Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 – What You Need to Know
December 6, 2018 Andrew Cheng

Qualcomm has revealed its next generation flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 855. Likely to power the majority of high-end smartphones next year, the 855 brings with it a slew of improvements, including 5G support, better power efficiency, and notable performance gains.

Well, here’s what you need to know about the Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm’s best chipset yet.

Much like the Apple A12 Bionic and Huawei Kirin 980 chips, the Snapdragon 855 is also built on a 7nm process. The biggest change the smaller manufacturing node brings is superior power efficiency, which should translate to better battery life on devices with the new chipset.

Of course, the Snapdragon 855 also offers better performance level. According to Qualcomm, the 855’s Kryo 485 cores deliver up to 45% better CPU performance. These eight cores are divided accordingly: one 2.84GHz prime core, three 2.42GHz performance cores, and finally, four 1.8GHz efficiency cores.

The Snapdragon 855’s new Adreno 640 GPU, on the other hand, is said to bring 20% improvement in the graphics department. This isn’t a huge leap in performance, but we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve tested a device powered by the new chipset.

Performance aside, what’s particularly interesting about the Snapdragon 855 is its focus on 5G technology. However, the chip itself doesn’t offer 5G support. Instead, it’s a separate add-on in the form of the X50 modem that manufacturers can opt to include.

On its own, the Snapdragon 855 comes with the X24 modem, which is still plenty capable. It enables support for Cat 20 LTE speeds of up to 2Gbps – this is the first chip in the world to offer this capability – and faster WiFi speeds. Chances are, a lot of manufacturers will go for this X24 modem without the addition of the X50 modem.

Not only will the X50 modem add to the cost of the chipset (effectively increasing the price of devices with said modem), 5G network is still…well, not widely available. That being said, we imagine there will be manufacturers which will implement the X50 modem anyway despite the increased cost – it’s good marketing.

AI is also another area Qualcomm is focusing with the Snapdragon 855. The chipset’s fourth generation AI engine – which is made up of the Kyro 485 CPU, Adreno 640 GPU, and a new Hexagon processor, which is made for accelerating AI-related tasks – brings up to three times better performance in AI tasks. Supposedly, the 855 has double the performance level of its competitors too in this area.

But these improvements wouldn’t mean anything if it’s not used, so Qualcomm is working with Google to take advantage of the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability. Google Lens, for one, will work faster on devices powered by the new chipset. According to The Verge, several key Lens processing are done on the chipset itself, resulting in better efficiency.

Qualcomm is tweaking how the Snapdragon 855’s image signal processor (ISP) works too. The new Spectra 380 ISP can now do 4K HDR video recording at 60fps, while simultaneously allowing depth sensing features. This, in turn, allows manufacturers to, say, enable Portrait Mode in real time.

Interestingly, Qualcomm is also adding support for high efficiency image files (HEIF) with the Snapdragon 855, which offers a number of advantages over the JPEG file format. The most immediate benefit of HEIF is the fact that it takes up less space to save images, and more importantly, Android 9 Pie supports the file format too.

If HEIF sounds familiar, it should – Apple transitioned to this file format for quite some time now on iOS and macOS.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is a marked improvement over the Snapdragon 845, and its many new features are quite exciting. It will without a doubt be featured in a large number of flagship smartphones next year, and it will be bringing true 5G connectivity to consumers.

But whether or not the industry is ready for 5G is a different question altogether, especially when it comes to the availability of 5G network. Nonetheless, the Snapdragon 855 is a promising chipset.