The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset was announced this week as a way to power a decade of fast 5G speeds, bokeh-rich portrait modes, and more in-screen fingerprint sensors.
It's the chip that's going to be at the heart of a majority of Android flagship phones that are launching in 2019? Which phones will feature Snapdragon 855? So far, we know that the next OnePlus phone will get it – likely the OnePlus 7 – and we fully expect the Samsung Galaxy S10 to take advantage of 5G speeds
The new chipset was unveiled at the Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii as an improvement to catch up to Apple's impressive A12 Bionic chips. Qualcomm is promising its chip will achieve twice the performance over an unnamed 7nm competitor – obviously referring to the iPhone XS chip.
The Snapdragon 855 chip platform goes hand-in-hand with the first 5G smartphone revealed today. This 5G phone is a reference design meant to provide a roadmap for companies to use Qualcomm's technology, though, not a commercial model. You won't be able to buy it, but it's very telling of what's to come in the future from Samsung, OnePlus and other companies.
Here's what we know on day two of the Snapdragon Summit.
Snapdragon 855 specs promise big performance boost
The Snapdragon 855 specs promise something the Snapdragon 845 chip couldn't do: beat Apple's A12 Bionic chipset. The dirty little secret of the 845 is that it was beaten by Apple's A12 and the prior year's A11 chipset.
Qualcomm plans to right this wrong in 2019, and it's doing so with a smaller 7nm chip that vastly improves efficiency over its prior 10nm chipsets. At the heart of the chipset is the Kryo 485 CPU, and that's where the biggest gains are. It's sees a 45% performance uplift on the Snapdragon 845 CPU, which Qualcomm says is the largest ever performance increase for a Snapdragon chipset.
Combined with 5G speeds via the X50 modem, this should give us wholly faster phones, not just the feeling of 'well, it's faster than last year's version.' The speed boost should be noticeable – at least, that's what Qualcomm promises.
The Snapdragon 855 chipset will also have better antennas, allowing for you to download 2Gbps LTE and, with 60GHz Wi-Fi (and world's first), speeds up to 10Gbps.
Better photos and XR experiences
Your camera is going to see a boost thanks to the Snapdragon 855 chipset, according to Qualcomm's early tease. It'll boast the world's first computer vision image signal processor (CV-ISP), meaning a chip dedicated to processing your photos and videos.
Portrait mode is coming to video via the Snapdragon 855 chip, allowing you to capture 4K HDR with depth sensing even at 60 frames per second. Photos are also getting new tricks: object segmentation and object replacement. A few phones makers have tried their hand at Cinemagraph modes (LG V40, Moto Z3), but it hasn't been pretty. This should enhance the moving picture effect with the feature being supported on the chipset itself.
You're going to see a lot more phones say goodbye to JPEG and start supporting HEIF for capture and playback for the primary image file format. This is the first time a Snapdragon chip has supposed High Efficiency Image File format for photos and video.
Only, Qualcomm said "We're going to enable everything else Apple didn’t." This means can store all sorts of data within the file and access the depth map to edit things later. You can store Wide, Super Wide, Telephoto, Portrait modes all on a single file.
Deep learning is going to be a big focus for the Snapdragon 855 chip. Qualcomm has worked with Nalbi, an AI software firm focused on vision solutions. They demoed a short video showing changing a woman's hair color.
Qualcomm is still pushing XR, which is the collective term used to to describe virtual reality (VR) and and argument reality (AR). It showed a sophisticated visual overlay through a pair of goggles while someone skiing down a mountain. It was a futuristic heads-up display (HUD) seen through some goggles, but there's no telling if this will in fact come out for consumer devices using the Snapdragon 855 chipset.
In-screen fingerprint sensor security
Qualcomm also finally announced the launch of its 3D Sonic Sensor. The company has long been working on an in-screen fingerprint sensor solution based on ultrasonic technology, and we're going to start seeing this in Qualcomm-powered smartphones.
Yes, we do already have in-screen fingerprint sensors on some phones. But ultrasonic fingerprint sensor technology is said to be superior to the optical under-the-glass tech out there now. And Qualcomm's plans for it are finally coming to fruition in the Snapdragon 855.
Qualcomm calls its 3D Sonic Sensor the "DSLR of fingerprint sensors". It's supposed to work even when your finger is wet or dirty. This new sensor will be ready to be used in phones in the first half of 2019, according to the company.
That could mean we'll see an in-screen fingerprint sensor in the next Samsung phone, which is expected to be the Samsung Galaxy S10, and several other major Android phones in 2019.
Here's another big-name phone that could use the sensor: OnePlus just confirmed that its next handset (which we expect to be called the OnePlus 7) will be 'the first to feature the Snapdragon 855'. Interestingly, the OnePlus 6T recently launched with an optical under-the-glass sensor, so Qualcomm could steal away OnePlus and have it use its budding fingerprint technology.
Snapdragon 855 phones list
Officially, there's only one currently-announced smartphone that will utilize the new Snapdragon 855 chipset: the rumored OnePlus 7. OnePlus confirmed that its next smartphone will be the first to 'feature' Qualcomm's chipset. However, this doesn't mean it'll be the first to launch with the chipset. Notice the careful language.
The obvious launch contender is the Samsung Galaxy S10, and the theoretical Galaxy S10 Plus. Tradition says these phones will launch at MWC 2019 in late February. Samsung manufacturers the Qualcomm chip, so it's a natural fit to be first – officially.
The Sony Xperia XZ4 and LG G8 may be next to follow, along with the OnePlus 7, Moto Z4 and something from HTC. The ZTE Axon 10, now that the Chinese phone maker is back in business, is a likely Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 user, too.
We'll continue to update this piece as phones with the Snapdragon 855 chipsets get announced – or when rumors emerge. We usually hear something solid in January, tying into CES 2019.