- The iPhone 12 series features the best mobile processor in the industry, a component that has no rival from Android device makers.
- Qualcomm has just announced the Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip (SoC), revealing the various features the chip will support and the partners that will use it in 2021 Android flagships.
- The announcement delivered a few surprises, including a few exciting revelations about the capabilities of the chip. But Qualcomm’s new processor might not be used on future Samsung and Google devices.
Apple’s newly released iPhone 12 series features the world’s best smartphone processor, taking the crown from its predecessor. The iPhone 11 is still faster in benchmark and speed tests than any 2020 Android flagships and comes second only to the iPhone 12. Furthermore, a version of the 5nm A14 Bionic inside the new iPhone series is powerful enough for MacBooks. That’s the M1 series chip that outperforms most PCs out there, whether they’re based on Intel, AMD, or ARM.
Every year, Qualcomm puts out the best possible response to the latest A-series processor. Companies like Samsung, Huawei, and MediaTek release their own chips for the next generation of smartphones. But every year, Qualcomm comes in second. The company’s response to the A14 is called Snapdragon 888, the successor of the Snapdragon 865, and a component that will power the most important Android flagship phones of 2021. Qualcomm revealed everything about it, including a few surprises.
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Arm announced earlier this year its new generation of silicon designs, including the Cortex-A78 CPU, the Mali-G78 GPU, and the Ethos-N78 NPU. At the same time, the company revealed a brand new Cortex-X1 chip that would allow companies to create even more powerful flagship phones than before. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Qualcomm or anyone else would go for the Cortex-A1 architecture, which Arm said would bring peak performance improvements of up to 30%.
Thankfully, the Snapdragon 888 that was announced earlier this week is based on the Cortex-A1. The 5nm chip features one Cortex-A1 core, 3 Cortex-A78 performance cores, and 4 Cortex-A55 efficiency cores. It’s still an eight-core processor, but it should be much faster than the Snapdragon 865 that it replaces, thanks to this specific arrangement.
Qualcomm says the chip will deliver 25% speed gains of the 865 and efficiency improvements of up to 25%. The 888 also packs an Adreno 660 GPU that should bring a considerable performance bump over 865 — that’s 35%, according to Qualcomm. GPU power efficiency will increase by up to 20%, according to Qualcomm.
The Snapdragon 888 will also deliver one other major upgrade. It will come with a built-in X60 modem. That wasn’t the case last year. The 865 requires a separate modem purchase, and the entire combo can be quite expensive. That’s supposedly the reason why Google chose the cheaper 765 series for the Pixel 5, a chip that comes with integrated 4G/5G connectivity. The X60 modem also comes with support for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E.
The 888’s ISP can process photos and videos of up to 2.7 gigapixels per second or 120 12-megapixel photos per second. The chip will actually include three Spectra 580 ISPs, one for each of the main rear cameras on a flagship phone.
Finally, the chip will include a new Hexagon 780 AI processor that will deliver impressive gains for neural processing gains — AI will perform 26 trillion operations per second compared to 15 trillion for the 865.
The more powerful processor will support additional features that should further improve the Android experience on flagship phones. We’re looking at support for screen refresh rates of up to 144Hz. A new sensing hub will allow the phone to detect contextual gestures, like earthquakes and car crashes, and phone events, like waking the screen and lifting the device.
Qualcomm also revealed the companies that will release Snapdragon 888-based phones to take on the iPhone 12 next year. It all starts with the new Xiaomi Mi 11 that’s coming this year. Later, companies including LG, Motorola, OnePlus, and Oppo will also employ the new chip in high-end phones. Notably absent from the list of partners are Samsung and Google. This might indicate that both companies are going alone this year — or they might not be ready to commit to the 888. But both Samsung and Google are rumored to make new processors for the Galaxy S21 and Pixel 6, respectively. And it’s actually Samsung that might be in charge of Google’s custom chip.