Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 promises big improvements to AI, performance, and connectivityDecember 5, 2018
Qualcomm officially took the wraps off the Snapdragon 855, its next generation processor, yesterday at the SnapDragon Tech Summit. At day two of the conference, Qualcomm is providing all the details on what the new processor will offer for the next wave of flagship phones. Qualcomm is focusing on several key areas for improvement with the Snapdragon 855, including connectivity, the camera, artificial intelligence, entertainment, and more.
On the connectivity front, the 855 chipset itself will feature Qualcomm’s new X24 modem — notably, not the X50 modem that will enable 5G functionality, which will be a separate add for companies that want to offer it. That’s important: Snapdragon 855 alone won’t give you full 5G. But the X24 is still a big jump over the existing X20 modem on the Snapdragon 845: the new chip supports up to 2Gbps speeds on LTE (Cat. 20), making it the first chip in the world to support that spec.
And the 855 will support both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G networks when paired with an X50 modem to give devices the full range of 5G support, something we’re already seeing with the upcoming 5G Moto Mod attachment, which has a full Snapdragon 855 processor inside.
“When it’s millimeter wave you’ll get really fast speeds, but if you roam out of that area we want to make sure users with that 5G mod will still get the fastest speeds,” Motorola’s Doug Michau told The Verge. Plus, the 855 will add faster Wi-Fi, too — Qualcomm claims it’s the first mobile chip with faster Wi-Fi 6 (formerly 802.11ax) and 802.11ay millimeter wave Wi-Fi which could, over a short range, provide up to 10Gbps speeds.
When it comes to performance, Qualcomm says the 855, which is the chipmaker’s first to use the 7 nanometer process (similar to Apple’s A12 Bionic), will offer 20 percent more graphics performance thanks to its Adreno 640 GPU. The Kryo 485 CPU will bring a 45 percent performance increase thanks to its eight cores; the CPU will have one prime core, three performance cores, and four efficiency cores, and Qualcomm says it’s the biggest CPU leap its ever produced. The 855 also has a Hexagon processor specifically dedicated to accelerated AI-related tasks.
As for as those AI performance gains go, Qualcomm is saying the Snapdragon 855 will big sizable improvements to tasks that rely on neural network-assisted software. The Adreno, Kyro, and Hexagon processors are all capable of working together to power AI tasks, and they all form what Qualcomm is calling its fourth generation AI engine. What all of that actual amounts to is a three-fold performance gain for AI-related tasks, and double the performance of competing mobile chips with regards to AI tasks.
Qualcomm says it’s been working with Google to advance the search giant’s open-source machine learning TensorFlow library specifically for on-device mobile performance. In terms of real-world products that partnership will impact, Qualcomm says the object and photo-recognition and AR platform Google Lens will see some big gains from the 855. Google says it’s moved some key Lens processing to the 855 directly, so phones using the chip won’t see latency or any other detriments caused by having to rely on cloud communication.
One example is text recognition using Lens, so you’ll be able to now point an 855-equipped phone and more efficiently identify and even translate text in the real world. In addition to text recognition, on-device TensorFlow improvements will let the 855 perform all sorts of vision-related tasks faster than before, including AR tricks like placing virtual furniture in a room to experiment with different home decors.
Another unique AI tasks that doesn’t involve vision at all is the ability to isolate someone’s voice on a phone call, to let you better hear that person if they’re in a noisy environment. Qualcomm also demoed onstage the ability to add a background blur effect to any photo, including those you download off the internet, using so-called real-time segmentation algorithms, which is a step above the portrait mode effects you get from iPhone and Pixel devices that require you use a special camera mode. This is thanks to a partnership with an AI company called Nalbi, which is also working with Qualcomm to add pretty impressive new features like changing your hair color in real time, in the event you want to see a new style before deciding to actually go through with it.