LIVE FROM QUALCOMM SNAPDRAGON TECH SUMMIT 2018, MAUI: Qualcomm zoomed in on camera, entertainment and artificial intelligence (AI) features in its new 7nm Snapdragon 855 processor, beefing up those capabilities as part of improvements across five key areas.

Major changes to the platform include the introduction of computer vision image signal processing and high efficiency image file format (HEIF) storage for photos and videos; the addition of twice the vector processing power and a new tensor processor for improved AI performance; and built-in support for sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands as well as Wi-Fi 6 to enable multi-gigabit speeds.

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon hailed the processor as a key tool in enabling the next generation of mobile experiences in the 5G era.

Camera and Entertainment
Alex Katouzian, SVP and general manager of Qualcomm’s Mobile division, told Mobile World Live (MWL) Snapdragon 855’s strong focus on camera capabilities is a reflection of the importance of photography to consumers.

“The camera is probably the most important feature on the phone in terms of consumer acceptability. They want to have a really good camera on the phone, and better quality snapshots means a better consumer experience. Most consumers don’t really know how to set camera settings and by the time they figure it out the moment might have passed, so the easier we can make it the better.”

Snapdragon 855 features a new Spectra 380 image signal processor with computer vision capabilities and depth sensing to enable video capture, object classification and segmentation in real time in 4K HDR at 60fps. Qualcomm said this will allow users to replace objects and backgrounds in images and video after capture.

It also introduced HEIF format encoding, which will cut file sizes in half while also storing more information from an image or video, such as its depth map, burst photos and other raw data to enable retroactive editing.

The platform also includes tweaks meant to boost entertainment experiences across gaming, video, and virtual and augmented reality. These include enhanced colour grading, 20 per cent faster graphics rendering and audio for mobile gaming, and new immersive virtual reality capabilities.

Qualcomm again stepped up its AI play with its fourth generation AI Engine, which it said will deliver a three-times improvement over its predecessor. A new Hexagon 690 processor doubles the number of vector accelerators to four and adds a new tensor accelerator.

Rather than opting for a dedicated AI engine like some competitors, Qualcomm maintained a multi-core approach: Katouzian said this allows AI functions to run more efficiently in terms of both power and performance.

“Technologically this makes the most sense,” he told MWL, noting the company will continue down this road going forward.

Voice assistant capabilities will also get a boost, with dedicated processing for echo cancellation and noise suppression. Katouzian said the former will help voice assistants better distinguish a user’s voice from background noise, making them more responsive. The noise cancellation can also be applied to improve voice calls, he added.

The platform also includes support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Snapdragon 855 integrates Qualcomm’s gigabit X24 LTE modem, but can also be used alongside the X50 modem to offer support for sub-6GHz and mmWave spectrum bands favoured for 5G.

The chip will also be compatible with the new Wi-Fi 6 standard, formerly known as 802.11ax, and integrate 60GHz Wi-Fi capabilities.

Durga Malladi, Qualcomm SVP of 4G and 5G (pictured, right), said the combination of these four technologies will enable devices to offer multi-gigabit speeds across all layers of connectivity.

Snapdragon 855 also provides a jump in processing speeds, performing 45 per cent faster than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 845.

It will also be the first to sport Qualcomm’s new 3D Sonic Sensor technology, which uses acoustics to snap a 3D image of a user’s finger even through glass and screen protectors, enabling under-the-display fingerprint readers.

Snapdragon 855 is expected to begin shipping in commercial devices in the first half of 2019. Among the first to use it will be Samsung, which confirmed earlier this week it is working with Verizon on a 5G phone based on the platform, and OnePlus, which announced it will use Snapdragon 855 in a flagship due out in 2019.