Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit is an opportunity for the chipmaker to showcase its latest chip and the advances its technologies are bringing to the next wave of devices and experiences in mobile, automation, audio, mixed reality and more.
As part of the proceedings, this is also where the company’s next flagship mobile chip usually debuts (the one likely to power the next wave of top Android phones) and, of course, on November 15, the highlight of the first day of the summit was the unveiling of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.
Flights and accommodation for this launch event were funded by Qualcomm, but reviews reflect the independent opinion of the writer.
Those following Qualcomm’s current mobile chipset naming convention may have already guessed that – after departing from the three-digit system a year earlier – the successor to the 2021 Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 was supposed to be the 8 Gen 2, and now that has been galvanized.
For insiders, the CPU’s basic architecture (main core, backed by four performance cores and three performance cores) may not seem like a significant departure from its predecessor, but Qualcomm has made countless tweaks to its latest and greatest mobile SoC (system on chip), which brings significant improvements in key aspects of mobile computing; like AI processing, gaming fidelity, image processing, connectivity and energy efficiency.
To the point
- What is this? Qualcomm’s new flagship mobile chipset
- When will the premiere of Snapdragon 8 Gen 2? Consumers will likely get their hands on smartphones with the 8th Gen 2 processor as early as December 2022, but most devices using this chip will arrive in the first half of 2023.
- How much does the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 cost? Qualcomm sells 8 Gen 2 directly to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) – such as Motorola, OnePlus and Xiaomi – so end consumers only pay for silicon as part of the total cost of smartphones that use it. As the top of the latest generation of the company’s Snapdragon line, it will power devices that require flagship pricing at least initially; probably around $800/£700/$1200 and up.
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 that uses it?
Cameras that understand what they’re looking at
One of the most exciting enhancements that promises to provide users with the most tangible benefits is the eighth generation “Cognitive ISP”.
What Qualcomm calls “the world’s first”, this generation’s Spectra ISP (image signal processor) takes over the existing image segmentation of its predecessor, but adds the added benefit of real-time processing. This means that your device’s camera will be able to tell the difference between sky and earth, a cat and a freshly made bed where it has decided to make itself comfortable, or a flower among foliage in the background, and apply color, tone, sharpness and noise reduction algorithms at the pixel level to achieve best final shot.
The real advantage is that it can apply this level of real-time processing to both photos and video, and even display a more accurate final image in the viewfinder while capturing with minimal lag. So you know that what you see and what you get when you press the shutter or record will mirror each other more directly.
A feature that will no doubt help the next wave of top camera phones stand out from the competition that doesn’t support the 8th generation.
Better graphics in games, including ray tracing
In 2021, one of the key areas where Samsung’s own Exynos 2200 chip stood out from its like-minded rival – the 8th Gen 1 – was the inclusion of support for hardware-accelerated ray tracing (expect better graphics in games punctuated by accurate reflections, soft shadows and ambient occlusion).
Of course, Qualcomm wanted to address this in the next sequel, and sure enough, 8 Gen 2 is committed to delivering hardware-accelerated ray tracing on mobile devices; with confirmed partners, such as the manufacturer of some of the best gaming phones – Red Magic, and supported titles such as War Thunder.
The Adreno GPU running on the 8th Generation 2 promises 25% more performance while delivering up to 45% more energy efficiency, along with new support for Vulkan 1.3, the Chinese “HDR Vivid” standard, and a feature called OLED Aging Compensation.
More simultaneous AI tasks with less power
Artificial intelligence (yes, AI) has been the rising star of mobile computing over the last few years, and that trend continues upwards with 8 Gen 2.
While every core SoC component already uses AI to some extent, this generation’s dedicated hexagonal processor offers an improved toolkit (including a 2x-sized Tensor accelerator) that provides significant benefits.
Qualcomm promises a 4.35x speed boost when performing AI-powered tasks, thanks in part to the fact that the 8 Gen 2 is the first of its kind to use something called INT4 (integer 4) precision; allowing you to simultaneously perform 60% more AI-powered tasks per watt.
Thanks to what can only be secret magic, Qualcomm is able to scale 32-bit processes to 4-bit without compromising the quality of processed data sets, which Ziad Asghar – VP of up to 64-fold power reduction.
Improved always-on detection center
Modern telephones can already help us to transpose the analog world into the digital one; with features like Semantic Text Recognition and Object Recognition, but the Sensing Hub inside 8 Gen 2 is specifically designed to help with tasks like this; equipped with two AI processing cores that provide up to twice the AI performance compared to the 8th Gen 1, as well as 50% more memory than before.
The Sensing Hub supports the “always-on camera” (a rewording of the previous generation’s “always-on camera”), which is great for everything from scanning QR codes to face proximity detection, face recognition, and even eye tracking – all without having to actively open camera app on your device.
Asghar confirmed to TechRadar that many OEM partners were particularly interested in this aspect of the Sensing Hub, suggesting that the next wave of 8 Gen 2 powered phones may very well be able to scan and run QR codes and the like without needing to wake up or open specific apps in order to interact with them.
Despite its continuous nature, Qualcomm also states that the data processed by the Sensing Hub does not leave your device.
Even faster and more flexible 5G and Wi-Fi
Packing the Snapdragon X70 5G modem, the 8th Gen 2 not only supports up to 10Gbps downstream and 3.5Gbps upstream over 5G, but is the first on the scene to boast DSDA (Dual SIM Dual Active) for two cards SIM 5G simultaneously, and also boasts its own AI processor to optimize cellular performance and power.
As before, mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G, along with standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes ate all supported.
What’s more – while Wi-Fi 6E seems to be just around the corner – the FastConnect 7800 in 8th Gen 2 makes it one of the first consumer silicon chips to support Wi-Fi 7 throughput and speeds; it lost only to the new MediaTek Dimensity 9200 chipset, which was announced just a few days earlier.
With the growing popularity of video streaming with ever-increasing fidelity and bitrates, and the growing interest in cloud gaming and competitive mobile gaming, these improvements are essential to enable these experiences to evolve further.
Everything you need to know about 8 Gen 2
Discussed at the beginning of this article, TSMC’s 4nm 8 Gen 2 features the already familiar Kryo octa-core CPU architecture; split into a main Cortex-X3 core (clocked at up to 3.2GHz), four performance cores (clocked at up to 2.8GHz) and three performance cores (up to 2.0GHz) – this marks a change where the fourth performance core now sees instead, it manifests itself as a fourth performance core.
Asghar mentioned that these large cores are closer to the power draw of smaller cores than ever before, reflected in the 8 Gen 2 Kryo processor’s promise of a 35% speed improvement, but at the same time promises a 40% power saving.
Another great upgrade for multimedia lovers is the chipset’s new Dynamic Surround Sound feature; allowing the sound in spatial content to shift in relation to the position of the listener’s head, which promises a more immersive multimedia consumption.
Which phones will use Snapdragon 8 Gen 2?
Although Oppo is the first company to confirm that its next Find X branded Android flagship phone (assumed from the Oppo Find X6 series) will run on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (even though the release date has yet to be confirmed). Qualcomm detailed many other partners at the chip unveiling.
Asus, Honor, Motorola OnePlus, Oppo, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE and others have pledged to deliver 8 Gen 2 devices in the near future, however who will be first remains to be seen. We’ve expanded the confirmed list using our own knowledge to identify which other phone makers are likely to have 8 Gen 2 powered phones on the market soon.
Xiaomi and Motorola have been competing to claim to offer the world’s first phone running on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, with the Motorola Edge X30 surpassing the Xiaomi 12 by post in December 2021. As such, there’s a good chance we can expect the same two-horse race before the wedding ring in 2023.