Meet Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855: AI boosts, a smarter camera, mobile gaming—and bye-bye, JPEG

A year ago, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 845, the brains behind flagship smartphones like the Google Pixel 3, the U.S. version of the Samsung Galaxy S9, OnePlus phones, and others. Now, Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon 855 promises those platforms even more enhancements: dedicated logic blocks for digital assistants, revamped camera logic for computer vision, specific gaming boosts. It also gives the traditional JPEG file format the boot.

According to Qualcomm executives, the goal for the Snapdragon 855 is to “unlock” AI and XR (mixed reality), with the new 5G capabilities leading the way. The company claims that it’s offering the first commercial mobile platform to support this trifecta.

Qualcomm’s next-generation 855 is due to ship during the first half of 2019, meaning that phone makers will be able to design and announce their own Snapdragon 855-based phones for launch later in 2019.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips are truly systems-on-a-chip (SoC), with an improved Adreno GPU and Kryo CPU, a Hexagon DSP that’s being repurposed for AI, and an increasingly more intelligent Spectra camera signal processor—often a key feature for phone buyers. Though each of the 855’s subsystems has been improved in its own right, Qualcomm also made one significant, overall improvement: While the Snapdragon 845 was manufactured on a 10nm process, Qualcomm has made the leap to 7nm with the Snapdragon 855.

Travis Lanier, Qualcomm’s senior director of product management, put it simply: The Snapdragon 855 will deliver 45 percent more performance than the 845 in the Kryo GPU, and 20 percent more performance in the Adreno GPU.

snapdragon 855 mobile platform chip compaison us coin 2 Qualcomm

Qualcomm hasn’t disclosed specifics such as the power consumption of the Snapdragon 855, but we know the chip is small.

Connectivity: Improvements beyond just 5G

Keith Kressin, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm, suggested that every generation of wireless technology took a decade to develop. What’s 5G bringing? “Massive amounts of connectivity,” Kressin said, together with a new ecosystem of applications that no one quite understands quite yet.

“One question that comes up quite frequently: What is 5G going to do for me?” said Durga Malladi, the senior vice president for 4G and 5G for Qualcomm. For a network operator, it means that users will stream more high-bandwidth movies, with less latency. 5G also enables connected PCs, he said.

Snapdragon Tech Summit Snapdragon 855 Mark Hachman / IDG

While 5G is revolutionary, you’ll probably see more benefit in the LTE enhancements.

More than 20 global operators and 20 global hardware makers are on board with 5G, Malladi said.

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