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What the Snapdragon 865 means for your next smartphone


Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G Mobile Platform Reference Design In Hand

The Snapdragon 865 is Qualcomm’s latest flagship mobile chipset. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800-series inevitably end up powering the vast majority of each year’s premium smartphones and 2020 won’t be any different. If you’re planning to pick up a high-end Samsung, OnePlus, or Google smartphone next year, it’s probably going to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865.

The chipset is already promising fairly familiar improvements. Qualcomm is promising best-in-class performance across all the key areas, including sustained CPU performance, GPU performance boosts, and bleeding edge gaming features, as well as cutting edge AI and 5G performance.

But there’s much more to the Snapdragon 865 than the latest buzzwords. Here’s what Qualcomm’s next-generation chip means for 2020 smartphones.

Can’t wait? These are today’s best Android phones

5G everywhere

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 internals slide

Headlines for most of Qualcomm’s Tech Summit announcements feature 5G in some shape or form, and the Snapdragon 865 is no different. While the chip doesn’t benefit from an integrated modem, Qualcomm is definitely billing the 865 as a 5G-first platform for next year’s smartphones via pairing it with the Snapdragon X55 4G/5G modem.

Obviously that means more 5G phones, right? Well yes, that’s inevitable as technology rolls out. Manufacturers will definitely offer 5G models in countries with the infrastructure, but there may be some lingering regional variations. 5G, and certainly mmWave, phones still don’t make a lot of sense yet in most countries, and coverage is still spotty in the US, UK, and more. Plus, not everyone is willing to pay the 5G premium just yet.

We'll certainly see a lot more 5G phones in 2020.

That being said, with the Snapdragon 765 offering 5G at more affordable price points, there’s definitely going to be pressure on flagship phones to future-proof themselves with 5G capabilities. Personally, I think a wider range of flagships will support sub-6GHz 5G for global networks this year. Meanwhile, mmWave 5G will remain a niche feature targeted at specific markets. Qualcomm is aiming to simplify the development of different 5G models and scaling across price points with its 5G modular platforms.

5G will certainly be more common in 2020, but the market could also become a lot more confusing as well with sub-6 and mmWave handsets.

AI in your pocket

The Snapdragon 865 boasts 15TOPS of AI processing power — a new personal best for Qualcomm’s smartphone chips. Numbers look good on paper, but what does all this processing power help us users actually do?

We’re already using “AI” for a wide range of tasks, from on-device voice recognition and translation to camera product searches and photo enhancements. With more processing power comes the ability to perform even more advanced imaging and voice techniques, without draining your phone’s battery too quickly.

There are also potential improvements for the growing field of augmented reality as well as face detection security. However, most consumers probably care about taking better pictures. Google exemplifies how powerful AI photography can be and we’ll hopefully see similar capabilities in flagship powered by the Snapdragon 865.

Get serious about mobile gaming

ROG Phone 2 Front shot of gaming playing RipTide

If you don’t yet take mobile gaming seriously (you probably should, just look at the e-sport tournament turnouts), the Snapdragon 865 might change your mind. Along with the company’s most powerful smartphone Adreno GPU, the Snapdragon 865 unleashes a selection of new gaming capabilities. These fall under the banner of Snapdragon Elite Gaming features.

We can talk a bit more about specific Snapdragon 865 features later. However, Snapdragon Elite Gaming isn’t a new idea. Existing G-branded 700-series SoCs support features like higher refresh rate displays and 10-bit HDR rendering for more vivid colors. Suffice it to say that the Snapdragon 865 is going to be a great choice for mobile gamers.

High fidelity games will look and run better on 2020 flagship phones.

Better quality Bluetooth calls and music

AptX Voice was announced just before the Snapdragon Tech Summit, promising superior sounding voice calls when talking on your Bluetooth headphones. The Snapdragon 865 will likely support aptX Voice along with Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. Next-gen high-end smartphones will sport the very best wireless connectivity.

Not only that, but the next iteration of aptX Adaptive supports Hi-Res 24-bit 96kHz audio files too. For audio enthusiasts, there’s better quality music via Bluetooth on the way in 2020, and let’s not forget the fact that this codec is built for low latency, too. This is another big deal for the mobile gamers out there sporting Bluetooth headsets.

More 100 megapixel cameras

Two gigapixels per second Snapdragon 865 slide

Finally, if you think the trend for 64 and 108MP smartphone cameras is getting a little silly, you haven’t seen anything yet. The Snapdragon 865 supports cameras with resolutions beyond 100MP and with 2 gigapixels worth of image processing capabilities. Of course, we’ll need camera sensors to arrive as well, but the market appears to be heading that way.

Here at Android Authority, we’ve been a little underwhelmed with the consistency of the first 108MP sensors on the market. While not bad shooters, there are definitely limitations on the amount of detail you can capture from a small smartphone camera. Ultimately, megapixel numbers are more about advertising than a guarantee of quality.

Still, the Snapdragon 865 sports plenty of more useful new camera features, which we’ll be diving into with a dedicated article later.

Should I wait to buy a Snapdragon 865 smartphone?

2020 flagship smartphones powered by the Snapdragon 865 are still a few months away. New technology is always right around the corner, and while it’s tempting to hold out for something my advice is to always buy based on your actual rather than hypothetical needs.

Waiting for new flagship releases will expand your options if you’re in the market for a 5G device. Gamers will also certainly see some major benefits holding out for a Snapdragon 865 device, but otherwise, the chip isn’t going to fundamentally change the way you use your smartphone. If all you need is decent app performance, speedy internet, and a good camera, there are already excellent smartphones deserving of your money.

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