Think Hawaii, and you’d likely associate the Pacific outpost with glistening white beaches, laid back vacations, loud floral print shirts and sunset cocktails…for most of the year, that is. For just a few days toward the end of the year, a motley crew of technology executives from Qualcomm descend on the island of Maui to serve up a frenetic series of launches showcasing the bleeding edge of what the company has in store for consumer devices in the year ahead. At the 7th annual Snapdragon Summit this week, Qualcomm has unveiled their latest premium flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that will power the likes of the next OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo and Samsung flagships launching over the next quarter, and set the tone of what one can expect from the big guns in the months ahead. What should the average consumer look forward to in phones packing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2?
Big gains in performance: The new custom Kryo CPU design on the chip features what is known as a tri-cluster architecture, in that you have a high-end Cortex X3 ‘Prime’ core running at 3.2GHz assisted by 4 performance cores (2.8 GHz) and 3 efficiency cores (2.0 GHz) – and the choice of 4 performance cores and 3 efficiency cores is a departure from Qualcomm’s 3 performance and 4 efficiency cores from earlier chipsets. While the new prime core and performance cores are responsible for a 35% increase in performance, the efficiency cores that handle mundane everyday tasks allow the chip to be 40% more power efficient than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip. Note, these are claimed gains against the 8 Gen 1 chip from a year ago, and not the upgraded Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 which showed marked improvement in the efficiency department, so we’ll have to wait for actual devices to hit to be able to compare.
Modest gains in graphics performance: The 8 Gen 2 comes with a new Adreno graphics chip (GPU) that promises to offer up to 25% better performance and 45% better power efficiency. Aside from support for the Vulkan 1.3 open standard for 3D graphics, the big news this time around is support for real-time hardware-accelerated ray tracing at a mere power draw of 5W. Ray tracing has traditionally been the holy grail of computer graphics on PCs and consoles, and the technique simulates a realistic image by calculating each ray of light and generating life-like lighting, reflections and shadows. Based on the footage one saw in the Oppo demo at the event, the impact on mobile gaming is expected to be profound – console level realism in your hand!
Smarter chips: If 5G was the buzzword at previous Snapdragon Summits, this time was all about AI, with Qualcomm going so far as to say the new 8 Gen 2 chip was “purpose-built for AI”. The new chip has an upgraded Qualcomm Hexagon processor, which claims to offer improved AI performance in different tasks, such as simultaneous on-device multi-language translation and transcription or improved network handling capabilities even in patchy networks. The result of the new Hexagon processor architecture and a new technology called “micro tile inferencing” is a 4.35x jump in performance and an equally impressive 60% improvement in performance per watt efficiency, the latter driven in large part by support for the INT4 AI precision format. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 also introduces what Qualcomm terms the Hexagon Direct Link - a physical link between the Hexagon processor and the other AI processing cores for fast, real-time processing – which enables some of the new camera AI features we’ll touch upon later. There’s even a second AI processor for real-time sensor processing even when the phone is in sleep mode, say for scanning a QR code when the phone has just been retrieved from your pocket. At other times, the real-time sensing can be used to monitor the user to unlock the phone automatically or enable a privacy mode when more than one face is looking at screen or automatically lock the phone when the owner steps away.
Snapdragon Sight: Thanks to the AI engine informing each element of the chip, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 offers what Qualcomm terms as the world’s first Cognitive Image Signal Processing (Cognitive ISP) – a fancy term for the ability to offer real-time segmentation of the image being seen by the camera into its base elements - face, hair, clothes, skies, objects etc – and applying custom treatment to each element (bump up the saturation of the sky, without doing the same for your skin tone) without applying these changes at large to the whole image. Qualcomm also announced support for the next generation of image sensors – for example, Sony and Samsung have developed sensors that offer high dynamic range images captured over four differently exposed frames, plus support for the new 200MP Samsung ISOCELL HP3 sensor. Video playback via the AV1 codec has also been bumped up to 8K HDR video running at 60 frames per second.
Better Connectivity: Aside from the AI benefits on 5G connectivity, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is the first Qualcomm chip to support 5G Dual-SIM Dual-Active (DSDA), which allows the simultaneous use of two 5G SIM cards at once. Other enhancements include Wi-Fi 7 connectivity support with up to 5.8Gbps speeds (almost twice that of Wi-Fi 6) and support for Bluetooth 5.3 which brings in dual connectivity and reduced 48ms gaming/streaming latency. The chipset also natively supports 48khz lossless music streaming and dynamic spatial audio, the latter being able to sense head movements to adjust the sound accordingly.
When are the 8 Gen 2 phones coming?
Better battery life, improved AI capabilities across the board, and better gaming – what’s not to love about the next set of flagships with an 8 Gen 2 heart beating inside? Qualcomm estimates that the first devices from partners (Redmagic, Honor, ZTE, Xiaomi, Meizu, Vivo, Sony, Redmi, OPPO, nubia, Motorola, OnePlus, Sharp, Asus, and iQOO) should land earliest by the end of 2022, and how the new chip compares to the likes of the recently launched MediaTek Dimensity 9200 or the Apple silicon in the iPhones 14 Pro will be a battle worth watching.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets at @2shar. The author traveled to Hawaii on Qualcomm’s invitation to attend Snapdragon Summit 2022.