Qualcomm unveils its new flagship smartphone SoC

If you buy a top of the range Android phone — Google and Huawei handsets aside — it’ll likely pack a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip. But that won’t be Qualcomm’s top tier chip for much longer, as the firm has unveiled its successor: the 4nm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.

Yes, Qualcomm has ditched the triple-digit naming convention for something equally forgettable, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and the company is promising a solid set of improvements that will push 2022 Android flagships (and probably a couple of 2021 ones if they get a move on) to the next level.

In terms of raw day-to-day performance, you probably won’t notice that big a difference if you’re coming from a Snapdragon 888 or 888 Plus device, though Qualcomm says that the new eight-core Kryo CPU will offer around 20% better performance while delivering 30% more power efficiency. 

Those gains get better elsewhere. The company’s seventh-generation AI engine will handle artificial intelligence based tasks up to four times faster, apparently, while the new Adreno GPU will provide 30% faster rendering to make games that bit snappier.

It’ll come with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X65 5G modem built in, too. This theoretically supports speeds of up to 10Gbps, but good luck getting close to that in the real world. Speaking of things that aren’t really that useful outside of bragging rights, this will apparently be a chipset capable of shooting 8K HDR footage at 30 frames per second.

More usefully, still photography should be vastly improved thanks to the introduction of an 18-bit image signal processor (ISP) which will allow the chip to process 4,096 times more data than the 14-bit ISP in the Snapdragon 888 with up to four new stops of dynamic range. This will allow you to capture up to 140 12MP snaps in a second, which should really help low light and HDR photography.

This is also where that improved AI engine comes into play, with a whole bunch of AI enhanced camera features, including improved auto-exposure, auto-focus and auto face detection. 

There’s also room for some neat tricks from another ISP designed to allow always-on camera systems. Why would you want an always-on camera system? Qualcomm suggests it’ll be able to do neat things like turning off the screen when it detects the phone has been put down, or if it suspects someone is reading over your shoulder — which sounds like a pain if you’re actively trying to show someone something, but there we are.

All very interesting, but the real proof will be when the benchmarks come through from the first handsets out the traps packing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. That’ll likely be the Xiaomi 12 or the Motorola Moto Edge X30, both of which are set to land before the year’s out.

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