It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for a new brain behind all those upcoming flagship Android smartphones. As usual, most of those phones will be powered by a Qualcomm SoC — an all-in-one mobile chipset that includes the CPU, GPU, image processor, modem, audio processor, and a handful of other chips that work to make smartphones smart. This year, it’ll be the Snapdragon 835 doing the heavy lifting.
Qualcomm first announced the 835 in November, but they’re fully detailing it this week at CES. It’s arguably the biggest news of the year in Android smartphones — the 835 establishes the ceiling for smartphone potential in the new year (or at least until Qualcomm finishes an improved model).
As usual, improvements to the CPU will lead to more power and efficiency, the latter translating to more battery life. The new octa-core Kryo 280 CPU has four 2.45 GHz cores doing the hard work, plus four lower-power 1.9 GHz cores that can handle less intense tasks, saving power. The power boost comes thanks to the use of a new 10 nm manufacturing process. Qualcomm is partnering with Samsung to manufacture the chips, as Samsung, for now, is the only company that is ready to start producing 10 nm chips for commercial use.
The 835 will move up to the Adreno 540 GPU, which improves the color spectrum possible on smartphones. The new GPU also enables 4K HDR10 video on 10-bit displays, so every piece of the puzzle is in place when it comes to color fidelity. But, it’s hard to really appreciate those changes on the small smartphone screen. The real benefit will be seen in VR applications when smartphones are used in headsets — current mobile VR looks shabby, but that will start to change this year. Motion sensors and processors will also be improved, which should make head tracking for VR even smoother.
But, what good is HDR playback if you don’t have HDR content? Using Qualcomm’s new Spectra 180 image processor, smartphones running on the 835 will be able to have up to 32 MP single cameras or dual 16 MP cameras. They’ll be able to record 4K HDR video at 30 fps. Meanwhile, the audio processor can support DACs and amps of the highest order, both of which improve performance when listening to music with headphones or from those small smartphone speakers. To date, we’ve only really seen LG take advantage of this kind of technology with the LG V20, but that figures to change this year.
Connectivity will also be a big part of the 835. The new X16 modem supports even faster LTE connections, although you’ll need to be on an equally fast network to make use of that. Wi-Fi connectivity doesn’t change much — still supports dual-band 802.11 Wi-Fi — but it should consume far less battery power this time around. It’ll also support WiGig, a short-range, high-powered kind of Wi-Fi we usually see on laptops for the purpose of connecting wirelessly to docks or monitors. We might see a few more productivity-focused phones hit the market this year as a result. There’s also support for the new, more powerful Bluetooth 5 standard coming into use this year.
With a new year comes new Quick Charge tech, as well. Quick Charge 4.0 will still require the right cables and adapters, but it makes it possible to charge a phone to 50 percent in 15 minutes. Qualcomm is also working with Google to do their part to make sure their chipset can handle USB Type-C power safely from all sources.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC will start appearing in Android smartphones starting in the first half of this year.