Following over a year’s worth of rumors and anticipation, Samsung finally announced its next ultra-premium mobile chip in the form of the Exynos 9820, detailing what’s almost certainly the silicon that will end up powering the international variants of all of its 2019 Android flagships, including the lineup that’s now the closest to being released – the Galaxy S10. The basic characteristics of the new chip are hence a great indication of what consumers can expect from Samsung’s first high-end smartphone series of 2019, and that’s exactly what’s being dissected here.
Don’t expect a 4K display
In terms of displays, recent rumors point to the Galaxy S10-series devices featuring a literal hole near the top of their screens but the actual resolution on offer likely won’t go beyond the QHD+ (2,960 x 1,440) one used by the last several generations of Samsung’s Android flagships. Yes, the Exynos 9820 can technically output a 4K image but so can the Exynos 9810 found inside the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9, yet both of those have (almost) the same pixel count as their predecessors. Not a single credible report has yet suggested an upgrade on the resolution front for the Galaxy S10 line and for practical intents and purposes, there’s little point in moving to 4K on a mobile screen, with VR being the only exception, though Samsung’s VR ambitions dropped in a considerable manner over the last several years.
More cameras than ever before
The Exynos 9820 can also support up to five imaging sensors in total, which is an upgrade compared to the previous chip and one that Samsung likely wouldn’t have invested in less it was planning to utilize the newly added ability to its full extent. Sure enough, several known insiders already claimed that one or two Galaxy S10-series devices will feature five sensors in total – a triple-camera setup on the back and a two-lens system on the front. While the Exynos 9820’s specifications give more credence to that possibility, they also go against one other recently made claim – that the Galaxy S10 will be dropping the infrared scanner found on every Samsung Android flagship since the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7. What’s widely considered to be the worst screen unlocking solution on contemporary Samsung smartphones due to issues with consistency, speed, and accuracy may still make a return next year given how the Exynos 9820 comes with built-in support for infrared scanners. Given how Samsung’s ultra-premium chips are exclusively used by the company’s high-end smartphones, the firm could have dropped this feature if it knew for certain that its device business was ditching the iris scanner with the Galaxy S10.
Expected performance jump with an unexpected process
In terms of performance, the international variants of the Galaxy S10 lineup which are expected to utilize the Exynos 9820 may not offer a noticeable improvement in everyday tasks. Samsung’s modern devices already run smooth, largely thanks to the company’s optimization efforts that did a lot to fix its past mistakes with mobile software, so tasks like launching and switching between apps probably won’t be significantly faster. As far as pure numbers are concerned, Samsung estimates the new chip can be 20-percent faster or up to 40-percent more energy efficient in single-core performance, i.e. deliver 15-percent greater multi-core performance. The fact that the octa-core processors uses three clusters instead of two should still allow it to gain an edge over many of its rivals in terms of battery life as it will be able to reserve the most power-hungry dual-core configuration for only the most demanding apps and keep things efficient at all other times by switching between another balanced dual-core (Cortex-A75) cluster and a low-powered quad-core (Cortex-A55) one.
While everyday use hence shouldn’t be too different compared to something like the Galaxy S9+, the Galaxy S10 line is expected to offer much greater performance in games given how the Mali-G76 is some 40-percent more powerful than the GPU found inside the Exynos 9810. Gaming should also be less taxing on the battery, with the GPU supposedly being up to 35-percent more energy efficient. Samsung should have been able to deliver even greater performance improvements if it built the Exynos 9820 on its recently completed 7nm EUV process but that surprisingly ended up not being the case. Instead, the new chip marks a move from 10nm to 8nm, whereas its two direct rivals — Kirin 980 from Huawei’s HiSilicon and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8150 — will both be using an even denser 7nm process node. While that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the Exynos Galaxy S10 models will be inferior to the Snapdragon ones in terms of efficiency, it does make such a scenario more likely, not to mention the fact that Qualcomm’s chips were already ahead Samsung’s ones in the graphics processing department for several years by now.
Faster storage & 4K HDR recording at last
The Galaxy S10 line was already expected to move to the UFS 3.0 storage standard and sure enough, Samsung’s new chip introduces support for this significant upgrade over UFS 2.1. In practice, consumers can expect up to three times faster read and write speeds compared to the Galaxy S9 series. One upgrade that was anticipated but won’t be happening in 2019 is the jump to LPDDR5x RAM. Samsung already completed the development of the new technology and has commercialized it for non-smartphone applications but the Exynos 9820 still only supports LPDDR4x memory.
The new chip also introduces support for 4K HDR recording, something virtually every non-Samsung flagship released this year already offered, so it will bring the Galaxy S10 on par with the competition in that regard. Samsung even went a step further by enabling 8K video capture but expect that feature to come with massive restrictions in terms of allowed clip length seeing how the internal storage of the new Android flagships would otherwise fill extremely quickly. On the bright side, the newly added 10-bit HEVC (H.265) codec is said to work wonders for high-quality video compression and the Super Slow Motion functionality allowing for 960fps capture on the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9 series will most likely be improved to 1080p resolution, up from this year’s 720p.
Samsung is making a big deal out of the neural processing unit of the Exynos 9820, promising the chip can make every smartphone feature much smarter. What that means for the Galaxy S10 is hard to tell but you can expect some of the same functionalities Huawei already included in its last several flagships such as intelligent scene recognition that adjusts shooting parameters based on what it sees. Bixby Vision should also be much more responsive, with the new chip handling AI tasks up to seven times faster than the Exynos 9810. However, the ultimate benefits the Galaxy S10 series will reap from the newly added NPU will heavily depend on how good of a job Samsung does at creating AI software to leverage the single-purpose chip. In theory, the upcoming devices should learn your habits and do what they can to accommodate them in a planned manner, whether through app suggestions, battery optimizations, or something else entirely.
The Galaxy S10 family should also be Samsung’s most secure smartphone lineup ever, not just because of the company’s Knox software that’s almost certainly making a return next year but also due to the addition of a physically unclonable function, what’s essentially a key and key manager tasked with storing and managing sensitive data such as your fingerprints which you’ll read through an ultrasonic in-display scanner that’s widely believed to be part of the new devices.
Forget about 5G until 2020
Previous rumors about a 5G Galaxy S10 model being in the work may have been credible but the Exynos 9820 doesn’t support 5G New Radio, meaning that even if such a device is in the works, it will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 successor who will offer optional 5G connectivity. Samsung’s new modem should still work wonders as it supports download speeds of up to 2Gbps but don’t expect your carrier to offer the necessary infrastructure for hitting anything close to that peak in your area. After all, even 1Gbps wireless connections are extremely rare as it was only last year that carriers were boasting about reaching them in labs. All in all, Samsung probably won’t be launching a mainstream 5G smartphone until 2020, with the Exynos 9830 or however the Exynos 9820 successor ends up being called being expected to be its first system-on-chip to have that functionality built-in.