Tech

Here's the chip that'll power every flagship Android phone in 2021

Get familiar with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 because you're going to see it in almost every premium Android phone.

Raymond Wong / Input

Every year around this time, Qualcomm holds a massive “Snapdragon Tech Summit” in Hawaii to introduce its next flagship mobile chip. Yeah, a big party for a piece of silicon that will power the next wave of Android phones.

Nobody’s sipping cocktails by the beach this year, but there’s still a new chip: the Snapdragon 888. This new chip will be power virtually every major flagship Android phone and tablet coming out in 2021. Here’s what you can expect.

Faster 5G — The Snapdragon 888 chip, which will succeed the current Snapdragon 865 (Qualcomm skipped right past the any “875”, will feature the company’s third-gun X60 5G modem. Qualcomm hasn’t released details on how much faster the modem is, but expect faster speeds for 5G downloads and uploads for mmWave and sub-6 flavors.

Camera upgrades — We don’t yet know how much faster the Snapdragon 888’s CPU and GPU are compared to the Snapdragon 865+ chip, but Qualcomm says the new chip’s Spectra image signal processor is capable of capturing photos and video at 2.7 gigapixels per second. In practice, that equates to taking about 120 photos at up to 12-megapixel resolution in a second. Qualcomm says this is 35 percent faster than the 865 chip is capable of.

This is the brain that'll be in the best Android phones releasing in 2021.Qualcomm

Enhanced gaming and AI — If you’re into mobile gaming, Qualcomm says the 888 chip’s Adreno GPU offers its “most significant upgrade”. What that means exactly is unclear (we'll probably find out more tomorrow on the second day of Qualcomm's event), but it’s probably safe to say graphics performance for 3D games will bring more detail and higher frame rates. Additionally, the chip’s Hexagon processor, which handles AI calculations, is capable of up to 26 tera operations per second (TOPS); the current 865 chip maxes out at 15 TOPS.

Coming soon to a flagship phone — Qualcomm’s released a list of Android phone makers who’ll produce phones with the Snapdragon 888: Asus, Black Shark, Lenovo, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, OnePlus, OPPO, Realme, Sharp, Vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE. Xiaomi’s already announced the 888 will power the Mi 11.

Notably missing from the list of partners is Samsung. Pretty strange that the world’s largest phone maker hasn’t pledged support. It’s even weirder considering the Galaxy S21 is reportedly launching as early as January.

Can it compete with the iPhone 12? — That's the big question. Apple's custom silicon — the latest is the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12s and iPad Air 4 — have lagged behind Qualcomm's chips on pure performance. It'll be fascinating to see if the Snapdragon 888 narrows or widens the performance gap.

Is the Snapdragon 888 more powerful than Apple's A14 chip?Qualcomm