Qualcomm rules the roost when it comes to the processors powering the latest and greatest Android phones, and expectations for its next flagship chip, the Snapdragon 888, are high.
Announced today at the company’s annual Snapdragon Tech Summit, the Snapdragon 888 – not the 875, as previously expected – is the company’s new top-end silicon, with boosts to AI and graphical performance that should drive 2021’s biggest and best phones.
Most Android phones (plus a few other products, like the Oculus Quest 2) rely on US-based chip-maker Qualcomm’s SoCs (system-on-chips) to cover everything from raw compute power to dedicated imaging and graphical processors for high-fidelity gaming. There are other contenders in the market, notably Samsung and MediaTek, but in the Android space, Qualcomm rules supreme.
This is partly because the company offers a wealth of options for mobile manufacturers to choose from, ranging from entry-level to flagship, complementing the array of smartphones that they are ultimately designed to power. At the top end is the company’s Snapdragon 800-series chips, with the new 888 replacing the Snapdragon 865 and the mid-cycle refresh Snapdragon 865+.
What are the Snapdragon 888 specs?
In the first day of the Snapdragon Summit Qualcomm has so far only announced the name and a few key details about the Snapdragon 888, and we’ll have to wait until the tech deep dive on 2 December to find out more.
Here are the specs that Qualcomm did confirm though:
Uses the 5nm Snapdragon X60 5G modem
New AI engine and Hexagon ML processor deliver 26 TOPS – up from 15 in the 865
The most significant Adreno GPU upgrade yet
New ISP delivers up to 2.7 gigapixels per second, a 35% improvement in computational photography
What Snapdragon 888 phones are on the way?
Xiaomi had already confirmed that the company’s next flagship phones would be among the first to feature the new Snapdragon, so it’s no real surprise that today founder Lei Jun confirmed that the upcoming Mi 11 series will use the Snapdragon 888.
Xiaomi is the only company so far to name a specific handset that will use the 888, but Qualcomm says that devices are on the way from Asus, BlackShark, Lenovo, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, Realme, OnePlus, Oppo, Sharp, Vivo, and ZTE.
Based on those names, it’s a safe bet that we can look forward to seeing the Snapdragon 888 in the Oppo Find X3 and OnePlus 9, though specific handsets are harder to predict for some of the other manufacturers – but it’s a safe bet that most new flagship phones will use the chip.
There’s no mention of Samsung, but we’d be surprised if we didn’t see the Snapdragon 888 in its heavily-rumoured Galaxy S21/S30 smartphones, though not in every market – Europe, Korea and Australia typically receive Galaxy S and Note phones powered by Samsung’s own Exynos chips, while the US gets Snapdragon models.
It’s also curious to see LG on the list, as there had been speculation that it would skip the flagship chip and instead focus on the latest 700-series processor, continuing the trend it started with this year’s LG Velvet and LG Wing, two premium phones with (admittedly top-notch) mid-range processors.
Are there any Snapdragon 888 performance benchmarks?
While we wait for official benchmarks from Qualcomm, we still have plenty of old leaks from the run-up to the 888’s announcement – back when we all thought it would be called the Snapdragon 875.
Reports by Business Korea and Hankyung suggest that it’s Samsung who is exclusively undertaking production of the 888. Both sites point to the 888 leveraging a new, more efficient, 5nm process (akin to Apple’s latest A14 Bionic chip, found inside this year’s iPhone 12 series) and being one of the first chipsets to make use of ARM’s new X1 CPU core.
That’s backed up by a Weibo tipster claiming to have seen a prototype, claiming that the chip will have one Cortex-X1 core running at 2.84 GHz, three Cortex-A78 cores at 2.42 GHz, and four power-efficient Cortex-A55 clocked at 1.8 GHz. Those are actually the same clock speeds as the Snapdragon 865 (and thus the prime core is a little slower than on the 865+) but the improvements of the 5nm architecture should bring performance benefits beyond those base specs.
The same leaker also says the 888 will use a new Adreno 660 GPU, along with improvements to cache, memory bandwidth, and power consumption to improve battery life.
With Samsung’s involvement, it’s thought that the development of the 888 directly informs the development of the company’s next own-brand chipsets too, the Exynos 1080 and Exynos 2100.
In fact, preliminary benchmarking scores of the 888 (running on early Galaxy S21/S30 and Mi 11 hardware, respectively) have been mentioned on Korean site Clien, with the S21/S30’s single and multi-core Geekbench 5 scores coming in at 1159 and 4090, while the Mi 11’s scores clock in at 1102 and 4113.
Surprisingly, Exynos scores pulled from pre-release Galaxy S21/S30 hardware actually land a little higher than their Snapdragon 888 equivalents, coming in at 1302 and 4205 for single and multi-core testing.
For reference, in our Galaxy S20 review, the Exynos 990-powered phone scored 2299 in multi-core testing, while the Snapdragon 865-powered S20 FE scored 2934 in the same test. Both scores highlight a notable jump in performance if these leaked Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 scores are to be believed.
Leaked scores on another popular benchmark tool, AnTuTu, suggest a similar performance jump. The 888 – reportedly codenamed ‘Lahaina’ – scored a phenomenal 847,868 according to a leak. By contrast, the best Snapdragon 865 score posted is around 663,000, and the iPhone 12 only managed 565,000.