Qualcomm flew me out and put me up in Maui, Hawaii to sit through a couple keynotes about its new smartphone chips, so here I am telling you about their new smartphone chips. The company announced the Snapdragon 865 and 765 yesterday, and today they detailed them in full. Here’s pretty much everything you need to know about the former — the flagship chip…

Snapdragon 865 delivers at least five Gs

The most important thing to know about the Snapdragon 865 is that it is indeed the 5G Chip You’ve Been Waiting For. Are the major US carriers ready with robust 5G networks for you to use? No, not at all. But given that the Snapdragon 865 is going to be the chip that ships inside pretty much every major Android phone next year, a whole swath of devices are going to suddenly be compatible with the full spectrum of confusing 5G standards.

  • The chip supports mmWave (the super-high-speed 5G technology that primarily AT&T and Verizon are slowly deploying), as well as sub-6 (the slower 4G LTE+-esque 5G technology that T-Mobile is deploying).
  • Qualcomm says the chip is theoretically capable of delivering speeds up to 7.5Gbps, which is almost 1000 megabytes per second.
  • It’s still not clear what the benefit of these faster download speeds will be for normal people — especially mmWave in larger cities — but Qualcomm is making great efforts this week to at least prove some basic use cases like game streaming and such.

The big takeaway here is that all of the big Android phones you already know are coming next year — like the Samsung Galaxy S11 and Google Pixel 5, among a dozen others — will almost surely be 5G-ready. Will the networks? Sure, in some places. Most, though, won’t be reaping the benefits of this year’s Snapdragon 865 5G changes for years.

(Fun tidbit: T-Mobile was on the ground here in Maui touting their own sub-6 5G network, which is essentially 4G LTE+, and from what we’ve heard, speeds of that 5G have actually been slower than the existing LTE. So there’s that.)

On-device AI and massive photo improvements

Other things Qualcomm is touting with the Snapdragon 865 include much-improved AI processing — a very important aspect of the chip as AI functions become even more central to the smartphone experience. The company says its 5th generation AI engine is twice as powerful as its predecessor, and pushes 15 trillion operations per second all while being more power efficient than the previous generation as well.

What will this mean for actual everyday use cases? Well, for one, Qualcomm showed off an insane demo where a prototype device was transcribing speech from the presenter on stage in live time to English … and at the same time translating that speech to Chinese on-screen — also on the device itself. This kind of performance probably wasn’t possible before the 865.

The Qualcomm Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor also brings some pretty massive improvements over last year. Smartphones running the Snapdragon 865 system-on-a-chip will be capable of capturing 4K HDR video while shooting 64MP photos at the same time. The camera brains are also capable of shooting 8K video and 200MP photos.

Modest CPU and GPU performance boosts

The latest premium Snapdragon chip — as it always does — brings new GPU and CPU architectures that offer year-over-year performance gains. Will this year’s updates change the single-core-performance showdown that has Apple’s chips absolutely obliterating Qualcomm’s every year? Nope, it doesn’t look like that’s changing this year. But this year’s CPU is better! It is! Qualcomm promises it is 25% faster than the 855, to be exact.

The Adreno 650 GPU also packs modest performance gains versus last year’s model, but ever so slightly less so. Qualcomm says this chip with “desktop level features” for “ultra-smooth gaming experiences” is 20% faster than the previous Adreno chip. There’s also a suite of “Snapdragon Elite Gaming” features: Desktop Forward Rendering, Game Color Plus, and — this is the kicker — GPU drivers that will be updated via the Play Store. That’s nice — if it means improvements over time.

More Snapdragon 865 specs

If you’re really into smartphone chip specs, here’s the full rundown on everything you need to know about the Snapdragon 865:

FTC disclosure: Qualcomm flew us out to Maui to cover these announcements, but the content of our coverage of these announcements are comprised of our own thoughts. In other words, this isn’t paid placement sponsored content.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

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About the Author

Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.