In the tech world, there’s plenty of talk of smartphones, but very little said about the processors that power them. But did you know that many of your phone’s innovative new features wouldn’t be possible without technology that’s built into one tiny chip the size of a Scrabble piece (but way thinner)?
Camera performance, battery life, and the fluidity in which videos are rendered are all partially dependent on what your phone’s system-on-a-chip (SoC) brings to the table. And of the companies that build mobile processors, one of the most prolific, if not most dominant, is San Diego-based Qualcomm.
Each year hundreds of smartphones, which includes many by the biggest names in the biz, are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Top-of-the-line models run the Snapdragon 800 series, like 2016’s Snapdragon 820, which so far this year, powers at least 7 flagships, including the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, Sony Xperia X Performance, and the Xiaomi Mi5.
Qualcomm says more than a hundred new smartphones are expected to follow suit, and if the 820’s feature set is any indication, your next smartphone could have any or all of the following features:
1. Next-Gen Computer Vision
Your smartphone camera isn’t just for taking photos, it’s also there to give your phone eyes so that it can see and then do smart things based on what it has observed.
For example, when shooting photos of moving objects, processor-based computer vision gives your phone the ability to predict, say, the precise moment a firework explodes. Features like Text Activation can pick up details from a concert poster, prompting you to save the date on your calendar, or providing you with a link to purchase tickets online.
And because Qualcomm aims for its chips to be used beyond smartphones, it also sees a not-too-distant future where computer vision will play a role in cars.
2. Immersive Virtual Reality
Sure, a 4K display on a smartphone may sound overkill, but Qualcomm continues to improve its support for 4K screens, not just because it’s the expected next step forward, but because 4K displays are best suited for virtual-reality applications.
Head-mounted VR goggles like Samsung’s Gear VR bring displays closer to your eyes, and when you have a screen so close, pixels become more obvious than ever before. The Snapdragon 820 can also deliver higher frame rates, meaning smoother video experiences. After all, how can virtual reality be truly immersive if video playback is jittery?
To match the improved visual experiences, audio too has been improved, with support for spatial audio, just like you would hear in a cinema with 3D surround sound.
3. DSLR-like images
You’re right to associate camera performance with factors like lens quality, image sensor size, and maybe even megapixels. But how well your camera performs is also affected by the image signal processor (ISP) in your SoC.
The latest ISP in the Snapdragon 820 supports up to 25-megapixel smartphone cameras and hybrid autofocus (contrast and phase detection) and brings improvements to low-light performance — features you’d find on high-end DSLRs.
You get the same low-light performance when shooting videos, too. The Snapdragon 820 also enables support for up to 3 cameras on a single smartphone like the LG G5, which has two rear cameras, one with an extra wide-angle lens.
4. All Day Battery / Fast Charging
While more powerful than ever, Qualcomm claims the Snapdragon 820 consumes 30 percent less power than its predecessor – meaning your phone should not run out of juice faster, even while it works harder.
It also supports Qualcomm’s latest quick-charging technology, Quick Charge 3.0, that can get your phone from 0 to 80 percent in 35 minutes. Ask your smartphone manufacturer if Quick Charge 3.0 is enabled on your new smartphone.
5. Super Fast Internet Speeds
In markets where it is supported, the Snapdragon 820 enables LTE speeds of up to 600Mbps. That’s crazy-fast Internet on your smartphone, nuff said.
There’s also support for next-generation home WiFi, 802.11ad, and LTE-U that includes LTE in unlicensed spectrum. But hey, who’s keeping track as long as all your applications get what they need from the Internet as quickly as possible.