The News: Earlier this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, San Diego-based Qualcomm Technologies introduced its new Snapdragon 888+ 5G Mobile Platform, a mid-year upgrade to Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 introduced last December. The most obvious improvements to the original Snapdragon 888 are boosted CPU clock speeds now flirting with 3.0 GHz (actually 2.995 GHz) and significant AI engine performance (already improved from 26 TOPS to up to 32 TOPS). Read more about the platform’s specs from Qualcomm here.
Qualcomm’s New Snapdragon 888+ 5G Mobile Platform Brings 32 TOPS and Blistering Speeds to 2021 Smartphones
Analyst Take: While I expect that Qualcomm will release an entirely new premium 5G mobile platform at its Snapdragon Summit later this year, the introduction of the 888+ barely seven months following the introduction of the already impressive Snapdragon 888 demonstrates the speed with which Qualcomm engineers are able to build on an existing platform’s performance to provide even more value and features to Android OEMs, and ultimately to consumers, just because they can.
On one hand, I want to be most impressed by the near-3GHz CPU clock speeds (2.995 GHz to be exact) achieved by the 888+’s Kryo 680 CPU. The value of this particular performance upgrade, likely achieved by optimizing hardware efficiency, will be felt by users whenever they open social feeds, load games, or access their favorite content, and not merely in terms of experiencing faster processing speeds but also in terms of longer battery autonomy, thanks to a hyper-efficient 5 nm process and Arm Cortex-X1-based architecture.
On the other hand, I lean toward being even more impressed by Qualcomm’s 6th generation AI Engine jumping from 26 TOPS to 32 TOPS in a period of just a few months. This platform’s AI engine now delivers a whopping 32 trillion operations per second. In a smartphone. I know that it’s easy to get jaded about chipset performance these days, but let’s take a minute to consider how much of an engineering achievement this is. With 32 TOPS at its disposal, the Snapdragon 888+ should be capable of simultaneously running multiple neural networks, which should significantly improve device performance across a breadth of features, from entertainment and mobile gaming to photo and video capture.
Speaking of photo and video capture, the Snapdragon 888+ comes with Qualcomm’s Spectra 580 Image Signal Processor, triple 14-bit ISPs, up to 2.7 Gigapixels per second computer vision ISP (CV-ISP), and up to 200 Megapixel Photo Capture. I am curious to see which OEMs will push the limits of what the Snapdragon 888+ can deliver on this front. Just because this level of performance is available doesn’t mean it will automatically be implemented. What this translates to, in terms of real user features, is a series of options: up to 28 MP triple cameras at 30 FPS with zero shutter lag, up to 64+25 MP dual camera at 30 FPS with zero shutter lag, or up to 84 MP single camera at 30 FPS with zero shutter lag. In burst mode, these specs should translate to 120 photos per second at 12 MP.
We’re also talking about up to 10-bit color depth photo and video capture and 10-bit HDR HEIF photo capture, 4K Video Capture + 64 MP Photo, 8K Video Capture at 30 FPS, slow motion video capture at 720p at 960 FPS, and HEVC video capture. Supported video capture formats are HDR10+, HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. Two of the most exciting features already introduced in the 888’s first release are the platform’s ability to deliver 4K Video Capture at 120 FPS, and real-time 4K HDR Video Capture in Portrait Mode (meaning the ability to insert real-time bokeh effect into 4K videos). Improvements in AI and CPU performance will likely be noticeable here and also come in handy with multi-frame Noise Reduction (MFNR); real-time object classification, segmentation, and replacement; locally compensated Multi-Frame Noise Reduction; low light photography architecture, video super resolution, AI-based auto-focus and auto-exposure, and advanced HW-based face detection with deep learning filters.
I get excited about camera performance because so much of what consumers do with their phones revolves around photo and video capture, editing, and sharing, but the Snapdragon 888+ also features Qualcomm’s blisteringly fast Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System, which supports both 5G mmWave and sub-6 GHz bands in both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes, FDD, TDD, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, and global 5G multi-SIM for downlink speeds of up to 7.5 Gbps and uplink speeds of up to 3 Gbps.
My single disappointment is that we will have to wait until later this year to see Qualcomm’s recently announced 10 Gbps x65 modem-RF system find its way into premium Snapdragon 5G mobile platform, but for now, the X60 will do just fine for this upgraded version of the 888. 7.5 Gbps is insanely fast as it is. I can’t help but look forward to the Snapdragon Summit, where Qualcomm will likely introduce its next generation of 5G mobile platforms, presumably capable of achieving 10 Gbps downlink speeds. Given the improvements between the Snapdragon 888 and 888+ already, quite possibly 20-35% improvements in CPU, GPU, and AI performance over the 888+ 6 months in Qualcomm engineering time these days seem roughly equivalent to the kinds of advances that used to take 12-18 months to achieve. It’s impressive.
The 888+ platform also packs the full range of Snapdragon Elite Gaming features for ultra-smooth responsiveness, color-rich HDR graphics, and mobile-first desktop-level experiences, with support for up to 144 Hz QHD displays for smooth, vivid gameplay. New value-add gaming features drawing on improved AI performance also include real-time translation (for enhanced in-game collaboration) and responsive voice commands for extra in-game control. Qualcomm Game Quick Touch also reduces touch latency by up to 20%, and Variable Rate Shading (VRS) allows games to run better on less power. Given the popularity of mobile gaming, Qualcomm has been pretty vocal about its focus on bringing desktop-quality gameplay to mobile devices, and the introduction of new enhanced premium voice-based gaming features opens exciting possibilities for the future of mobile gaming.
Over 130 commercial devices powered by both the Snapdragon 888 and 888+ platforms have already been announced or are currently in development. Commercial devices based on the Snapdragon 888+ platform are expected to be announced in Q3 2021.
based on the Snapdragon 888+ platform are expected to be announced in Q3 2021.
Disclosure: Futurum Research is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.