Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon 820, promises faster performance and improved battery efficiency

For smartphone watchers, the biggest issue will be if the 820 can leave the 810's overheating issues in the past.

Qualcomm has officially taken the wraps off the Snapdragon 820, its next-generation system-on-chip (SoC).

The company used the usual grand platitudes to describe its newest processor at an event in New York City, with promises of better network performance, battery life, and a superior gaming experience.

Why this matters: Fair or not, the Snapdragon 810 suffered from a bad reputation for running hot. Further work brought much of this under control, as it sings along rather nicely in the Nexus 6P. But with Google rumored to want to dabble in the processor space, Qualcomm could really use a hit to re-solidify its reputation.

Getting next-generation ready

The Snapdragon 820 is likely to power the next generation of high-end smartphones. For consumers, the main changes you’ll see are support for Quick Charge 3.0 and faster CPU cores, image processing, and graphics.

computer vision experiences Qualcomm

Snapdragon says its newest processor will improve how your smartphone uses “computer vision” for photography and other features.

On the specs front, the new chipset has four 2.2GHz "Kyro" CPU cores. The company says it will have twice the power and efficiency as the 810, thanks in part to a new 14nm FinFET process. This is Qualcomm moving back to its own custom ARM core designs, after choosing Cortex A57 and A53 cores in the Snapdragon 808 and 810.

Additionally, the processor includes a new Spectra image signal processor, which gives you the ability to capture photos up to 28 megapixels, with more computational power available for processing the data from the latest camera sensors. There’s also a Hexagon 680 digital signal processor that is to bring superior battery performance, which is something that’s often at a premium on mobile devices. (That's the part of the SoC that enables "always on" listening, step counting, and so on).

Other specs include an Adreno 530 GPU, an X12LTE modem, and support for tri-band Wi-Fi. While it may be a while before networks get that fast, the processor can support downloads up to 600 Mbps.

Qualcomm offers a full comparison with the 810 and 808 if you want a deeper dive into the key changes to the specs. We expect to start seeing the next generation of smartphones roll out in the first half of 2016 with Qualcomm's latest engine.

It's too early to know whether or not the thermal performance is better than it was in the 810, though. That sort of thing changes right up until products ship, and is subject to many variables from the tuning of firmware to the physical design and materials the phone is made from.

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Derek Walter

IDG News Service
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