"An in-depth overview of Qualcomm's Snapdragon line of mobile processors"
If you’re using an Android phone, then there is a pretty high probability that the processor humming under the hood of your device is a Snapdragon. Qualcomm has established itself as one of the foremost manufacturers of smartphone processors and SoCs out there, so many of the latest phones in town come with Qualcomm Snapdragon processors on board.
We’ve earlier tried to simplify the jargon behind smartphone processors, and in this piece we’ll do a deep dive into the Snapdragon processor pool, talking about the most popular processors within the series and what really sets them apart.
Now where the Snapdragon processors actually work their magic within a phone is in five major areas: performance, multimedia, battery life, security and connectivity.
The factor which comes into play out here is in the form of the CPU. Snapdragon processors come equipped with multi-processing technologies such as big.LITTLE, the Hexagon DSP and core/thread optimisation, to bring forth a seamless user experience.
The GPU is the core fundamental out here, responsible for all things graphics – be it gaming, video processing, photography and audio (7.1 surround sound at that). The balance between performance and multimedia can quite often determine whether a phone is overheating.
A design principle behind Snapdragon processors is to enhance the battery life, and in this regard battery optimisations (with Qualcomm’s own battery saver app available on the Play Store) along with technologies such as Quick Charge can ensure that the phone is juiced up through the day.
The Qualcomm Haven Security Platform, among others, provides four level security measures, including content protection, malware detection, user authentication through fingerprint sensors and theft deterrence. There are also Secure Boot and Cryptographic accelerators, and these features are becoming more in demand with mobile-based payment gateways, such as WeChat in China.
In this regard, Snapdragon has the X series of modems that are bundled along with the Snapdragon processors. These modems have different levels of speeds according to the processor supporting it, and they are outlined in this infographic.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line comes in four varied tiers, suited for devices with different requirements and price points. To quote Qualcomm directly, "Each tier of Snapdragon processors is designed to give mobile users a perfect balance of power and efficiency. The result is a broad spectrum of mobile technology that is innovative enough to carry the name Snapdragon."
While the 800 series offers the highest specifications and are intended for true blue flagship devices, the 600 series tries to bridge the gap between budget devices and flagship ones by offering a semi-flagship grade performance to mid-range phones. The 400 and 200 series are intended for lower-priced devices, where budget is a constraint and high specs can be compromised for an all-round affordable package.
We’ll start off with the best of the best, the 800 series. Framed to represent the ultimate in performance and power optimisation in the brand’s portfolio, the 800 processors often find their way in flagship-grade devices.
The current flagship processor for all phones in 2016 is the Snapdragon 820 processor. It features a custom-designed 64-bit quad-core Kryo CPU that has a clock speed of upto 2.2GHz, X12 LTE Modem, Adreno 530 GPU supporting 4K video playback/capture and imaging of resolutions upto 25MP and LPDDR4 Dual Channel memory. The processor is found in the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 5, Samsung Galaxy S7 US Edition and LG G5.
Other processors include the Snapdragon 810 (found in the OnePlus 2, Nexus 6P and HTC One M9, among others), Snapdragon 808 (found in the Nexus 5X, LG V10, BlackBerry Priv, LG G4 and Microsoft Lumia 950) and the Snapdragon 805 (found in the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note Edge and Nexus 6, among others). Other notable ones include the 801 and 800 – which have been at the heart of popular devices such as the OnePlus One, Xiaomi Mi 4 and Nexus 5.
The 600 Series lies at a peculiar vantage point – delivering high power to lower priced devices, and thereby upping the value for money factor.
The most recent processors in this regard have to be the Snapdragon 652 and 650. Originally named as the Snapdragon 620 and 618, the duo was renamed by the company owing to the advantages in performance it possessed over its peers in the same series. Both of them come with capable processing in the form of big.LITTLE technology, and A72 cores kicking in, which gives added enhancements such as the ability to capture 4K resolution videos, with added battery optimisations. The 650 is notably at the core of the recently launched Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.
Other popular processors in the Snapdragon 600 series include the Snapdragon 615 (in phones such as the YU Yureka, ASUS ZenFone 2 Laser and HTC Desire 820), the 616 (in the ZenFone Selfie) and 619 (in the HTC One A9).
Designed primarily for entry-level devices, the 400 series processors are most often found in budget smartphones and smartwatches.
The latest processors in the 400 lineup are the 435 and 430, coming in with X8 (X6 in the 430) LTE speeds, Adreno 505 GPU, Quick Charge 3.0 and camera resolutions of upto 21MP.
The Snapdragon 410 was the brand’s first 64-bit mobile SoC, featuring an Adreno 306 GPU, CAT 4 LTE and camera capabilities of upto 13MP. The processor is found in devices such as the Motorola Moto G 3rd Gen and Samsung Galaxy A3.
Delving deeper into the company’s processor portfolio, one can actually find some non-smartphone processors which look quite promising in their own rights.
Examples include the Snapdragon 820 Automotive – a processor designed specifically for in-car infotainment systems, the Snapdragon 650 IP – in an IoT based camera called Sense, by Silk Labs and the more recent Snapdragon Wear 2100. The Snapdragon 400 is the processor in Android Wear based smartwatches, such as the Huawei Watch and Motorola Moto 360 (2nd-gen).
When it comes to smartphone processors, the minutest details often matter the most. Quoting Qualcomm itself, the part to look for is the part you can’t see. At the end of the day, what goes into building a great processor isn’t really how individual parts perform, but how they all sync harmoniously with each other to create a wholesome smartphone experience for the end user.
Images Sourced from the official Qualcomm Website and Qualcomm Blog.
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