Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit is the chipmaker’s opportunity to showcase its latest silicon and the advancements its technologies are bringing to the next wave of devices and experiences across mobile, auto, audio, mixed reality and more.
As part of the process, it’s also where the company’s next flagship mobile chip also makes its debut (the one that’s likely to power the next wave of top Android phones), and sure enough, on November 15th, the highlight of the first Summit day was the presentation of Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.
Flights and accommodations for this launch event were funded by Qualcomm, but views reflect the independent opinion of the writer.
Those following Qualcomm’s current mobile chipset naming convention might have already guessed that – following the departure of a triple-digit system the year before – the successor to 2021’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 would be the 8 Gen 2, and now this has been galvanized.
For those familiar, the CPU’s underlying architecture (one ‘main’ core, supported by four performance cores and three efficiency cores) might not seem like a notable departure from its predecessor, but Qualcomm has made a myriad of tweaks to its latest and improved mobile device SoC (system on chip) that brings significant improvements to key aspects of the mobile computing experience; such as AI processing, game fidelity, image processing, connectivity and energy efficiency.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Qualcomm’s new flagship mobile chipset
- When is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 released? Consumers will likely get their hands on 8 Gen 2-powered smartphones as early as December 2022, but most devices using the chip will arrive in the first half of 2023.
- How much does the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 cost? Qualcomm is selling the 8 Gen 2 directly to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) – such as Motorola, OnePlus and Xiaomi – so that end consumers only pay for the silicon as part of the total cost of the smartphones that use it. As the top of the line Snapdragon company’s latest generation, it will power devices that, at least at first, demand flagship prices; probably in the region of $800 / £700 / AU$1,200 and above.
So what are the most notable improvements the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 brings to the table, and why should you care enough to actually want to upgrade to a phone using it?
Cameras that understand what they are seeing
One of the most exciting enhancements set to deliver some of the most tangible benefits to users is the 8 Gen 2 ‘Cognitive ISP’.
What Qualcomm is calling a ‘world first’, this generation’s Spectra ISP (image signal processor) uses the existing image segmentation of its predecessor, but brings the added benefit of real-time processing. This means that your device’s camera will be able to distinguish the sky from the ground, your cat from the freshly made bed or the flower amidst the foliage in the background and, at a pixel level, apply color, tone, sharpening and reduction algorithms of noise to get the best final photo.
The real highlight is that it can apply this level of real-time processing to photos and videos and even show a more accurate final result image in the viewfinder during capture with minimal delay. So you know that what you see and what you’ll get after you press the shutter or record will reflect each other more directly.
A feature that will undoubtedly help the next wave of best camera phones stand out from their non-8 Gen 2 competition.
Improved game visuals including ray tracing
In 2021, one key area where Samsung’s own Exynos 2200 chip stood out from its rival – the 8 Gen 1 – was the inclusion of support for hardware-accelerated ray tracing (expect better visuals in games, punctuated by accurate reflections , soft shadows and ambient occlusion).
Naturally, Qualcomm was eager to address this with its upcoming follow-up, and sure enough, 8 Gen 2, it commits to delivering hardware-accelerated ray tracing on mobile devices; with confirmed partners such as the maker of some of the best gaming phones – Red Magic, and supported titles like War Thunder.
The Adreno GPU running on 8 Gen 2 promises 25% faster performance while delivering up to 45% greater power efficiency, along with new support for Vulkan 1.3, the Chinese ‘HDR Vivid’ standard and a feature called OLED aging compensation as well.
More concurrent AI tasks using less energy
AI (yes, artificial intelligence) has been the rising star in mobile computing for the last few years and that trend continues on the rise with 8 Gen 2.
While all core elements of the SoC already leverage AI to some degree, this generation’s dedicated Hexagon processor offers an overhauled toolset (including a Tensor accelerator that’s doubled in size) set to deliver some significant gains.
Qualcomm promises a 4.35x speed boost when running AI-based tasks, thanks – in part – to the fact that the 8 Gen 2 is the first of its kind to leverage something called INT4 precision (integer 4); enabling 60% more AI-based tasks to run concurrently per watt.
Through what can only be arcane magic, Qualcomm is able to reduce 32-bit processes to 4-bit without compromising the quality of the datasets being processed, which Ziad Asghar – Vice President of Product Management at Qualcomm – told , values at a 64x power reduction.
Always up to date detection hub updated
Modern phones can already help us move from the analog world to the digital one; with features like semantic text recognition and object recognition, but the Sensing Hub inside the 8 Gen 2 is specifically designed to help with these tasks; boasting two AI processing cores for up to twice the AI performance compared to 8 Gen 1, along with 50% more memory than before.
The Sensing Hub supports an ‘always-sensitive camera’ (a reworking of last-gen’s ‘always-on camera’), which is great for everything from QR code scanning to facial proximity detection, facial recognition and even eye tracking – all without have to actively open your device’s camera app.
Asghar confirmed to that several OEM partners are particularly interested in this aspect of the Sensing Hub, suggesting that the next wave of 8 Gen 2 powered phones may very well have the ability to scan and activate QR codes and the like without even needing to be enabled or for specific apps to be opened to interact with them.
Despite its always-on nature, Qualcomm also claims that data processed by the Sensing Hub does not leave your device.
5G and WiFi even faster and more flexible
Packing the Snapdragon X70 5G modem, the 8 Gen 2 not only supports up to 10 Gbps down and 3.5 Gbps up in 5G, but is the first on the scene to boast DSDA (Dual SIM Dual Active) for two 5G SIMs, simultaneously and it also has its own AI processor to optimize the mobile performance and power.
As before, mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G, along with standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes are all supported.
What’s more – even though WiFi 6E looks like it’s just out – the FastConnect 7800 inside the 8 Gen 2 makes it one of the first pieces of consumer silicon to support WiFi 7 bandwidth and speeds; second only to MediaTek’s new Dimensity 9200 chipset, which was announced just a few days earlier.
With the growing popularity of video streaming at ever-increasing fidelity and bitrates, along with the growing interest in cloud gaming and competitive mobile gaming, these updates are essential to allow these experiences to continue to evolve.
Everything else you need to know about the 8 Gen 2
Touched at the beginning of this article, the 4nm 8 Gen 2 manufactured by TSMC features a now familiar Kryo octa-core CPU architecture; divided into one Cortex-X3 main core (clocked up to 3.2 GHz), four performance cores (clocked up to 2.8 GHz) and three efficiency cores (up to 2.0 GHz) – marking a change that see fourth core efficiency now instead manifest as fourth core performance.
Asghar mentioned that these large cores are closer to the power consumption of smaller cores than ever before, reflected in the 8 Gen 2 Kryo CPU’s promise of a 35% speed improvement, but at the same time promising a 40% power savings .
Another big update for media lovers is the chipset’s new dynamic spatial audio functionality; allowing the sound in spatialized content to shift in relation to the position of the listener’s head, which promises to provide a more immersive media consumption.
Which phones will use the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2?
While Oppo is the first company to confirm that its upcoming Find X-branded flagship Android phone (assumed to be the Oppo Find X6 series) will run on Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (though no release date has yet been confirmed). Qualcomm detailed several other partners in the chip’s presentation.
Asus, Honor, Motorola OnePlus, Oppo, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE and more have committed to delivering devices with 8 Gen 2 technology in the near future, however, who will be first remains to be seen.
Xiaomi and Motorola have vied for the claim of offering the world’s first phone running on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, with the Motorola Edge X30 overtaking the Xiaomi 12 for the December 2021 position. two horses before we play in 2023.