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AH Primetime: The Snapdragon 820 Will Make 2016 Awesome

November 12, 2015 - Written By Daniel Fuller

Not too long ago, Qualcomm officially unveiled their upcoming flagship Snapdragon 820 chipset. Due to the chilly reception of the somewhat underwhelming and nigh-flammable Snapdragon 810, the tech world wasn’t exactly foaming at the mouth when the Snapdragon 820 was announced, especially since countless leaks and trickles of information made the contents of the announcement no big surprise. The thing is, everybody should have been losing their minds. With the 820, Qualcomm seems to be trying to reinvent the “gold standard” that the 800 line represented before the 810 messed up the public’s opinion and it looks like they’re going to have no trouble doing just that.

For starters, the heat issues that plagued the Snapdragon 810 are no more. This is for a multitude of reasons, the biggest of which is also the reason this chip will blow the 810 out of the water in the benchmarks; custom cores, known as Kyro. These custom 64-bit cores boast advancements across the board and use a new 14-nanometer manufacturing process, allowing more features to be crammed into a smaller space and eventually a lower cost. After using ARM’s reference designs almost to a T for a good while, with the Krait cores that dominated 2011 through 2014 being an exception by virtue of some changes rather than a reinvention of the reference model, Qualcomm is looking to bring their own game to the table this year. The Kyro custom cores are also much more power-efficient and cooler-running, negating the need for better cooling environments to make the chip work as intended, a la the Oneplus 2 and Nexus 6P. To help make things more power efficient, there’s even a “low-power island” in the Digital Signal Processor dedicated solely to sensor input.

The graphics chip in the 820, known as the Adreno 530, is said to be about 40 percent more powerful than the Adreno 430 found in the 810. While this may cause mobile game and emulator enthusiasts to salivate, just about everybody has a reason to be pleased about this. The faster graphics will be able to push higher resolutions, more objects and better effects, making the platform more ideal for VR than ever before and allowing phones with such crazy resolutions as 4K to launch programs, browse the web and make calls just as snappily as a device sporting a decent 1080p panel. Naturally, super high-res media, console level high-end games, advanced VR apps and things like CAD applications or video editing that have never been possible on ARM processors before may start to show up, at least in proof of concept forms.

The chip boasts a brand new X12 LTE modem that supports LTE-A and LTE-U technologies, allowing speeds up to 600mbps. With LTE-U, carriers can also toss customers between LTE and Wi-Fi more seamlessly and use unlicensed, unused Wi-Fi spectrum to boost their LTE networks. Of course, this also means wider global LTE support to help out the growing unlocked market and compatibility with more LTE bands, allowing the upcoming spectrum auction in the U.S. and what many hope will be its worldwide implications to benefit a larger number of devices, potentially at a lower cost. Support for upcoming Wi-Fi standard 802.11ad is also on board, guaranteeing future relevance with speeds in the 5 to 6 gigabit range at best. Real-world speeds may not reflect that for a while, even under optimum conditions, but it will be faster than the current 802.11ac standard. On top of that, “Trusignal” technology, as seen in the LG V10, will prevent signal interruptions from hands, metal cases and the like.

Also on board is Sense ID, Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint solution. Unlike traditional fingerprint sensors, dirt or debris on the finger won’t affect the reading. Additionally, fingerprint sensors will no longer require a dedicated spot and can be embedded in just about any material. Fingerprint sensor on the rear power button of the LG G5? You got it. Fingerprint sensor on screen, sci-fi style? Yeah, it’s happening. Naturally, this will allow a lot more freedom with design for OEMs without having to sacrifice biometric security or go for the more expensive and error-prone iris scanner.The new chip seems set to offer tons of benefits to consumers, so long as it sees enough adoption despite Qualcomm’s tarnished reputation.