Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 Will Power Your 5G Phone In 2019

Qualcomm’s newest top-tier mobile processor is the Snapdragon 855. The company confirmed as much today during the keynote at its annual ‘Snapdragon Technology Summit,’ currently underway in Hawaii. Qualcomm opted not to provide too many details on the new Snapdragon 855 during the main announcement but has confirmed its name and that this will be the processor powering the next wave of flagship smartphones in 2019. Probably more interestingly, it will be the first processor fueling the initial wave of 5G-enabled smartphones. Much of the main presentation was actually 5G-themed, with AT&T and Verizon both in attendance at the event and demonstrating how much 5G progress they have made on expanding their networks and some of the use cases that are possible with 5G when those networks are coupled with a Snapdragon 855-equipped device.

Not just a 5G processor

5G is going to be one of the main focus points of this processor due to how significant it is to be 'first' to the market with a "ready" solution, as well as the fact that 5G support will filter through to almost every area of the device. Looking past that initial support though, and the Snapdragon 855 will be just as much about AI, with Qualcomm stating the Snapdragon 855, powered by the company’s fourth-generation AI Engine, will offer three times the AI performance that was on offer with its predecessor. In addition, the Snapdragon 855 is also going to make a big play for photography, and XR - the latter being the term the company often uses when referring to the collective ‘realities.’ As part of today's launch event, Qualcomm was particularly keen to highlight the on-the-go AR benefits that are on offer with the new 855 platform. This is all while providing the usual performance and battery improvements that have come through with each iteration of the Snapdragon line.

Better photos and gaming

Qualcomm confirmed the Snapdragon 855 makes use of an all-new “Computer Vision (CV) ISP” (a world's first), which among other things is designed to improve the quality of the camera features available on devices through the use of computational processing. Beyond announcing the new CV ISP and stating that it will help to facilitate "cutting-edge" photography and video capture, Qualcomm did not provide any additional information. Although the company did take a moment to also announce “Snapdragon Elite Gaming.” Once again, the details on this are a little thin at the moment, though Qualcomm is positioning the Snapdragon 855 as a chipset that brings “next-level gaming experiences to premium mobile devices,“ and hoping this will prove especially beneficial to those looking to get more involved with live multiplayer gaming. While these areas were only briefly touched on today, along with details on the Snapdragon 855, more information on the CV ISP and the Elite Gaming experience are expected to come through as the rest of the Tech Summit unfolds.

Background: The Snapdragon 855 platform represents the latest premium solution from Qualcomm in respect to smartphones and other mobile devices. Following on from the 2018 Snapdragon 845, the Snapdragon 855 is expected to come powering a number of high-profile smartphones in 2019. In fact, even though the processor was just announced and in spite of the lack of full details on what it can actually do, this is one that’s already been linked to a number of new smartphones, including one from HTC. Previously, it had remained unclear whether Qualcomm would opt for the use of the “855” moniker as expected. As although it followed on naturally from the Snapdragon 845, and 835 before that, recent rumors pointed to Qualcomm looking to further distance its mobile platform solution from the newer always-connected PC platform it now offers, starting with the Snapdragon 850. Therefore, it had also been suggested the latest mobile processor from Qualcomm may arrive branded as the Snapdragon 8150. Something that’s now clearly not the case, with the company deciding to stick with the 855 name after all.

Besides the 5G positioning, the rest of the headline features discussed today are not new in the grand scheme of things as most of these same functionalities were heavily touted during the Snapdragon 845 launch which took place at the same event last year. Therefore, the difference is not the features themselves but the improvements that have been made year-over-year in these specific areas of performance, which in turn are expected to allow users to do more with their smartphones than ever before. In some respects, this even applies to the 5G aspect as the company had already unveiled its Snapdragon X50 5G modem for smartphones in 2017, as well as its Snapdragon X24 LTE modem in early 2018. The latter of which is more of a stop-gap solution that allows multi-gigabit connections over 4G LTE. From the company's perspective, all of these improvements, and the fact they can be brought together under one mobile-based solution are designed as somewhat of a show of strength, and the opportunity to highlight this point was not lost in today's announcement, with Qualcomm once again driving home how its processor line is not in the earlier stages some others might be in, but is the result of refined products that have been built on a path set out by previous generations. This is not just a 5G-ready processor, but one that's been refined in all respects and is fully ready for commercial use.

Impact: With Qualcomm only providing superficial information on the new Snapdragon 855, it still remains to be seen how impacting the processor will be on the overall user experience. Although from the limited information that has now been provided, it is clear the new processor will focus on AI, camera features, VR/AR/MR, and gaming, in addition to its more widespread appeal as a 5G-enabled mobile platform. Much of the finer information, including what sort of levels of actual performance improvement consumers can expect will be explained in more detail as the week goes on. As today’s announcement was simply the entry-point to the three-day Hawaii event that's due to be filled with additional and micro-level Snapdragon 855 announcements.

Regardless of those improvements, as this is the high-profile mobile platform that it is, the Snapdragon 855 will be one of the main processors consumers will encounter in 2019 and this is irrespective of whether they are intentionally buying a ‘5G phone’ as most of the smartphones that will fall in the premium-priced category will likely come equipped with this processor by default. Speaking of which, Qualcomm has yet to announce which manufacturer(s) will be the first to launch an 855-equipped smartphone, though it's been just over 24 hours that Verizon and Samsung revealed a Galaxy-branded device with a Snapdragon chip and 5G capabilities will be launching in the first half of 2019, most likely referring to the Galaxy S10+ which is expected to be released by spring. Likewise, based on previous releases from this SoC series, it should be expected the initial batch of 855 phones will start to come through in the spring - with next-generation devices from Samsung and LG likely to be among the first wave. On one last point, while the features listed here are now being touted as ones that are improved on with this new processor, and available to buyers of phones in 2019, that is only half of that equation as the Snapdragon 855 simply makes these functionalities/improvements available at the processor level. It will still be up to the various manufacturers to take advantage of the processor improvements and translate them into real-world features that phone buyers can see and interact with.

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