 in the US and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 for the rest of the world on the new Samsung Galaxy S9

The third chip manufacturer is HiSilicon, and we saw their latest chip available on devices at the end of last year, so it is unlikely we will see devices with another new chip at MWC. Huawei owns HiSilicon and the hair end chips are used almost exclusively in their own devices, either under the Huawei or Honor brand.

Specification

The is a lot of hype of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, but how does it stack up against the other SoCs? The following table shows the specification of the three chips:

 Exynos 9810Snapdragon 845Kirin 970HiSilicon Kirin 980
Process2nd Gen 10nm FinFET2nd Gen 10nm FinFET10nm FinFET7nm
CPU CoresOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bitOcta-Core, 64-bit
CPU4 x 2.9GHz Exynos M3 + 4 x 1.9GHz Cortex-A554 x 2.8GHz Kryo 385 + 4 x 1.7GHz Kryo 3854x Cortex-A73 @ 2.4GHz + 4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.8GHz2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.6GHz
2x Cortex-A76 @ 1.92GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
(4MB shared L3 cache)
GPUARM Mali-G72 MP18Adreno 630Mali-G71 MP12Mali-G76 MP10
Display Resolution4K UHD (4096 x 2160) or WQUXGA (3840 x 2400) 60FPS4K UHD (4096 x 2160) 60FPS4K UHD (4096 x 2160) 60FPS4K UHD (4096 x 2160) 60FPS?
RAMLPDDR4XLPDDR4X Quad-channel 16-bit 1866 MHzLPDDR4xLPDDR4X @ 2133MHz
StorageUFS 2.1, & SD 3.0UFS 2.1, & SD 3.0UFS 2.1UFS 2.1?
ISPDual ISPDual ISPDual 14-bit ISPDual ISP
Camera24MP Single, 16MP+16MP Dual32MP Single, 16MP Dual32MP Single, 16MP Dual?
Video RecordingUp to 4K @ 120FPSUp to 4K @ 60FPSUp to 4K @ 60FPS?
Video Playback & CodecsMFC, Up to 4K @ 120FPS; 10-bit HEVC (H.265), H.264, VP9Up to 4K @ 60FPS; 10bit HDR, H.264 (AVC), H.265 (HEVC), VP92160p60 HEVC & H.264 Decode
2160p30 Encode
HDR10
?
AudioUnknown chip with 32bit/384kHz qualityQualcomm Aqstic, Qualcomm aptX HD with 384kHz/32bit quality32-bit @ 384K?
ModemLTE Cat. 18 6CA 1.2Gbps Download; LTE Cat. 18 2CA 200 Mbps UploadX20 LTE Cat. 18 1.2Gbps Download; LTE Cat. 13 150Mbps UploadKirin 970 Integrated LTE, (Category 18/13)LTE Cat 21
1.4Gbps down / 200Mbps up
Wi-FiDual-Band Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMOWi-Fi ad, Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMOWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/acHi1103 WiFi chip supports 1732Mbps with Wi-Fi and, Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n with MU-MIMO
Bluetooth554.25
Global PositioningGPS, GLONASS, BeiDouGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, QZSS, SBASGPS / A-GPS / GLONASS / BDSDual frequency GPS / A-GPS / GLONASS / BDS
SecuritySamsung KNOX, Security Processing Unit, DRAM encryptionQualcomm Secure Processing Unit, Qualcomm Processor Security, Qualcomm Mobile Security?
ChargingSamsung Adaptive Fast Charge, Fast Wireless Charging (Qi & PMA)Quick Charge 4+ (USB PD Compatible)SuperCharge 4.5V / 5A low-voltage fast chargingSuperCharge 4.5V / 5A low-voltage fast charging

Comparisons

On paper, they are all quite close, the Kirin 970 lags behind a bit, but it is the oldest of the three chips. One of the notable omissions for the 970 is the lack of Bluetooth 5, not a massive issue at the moment, as not many devices use it, but it would have been nice.

They all use an Octo-core design following the big.LITTLE design where there are 4 powerful cores and 4 low powered cores. However, the latest ARMv8.2 architecture revision and the introduction of DynamIQ, this moves big, and LITTLE CPU cores into a single cluster should improve task sharing and energy efficiency, and new private L2 and shared L3 caches should further improve memory access and performance. At the moment the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip is the only known chip to employ this method, though the 9810 might still use it, the 970 uses the older style.

The Samsung Exynos 9810 has the highest max frequency, but Snapdragon 845 has a max frequency of 2.8 GHz for each of its cores, while Exynos 9810 has a 2.9 GHz frequency only for 4 cores.

The Snapdragon 845 has been benchmarked and we have seen some impressive results with significant improvements over the 835.

Leaked benchmarks of the Exynos 9810 indicate that it has a higher single core and multi-core performance over the 845. The leaked scores show that the Exynos leads by 1262 and 527 points in single and multi-core results respectively on the Geekbench performance report. We will have to wait to see if these results are real or not, either way, the real-world results will likely be unnoticeable.

HiSilicon has bet big with AI and integrated a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) inside the Kirin 970 during launch, which has been specially designed to accelerate machine learning applications. However, Qualcomm doesn’t have a specific NPU but does use the Hexagon DSP that it uses for audio, imaging, and machine learning tasks.

The Kirin only offers 30 fps 4K encoding, whereas the Snapdragon 845 offer 60fps and the Exynos 9810 can do up to 120fps 4k encoding, so this could be a good differentiator for anyone serious about mobile video.

All three chips are capable of the fastest 4G LTE speeds boasting up to 1.2 Gbps down and 150 Mbps upload speeds on compatible networks.

Overall

System on Chips is so powerful nowadays things like raw performance start to become redundant, if you own a high-end phone, it will run smoothly no matter what task you are doing.

It is the other aspects that start to become important when choosing your next high-end phone. Price is always a significant factor, and HiSilicon Kirin 970 has some advantages here, the Honor brand is quite affordable. That’s not to say the Snapdragon 845 will be excessively expensive, looking at the last generation, the Nokia 8 has the Snapdragon 835 and is extremely affordable compared to many other high-end phones.

Another critical aspect is always battery life, but this is affected by many variables. Qualcomm claim the 845 is more power efficient, but if you have a phone that has poorly optimised software, these battery optimisations won’t go far. Huawei Mate 10 Pro fixes the main issue with the battery, by using a decent sized 4000mAh battery, this currently gives it some of the best battery results of the high-end phones currently available. Let’s just hope we start to see some 4000mAh+ batteries on a Snapdragon 845 chip!

Performance is also heavily reliant on the software used. In the past, Samsung was quite bad for poor performance due to its ridiculous heavy skins on Android, whereas Google devices often ran well due to no additional modifications.

It is too early to tell what chip is best, or what phone. I am personally most excited about Nokia, as the Nokia 8 was superb, and I hope the Nokia 9 will improve things further.

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