Snapdragon 820: The Future of Smartphones, According to Qualcomm

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I’m at the rollout of Qualcomm’s premier chipset, the Snapdragon 820. They’ve been talking about this technology quietly over the last year, and it will start showing up in smartphones next year. The 820 is the top of their line, a showcase for the platform, and its features are expected to set the bar for high-end smartphones, whether they use the technology or not.  

Let’s talk about what’s coming in 2016.  

Snapdragon 820

They started out with the number of phones that will be using this processor.   Apparently there are over 60 design wins for this part, which suggests we’ll have a ton of choices worldwide.   The device isn’t just for smartphones; it’ll be showing up in drones, robots and a variety of IoT devices.

This is a comprehensive redesign of this System On a Chip (SOC).  Pretty much every part of this platform is brand new.  The 64-bit CPU connects to their newest Adreno 530 GPU with a huge jump in graphics performance and a reduction in power use. The latest LTE modem, which moves into the unlicensed LTE spectrum, also supports MU-MIMO. 

I’ve been testing MU-MIMO and its massive increase in Wi-Fi performance. I’ve been running networked MU-MIMO routers, and the wireless performance is so good I’ve been able to avoid pulling Ethernet cable, which is a huge cost and aggravation reduction when setting up a network. 

This package has a new camera technology called Spectra. Spectra provides higher resolutions, faster speeds, and better color accuracy.  It has Smart Protect, a hardware security solution designed to address the security concerns of today while anticipating the problems of tomorrow.  

Image via Shutterstock

In sum, this is a massive increase in number crunching, graphics, and network speed (be aware that this requires compliance on both ends).   Visually, the phones will be more stunning (details, smoothness, colors), audio quality will be improved (3D surround sound), and the phone will be much more intelligent (that’s what the enhanced number crunching gives you).   The end result is a much more immersive experience.  This sets the new phones up to be great VR platforms. 

The Experience

An event like this lets us see and feel the future, and one of the most compelling features was the rendered pictures.  The rendered pictures with textures and liquids were indistinguishable from actual photographs.  They had depth, shadowing, and details that would have been amazing on a PC, let alone a smartphone.

Actual pictures were also amazing. They can do digital enhancements that rival and sometimes exceed a DLSR (Digital Single Lens Reflex professional grade camera), because the DLSR doesn’t have the processing power to enhance the pictures it takes.  Granted, you’ll have lens limitations, but that seems a small limitation.    

The coming phones will also have a feature called Zeroth Scene Detect.  This allows the phone to identify the objects in the picture, so the pictures can be auto indexed and searchable.  

The surround sound experiences rivaled game consoles.  Headphones adapt to make sounds move around the listener in a full sound field.  Sounds come from the sides and behind you, much like a high end sound system.  

This has a new Quick Charge system, which charges the phone even more quickly – on top of a near 30% reduction in power consumption over the last generation.  Typically, year over year power reductions are closer to 5%. 

Wrapping Up

So if you’re going to be in the market for a smartphone next year, you’ll see a huge performance bump and a significant increase in battery life.  This means more console-like games, faster charging with less battery anxiety, much more impressive pictures, and even future VR potential.  This type of performance jump typically happens about once a decade. This is that jump.   




Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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