Snapdragon 855 is the name of the next flagship chipset from Qualcomm that will power smartphones in 2019. The company unveiled the new chipset at its 3rd Annual Summit in Maui, Hawaii, same as last year when the Snapdragon 845 was announced. While the Day 1 Keynote focused heavily on 5G and how it will be transformative enough to be treated as a basic infrastructure like electricity, the Snapdragon 855 announcement came right at the very end. Qualcomm did not reveal the details of the upcoming chipset except for the fact that it will be faster than the previous generation with AI capabilties that is reportedly 3 times better.
The rumours are strong that the Snapdragon 855 is based on a 7nm manufacturing process, yet it’s still not confirmed. What we do know for sure is that the Snapdragon 855 will be the first mobile chipset to come with an integrated 5G modem. Qualcomm will also offer the chipset with 4G LTE capabilties for markets where 5G is far from being a reality (Read: India).
The Snapdragon 855 will have a 5G NR (New Radio) integrated to enable smartphones to leverage 5G connectivity across both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequencies. With features like adaptive beam forming and multiple antenna configurations, the 5G modem in the Snapdragon 855 is going to help smartphones make actual use of 5G networks. In that regard, both Verizon and AT&T, along with telecom providers from China, South Korea, Japan and Europe are ready to deploy their 5G networks commercially in 2019.
Qualcomm has scheduled a keynote address focused on the Snapdragon 855 on Day 2 of the summit, that is tomorrow, where it is likely going to outline the CPU microarchitecture, GPU improvements and other key details. Meanwhile, the company did announce some interesting features of the Snapdragon 855.
4th Generation AI Engine
The Snapdragon 855 will play host to the 4th generation AI Engine. At the keynote, Qualcomm said the AI Engine on it will rely on the Kryo CPU, the Adreno GPU and the Hexagon ISP to crunch through machine learning processes despite strong rumours suggesting that the flagship chipset will house a dedicated NPU. We are awaiting more details on the AI capabilties, but Qualcomm did hype it up by claiming it is two times ahead of a certain 7nm SoC that’s Android compatible, a clear jab at Huawei’s Kirin 980 that powers the Mate 20 Pro. The AI Engine also bring a 3X jump in AI performance over the Snapdragon 845.
Computer Vision capable ISP
The next-generation Spectra ISP on the Snapdragon 855 will have computer vision capabilities. It’s the same technique that allows Google to provide features like Night Sight on the Pixel 3 XL, and by the looks of it, Qualcomm will democratise it and allow other OEMs to make use of computer vision techniques to recognise, understand and take actions based on the environment you are shooting. That should mean a big improvement in the way AI works in cameras. There will be further information on the new ISP in the keynote address scheduled for tomorrow.
3D Sonic Sensor
Qualcomm demonstrated it’s own take of in-display fingerprint sensor at MWC, Barcelona in 2018, and in the Snapdragon 855, the tech will be baked-in. Qualcomm’s take is different from the one that the OnePlus 6T uses, in the sense that it relies ultrasonic sound waves to create an accurate 3D image of your finger’s unique ridge patterns. Qualcomm named it the 3D Sonic Sensor and claimed the technology will be the most secure biometric authentication among mobile devices. While that remains questionable, Qualcomm did say the technology will work even when your finger is wet or oily.
Snapdragon Elite Gaming
The Snapdragon 855 will not only have a more powerful Adreno GPU (again, no specific, technical details have been revealed yet), Qualcomm said it’s working with major mobile gaming companies to offer a service that it called “Snapdragon Elite Gaming”. It sounds a lot like Huawei’s GPU Turbo with Qualcomm working to optimise popular mobile games to run best on the Snapdragon mobile platform. The company also promised “console-grade graphics” in a mobile device, which again sounds highly ambitious and I’ll reserve my skepticism till I actually get my hands on the tech.
Nevertheless, the Snapdragon 855 will power most flagship and high-end devices in 2019, competing against Huawei’s Kirin 980, the Samsung Exynos 9820 and of course, the Apple A12 Bionic. While Qualcomm will do its best to promote the chipset and it’s capabilities, it will have to face the reality of decreasing smartphone sales. New reports are claiming that people are choosing to stick to their existing devices for longer, with mobile performance saturating at its peak.
We will have more details to share about the Snapdragon 855 tomorrow, as Qualcomm’s Annual Summit hits Day 2, so stay tuned for updates.
Disclaimer: Qualcomm paid for the author's travel and stay at Maui, Hawaii for the 3rd Annual Snapdragon Summit 2018.