Update: We've taken a deeper dive into the Snapdragon 865, offering a preview of what's to come on Android phones, from 5G speeds, to the 200MP cameras to the desktop-class gaming performance. We also drew up a rumored Snapdragon 865 phones list.
The Snapdragon 865 chipset is 'loaded with 5G,' according to chip maker Qualcomm, and it's ready to power the next round of flagship-level Android smartphones starting in the second quarter of 2020.
The official Snapdragon 865 phones list will have to wait, but we anticipate it being at the heart of the Samsung Galaxy S11, Note 11, LG G9, OnePlus 8, Google Pixel 5 and so on. The first devices should launch at MWC 2020 given the second quarter timing.
Qualcomm's 5G-capable chipset, unveiled at its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii, foreshadows what to expect from your next phone. It'll be in the majority of the best phones – basically everything except Huawei phones and Apple iPhones.
But even iPhone owners should pay attention to the new Snapdragon 865 features. Qualcomm's roadmap often shapes where the mobile devices industry goes, and we know Qualcomm's modems are going to start being used in a 5G iPhone, likely one or more versions of the iPhone 12.
And even if you don't intend to buy a premium Android phone, some of the features, including 5G, do trickle down to mid-range chipsets, like the simultaneously announced Snapdragon 765.
Snapdragon 865 features are primarily focused on expanding 5G speeds, doubling down on gaming performance, and improving photo and video quality on the many, many cameras employed by smartphones these days.
Snapdragon 865 phones list
The biggest Snapdragon 865 question we've gotten is: which phones will use the Snapdragon 865 chipset? That's easy to speculate about, but much hard to answer with 100% certainty.
Drawing on last year's list, we can begin to figure out which phones should get the Snapdragon 865. Here's the rumored Snapdragon 865 phones list so far:
- Samsung Galaxy S11, Galaxy S11 Plus, and Galaxy S11e
- LG G9 and LG V60
- Sony Xperia 2
- OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8T
- Moto Z5 (will probably have a different name)
- Asus Zenfone 7
- Samsung Galaxy Fold 2
- Samsung Galaxy Note 11 and Galaxy Note 11 Plus
- ZTE Axon 11 Pro
- Google Pixel 5 and Pixel 5 XL
- Asus ROG Phone 3
There are surely more Snapdragon 865 phones from companies like Vivo, Xioami, and Meizu, though it's harder to draw successors to their current lineups. Rest assured, we expect most flagship Android phones to run this chipset.
And when it comes to Moto, its flagship phone could use the 865 chip, but we don't know if there'll ever be a 'Moto Z5'. Motorola's aging Moto Mod idea has limited the company's ability to offer a redesign, as the mods are all backward compatible. After four years of much of the same, we expect a full fresh and perhaps a new name.
Snapdragon 865 specs
Qualcomm is touting new architecture among its Snapdragon 865 specs, made up of a Kryo 585 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU, Spectra 480 ISP, Hexagon 698 processor and sensing hub. All of them will play a key part in deciding what your next phone is capable of doing.
Its CPU can run up to 2.84GHz, according to Qualcomm, and the GPU is supposed to offer 20% faster graphics rendering. We'll be running Snapdragon 865 benchmark tests soon to confirm these numbers.
The standout in the Snapdragon 865 specs sheet, however, is the 35% increase in the power efficiency for intense tasks, like gaming. As powerful as GPUs have become in smartphones, we know peak performance only lasts so long before throttling sets in. Qualcomm says it wants to go the distance with the new 865 chip.
Snapdragon 865 has 5G, but without integration
The Snapdragon 865 is driving 5G in two ways: it'll offer faster download speeds – up to 7.5Gbps – and be found in more smartphones you actually want in 2020.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 5G modem achieves these peak download speeds via mmWave and sub-6 standards, the backbone of 5G. But it also employs tricks like Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, which combines 5G and 4G spectrum for faster throughput.
Upload speeds are also set to improve, reaching 3Gbps in ideal 5G conditions. That's something we really haven't seen from carriers in our 5G speed tests in the US, as the hype around uplink speeds has long trailed good download speed performance.
Interestingly, the Snapdragon 865 is being coupled with the Snapdragon X55 5G modem as a separate chip. This means the modem isn't actually integrated into the mobile chipset, but you also won't be able to get a Snapdragon 865 phone without the 5G chip. They're a couple, so don't expect new 865 phones to be 4G-only.
That's more of a concern for smartphone manufacturers, which have to account for the modem within the confines of their devices and find ways to power the modem separately. But these concerns could affect the size and battery consumption of the next smartphones.
Snapdragon 865 is ready for 200MP photos, 8K video
Besides 5G, the most consumer-facing perks of the Snapdragon 865 chipset are the camera improvements. You'll notice an uptick in both photo and video quality.
Specifically, the Qualcomm Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor boosts the megapixel count to 200MP. Note: it's really up to phone manufacturers to use these grandiose capabilities, so you may not actually see 200MP smartphones yet.
For example, two years ago, we saw Samsung ditch HDR video capture when it was employed by the 845. This was reportedly done to keep parity with its Exynos chip, which didn't have HDR video capture capabilities and went into Galaxy S9 and Note 9 in some regions. The Galaxy S10 ended up being Samsung's first to capture HDR video.
When it comes to video for phones poised to use the Snapdragon 865 chipset, we're going to see 8K resolution video, one billion shades of color and support for the HGL format and Dolby Vision captured in real time.
Dolby Vision capture is going to be important simply because other phones out there right now have high-end screens that support seeing Dolby Vision. But capturing it is going to be limited to next year's Android phones – meaning your friends will see you amazing footage on their phone screens and have instant camera phone envy.
Slow motion video can be fun, but in 2019 it's fairly limited – super slo mo modes at 960fps often cut out after ten seconds. That's going to change in 2020 with unlimited super slow motion video. You'll also see slo mo at 4K 120fps. Goodbye 720p slo mo video.
Desktop-class gaming on a mobile phone
Qualcomm talked about mobile gaming with the Snapdragon 865 chip – a lot. And every time it did, the chip team kept referencing 'desktop-class gaming'. It sounds like marketing bluster, but there's something to that with the Adreno 650 GPU.
Desktop Forward Rendering is the first thing highlighted in Snapdragon 865 demos, and we did see a difference. It brings new lighting and post-processing effects closer to those that we see on PCs and consoles. In the demo, there was a marble rolling around a simple puzzle/platform environment and it had superior multi-angle reflections and shadows.
Game Color Plus had the same impact when we demoed a hack-and-slash strategy game. It looked noticeably more vibrant and saturated, which normally isn't a big feat. But Qualcomm says Game Color Plus does more than raise the saturation slide bar, it smartly boosts saturation and tone mapping, as to not totally blanket saturate everything including skin tones. Okay, now that's important.
We're unlikely to see many or any smartphones with a 144Hz display refresh rate in 2020, but that's the new ceiling for the Snapdragon 865 chipset. Most phones have a 60Hz refresh rate, though the OnePlus 7 Pro and its successors brought 90Hz to their popular lineup and the Galaxy S11 may dial up to a 120Hz refresh rate.
One more desktop-class thing, according to Qualcomm. Adreno 650 graphics chip is set up to receive updated drivers over time, much like you'd experience from a GPU on a gaming PC. It sounds simple enough – updates happen through an app store – but phone manufacturers using the Snapdragon 865 play a critical role in issuing the updates, and we all know that they're slow with Android operating system updates.
We'll have more specs and benchmarking information after the Snapdragon Tech Summit and update this page when we get the results.
- Comparison: Check out the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 feature set last year.