Qualcomm has announced all the details of its next flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, with a focus on better and more efficient performance for AI-related tasks. That extends from its updated AI-centric Hexagon processor to smarter image processing and a new modem designed to wring the best performance out of 5G networks. It also supports Wi-Fi 7 because the numbers just keep going up.
Compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the Gen 2’s Kryo CPU includes one prime core based on Arm Cortex-X3 at 3.2GHz. There are also four performance cores (one more than last year) at 2.8GHz and three efficiency cores at 2.0GHz — all between 200 and 300MHz faster than last year’s hardware. Qualcomm says the CPU is 35 percent faster than the previous generation, with 40 percent power savings. Likewise, the Adreno GPU is up to 25 percent faster with 45 percent better power efficiency. The whole chip is built on a 4nm process, like the Gen 1.
Qualcomm says it has made improvements all throughout the Hexagon processor for up to 4.35x faster AI performance. Qualcomm also claims it’s able to handle more complex tasks, like translating a language into multiple languages in real time.
The “always-on” camera feature has been renamed to a less creepy “always sensing”
Just when we were starting to get on board with Wi-Fi 6, Qualcomm has leapfrogged ahead and added Wi-Fi 7 — the 8 Gen 2 is the first system on a chip to support it. The Snapdragon X70 modem announced at Mobile World Congress earlier this year is on board, too, with its own AI processor to help boost 5G coverage and speed. The X70 also enables dual active 5G SIMs, meaning you can use two different 5G networks simultaneously. More bars in more places indeed.
On the audio side, there’s now support for dynamic spatial audio, so sound moves with you as you move your head with compatible earbuds. It’s a new addition to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound platform but something already offered by the likes of LG, Samsung, and Apple. You’ll likely need compatible headphones to do the head-tracking part. For gaming, the chipset now supports hardware-based real-time ray tracing for more realistic light and reflections; companies including Oppo and Asus will support it in upcoming devices.
The company’s Spectra Image Signal Processor now has a “Cognitive ISP” label, with the ability to use real-time semantic segmentation for photos and videos. This helps the imaging system identify different kinds of subjects in an image and apply appropriate image tuning. In theory, it helps the camera distinguish between things like faces, hair, and skies and make color adjustments to each individually as the image is captured. This could make it easier to predict what a final image will look like in the viewfinder as you’re taking it — before software image processing does its thing. Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is also tuned to support new image sensors from Sony and Samsung, the two companies that make basically every smartphone camera sensor.
Curiously, the 8 Gen 2 supports 8K video capture and playback, but on-device and external display support tops out at 4K, so... good luck watching your 8K footage.
The “always-on” camera feature introduced with the Gen 1 has been renamed to a less creepy “always sensing,” and it supports things like automatically hiding notifications when it detects someone else looking at your phone screen.
There’s now support for dynamic spatial audio, so sound moves with you as you move your head
Qualcomm’s list of partners for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 includes the usual suspects like Motorola, Oppo, and Asus’ Republic of Gamers brand, though Samsung is conspicuously missing from the list. It’s not clear whether upcoming S23 flagships will include the 8 Gen 2 globally as early rumors indicate or whether Samsung will keep using its own Exynos chipset in models sold outside of the US. In any case, we won’t have to wait until the S23 arrives to check out Qualcomm’s latest — the company says its new chipset will start appearing in devices before the end of 2022.