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Explainer: Differences between Snapdragon processors

Let’s understand what’s inside our phones

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In the world of mobile phones, each device is ranked by performance based on what’s powering them. The processor inside your smartphone is constantly working as much as it can to keep your phone running.

Today, especially on Android phones and tablets, the most popular of all mobile processors is Snapdragon from Qualcomm. There are several Snapdragon processors out there, and each model number gets more confusing as new variants come out. Let us help you with that.

First, a brief introduction. Snapdragon is a family of system on chip (SoC) products made by Qualcomm for use in a variety of mobile devices such as phones and tablets. It contains not just a central processing unit (CPU), but also a graphics processing unit (GPU), global positioning system (GPS), modems for LTE and Wi-Fi, and whatever is needed to create a complete chip to power a mobile device. Let’s simply refer to it as a processor so we won’t get too technical.

Not all Snapdragon processors are of the same level. Currently, Qualcomm has four Snapdragon platforms, and they’re classified by three numbers. Each series helps classify what tier (i.e. entry-level, midrange, flagship) the phone belongs to during its launch. Knowing each series also gives us a quick idea of how the device’s performance will fair.

Snapdragon 200 series

The Snapdragon 200 series is the entry-level processor range. As of writing, there are five models under the 200 series: 200, 205, 208, 210, and 212. They are found on low-cost phones and other smaller devices that don’t require much processing power. The latest to be powered by these processors is the Nokia 2 which is a cheap Android smartphone for basic functions.

We don’t see many Snapdragon 200 series-powered phones lately due to competition with MediaTek, another SoC maker that’s known to be found on budget Android devices.

Snapdragon 400 series

Moving up the ladder, we have the Snapdragon 400 series. This series bridges the gap between the entry-level and mid-tier. Like with the 200 series, the 400 series is commonly used for budget devices around the US$ 200 range and also faces tough competition with MediaTek’s offerings.

There are a number of models in this series but thankfully, as the number goes up, the specifications and performance do too. Some models in the series don’t differ much with slight modifications in speed and modem features. Also, as high-tier processors get more advanced, the lower-tier processors like the 400 series get the old higher-end features.

Some of the phones in this series are inside the Huawei Y7 Prime and LG Q6 which both have a Snapdragon 435 and the OPPO A71 (2018) and Vivo V7 which have a Snapdragon 450 — the latest and greatest in the series as of writing.

Snapdragon 600 series

Many consider the Snapdragon 600 series to be the most well-rounded in Qualcomm’s family. Why? It offers a great balance between performance and cost. Smart buyers would prefer a great midrange phone rather than an expensive flagship which they would replace in a year or two. That’s where the 600 series comes in. It offers far greater performance than the 400 series and inherits the features of a high-tier processor without the added cost.

There are more model numbers that fall under the 600 series, but the most famous of them all is the Snapdragon 625. It was a game changer when it was announced back in 2016 because it brought the efficiency of more expensive processors to cheaper phones. The Snapdragon 625 is still widely used today since it’s a reliable processor and gives budget phones midrange performance.

Since the introduction of the 625, more manufacturers are relying on the 600 series. The latest releases, the Snapdragon 630/636 and 660, are now even up to par with flagship processors from 2016. The newest phones like the Nokia 7 Plus and OPPO R11s have the Snapdragon 660, while the recently announced ASUS ZenFone 5 has the Snapdragon 636 with artificial intelligence (AI) features.

Snapdragon 800 series

The Snapdragon 800 series is Qualcomm’s top-tier lineup. Flagship phones use the latest Snapdragon 800 series processor at launch. The 800 series is not as confusing as the others because Qualcomm doesn’t release multiple high-tier processors at the same time; they usually announce two per year. Actually, we only had one for 2017 which is the Snapdragon 835 and for 2018, we currently have the Snapdragon 845 so far.

All the newest features are found on the latest 800 series processor. It uses the latest manufacturing process, highest performing graphics unit, best display tech such as higher dynamic range, and has support for the fastest storage and memory. With the trend of artificial intelligence among mobile devices, the Snapdragon 845 even has a neural processing engine dedicated to AI.

The Snapdragon 800 series has the best and most exclusive features, but they come with a price. Since the 800 series processors power flagship phones, it’s always expensive to afford one except those from Xiaomi and OnePlus.

Since we’re still in the first quarter of 2018, there aren’t that many phones available with the latest Snapdragon 845 but the list already includes the Samsung Galaxy S9, Xperia XZ2, and ZenFone 5Z. Last year’s Android flagships were all powered by the Snapdragon 835 like the OnePlus 5T, Google Pixel 2 XL, LG V30, and HTC U11+.

Ranking of the processors

At this point, it’s pretty obvious that the 800 series is the best performer of the bunch since it always gets the latest features and advancements in mobile processors. But let’s not belittle the capabilities of the 600 series which vastly improves with every release. Since it’s the next in line, whatever the 800 series has will soon be available to the 600 series. There are even rumors about a 600 series processor based on the same 10nm manufacturing process of the Snapdragon 835/845 which will be a big deal for midrange phones.

The 400 series is there to draw the line between upper-midrange and lower-midrange phones. Gadgets powered by a 400 series processor, especially the latest Snapdragon 450, aren’t totally inferior to any of the 600 series-powered devices, though. The 400 series is also picking up from where the 600 series was every year. If the phone has a 200 series processor, don’t expect much. It’s really designed to cover the basics while keeping up with faster LTE speeds.

How the new low-tier processors are catching up to the old mid-tier processors

It may seem easy to rank the processors based on what series they belong to but, as mentioned earlier, lower-tier processors inherit the features of higher-tier processors. Also, a higher number doesn’t always mean better. The best example would be the Snapdragon 625 and the new Snapdragon 450. The Snapdragon 450 was announced a year after the Snapdragon 625, but they are practically the same. The only advantage of the 625 over the 450 is a slightly faster clock speed for marginally better performance.

Then there’s the Snapdragon 630 and Snapdragon 652. You’d think that the 652 is better than the 630, but it isn’t. The Snapdragon 630 is newer, more efficient, and performs better all around. We can’t blame you for the confusion because the Snapdragon 652 is formerly known as the Snapdragon 620. It is Qualcomm who brought up the confusion by renaming older processors

What about Kirin, Exynos, and MediaTek?

Before we wrap up, let’s be clear that Snapdragon is not the only mobile processor on the market. They might be widely used on phones, but even phone manufacturers themselves make their own: Samsung has Exynos which powers the Galaxy S9 in some markets while Huawei is quite loyal to the Kirin processors found on most of their phones.

Both Exynos and Kirin can match the performance of Snapdragon processors, thus making the phone market more exciting for consumers but fragmented for developers. Then there’s also MediaTek that’s quite popular among budget devices. They also have high-tier processors but they’re yet to make a dent in Snapdragon’s share.

Illustrations by Jeca Martinez

Accessories

C is the key: Explaining USB Type-C

What really makes this new standard special

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For years, people have grown accustomed to using USB ports for almost all of their devices. Whether you need to charge your phone using your computer or use a controller to play games, you can always count on a USB port to be readily available for you. But 2018 was the year of change and innovation, and the USB port you know and love welcomed change in a big way.

Introducing: USB Type-C, the newest port added to the family. Its round shape brought many new uses and functionalities to your ports. But, how different is it from its much older brothers? How have companies revolutionized its use in mainstream devices?

What is this USB Type-C port?

The USB Type-C (USB-C) port is a not-so-recent discovery in the world of tech. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) developed this USB port back in 2013, and launched it into mass production the following year. The connector is a reversible oval shape, much different from the usual rectangular shape of the previous generation. Its reversibility allows any orientation of the cable for transferring files or charging your device.

USB-IF developed USB-C following the USB 3.1 standard. Such a standard was particularly used because of its faster transfer speeds and charging capabilities. With a USB-C port, you can transfer an hour-long movie in less than 30 seconds, provided you have the appropriate connector for it.

Computer and smartphone manufacturers have incorporated the USB-C port in most of their devices. One of the early adopters of the new technology was Apple, with their redesigned 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Other computer manufacturers followed in the later years, especially with the release of the Thunderbolt 3 technology used for gaming machines.

It’s the younger, faster and more all-around sibling

USB-C has been around for the past four years, and it has gradually developed into an all-around port for users. Alongside Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port posts the highest data transfer speed across all the available USB connections in existence. Not only that, USB-C ports these days can now connect your devices to external GPUs and displays, and charge your devices. Most USB-C ports even support fast charging for smartphones.

While the technology behind it is supported by a USB 3.1 standard, it’s still very much different from other USB ports that use the USB 3.1 protocol. For starters, the USB 3.1 standard found in USB-C ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, which offer twice as much performance in data transfer as USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. Most of the Gen 1 ports also use an older USB Type-A standard, which works for most of your gadgets and peripherals today. However, you would need more adapters for other functionalities, like displaying to a monitor.

But the USB-C port is a far cry from the old USB 2.0 and 3.0 protocols, which have been in existence for 14 years (and counting). Data transfer speeds for those two protocols are significantly slower compared to the USB-C port. An hour-long movie would ideally take around one to two minutes on a USB 2.0 port. Also, older USB protocols don’t really allow you to power up devices that need more electricity. So, charging devices on them might not be as fast.

Supercharged with Thunderbolt 3

So, you’re probably wondering what really makes a USB-C port just that fast. It’s not so much that it’s round, or that it’s new; rather, it’s the technology inside it. Late 2015 saw the arrival of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard specifically for USB-C ports. It first started out in most Windows laptops before making it to the 2016 MacBook Pro and several gaming motherboards.

What Thunderbolt 3 does for USB-C ports is to significantly increase its capacity and capabilities by a mile. We’re talking faster file transfer, heightened gaming experiences, and being able to plug in 4K displays for clearer images. Thunderbolt 3 also allows much bigger devices to be charged at a controlled rate. This is mostly evident with the MacBook Pro, several high-end Ultrabooks, and most recently, the 2018 iPad Pro.

The charging capacity brought about by Thunderbolt 3 deals with a tweak to how USB power delivery works. USB power delivery standards state that each USB standard has specific conditions that must be met to power up devices. Early versions of USB ports only allow a small amount of electricity (2.5W) for delivery, while USB-C allows for the full 100W.  Basically, you went from just powering up your mouse and keyboard to charging your entire laptop.

What’s to come for USB-C?

At this point in time, you’re already living in the future that the USB-C port hopes to achieve. Suddenly, you can simply bring a USB-C cable around, plug it into a powerbank, and you can already charge your expensive MacBook. More and more devices are starting to adopt USB-C because of its potential to enhance your tech experience as a whole.

However, people still find it difficult to switch to USB-C, and for good reason. Most devices continue to use a USB Type-A or micro-USB connector, especially gaming controllers and peripherals. Also, they can argue that the old ports are more accessible. In a not-so-distant future, using a USB-C port could potentially replace a phone’s headphone jack.

The future of USB-C is still uncertain. Companies will iron out the new technology more so it can become mainstream for the future. Let’s just hope that by the time that happens, there won’t be a USB Type-D yet.

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No more cords: Wireless charging explained

More and more things are going wireless

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A lot of things have gone wireless over the past few years. From internet connections to gaming with your friends, the world is becoming more accessible without the need for physical wires. Over the course of 2018, another aspect of our lives has gone this route: charging one’s device.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of wireless charging and its presence in today’s smartphones, particularly the latest Apple devices. You may have even owned something that could wirelessly charge devices. But, what is wireless charging all about?

Let’s break down the technicalities

Wireless charging is a highly technical concept in the world of electronics. Basically, the way it works is that your charging pad contains coils that give off electromagnetic fields. These fields carry energy with them, which can be converted into electricity to power up the compatible device when placed on the pad. 

There are two ways devices can wirelessly charge: inductive charging and resonance charging. Inductive charging is mostly present in low-power charging devices, or ones that require less electricity to power up. This form is limited in range, to the point that the only way your phone charges is if it’s on the pad. Resonance charging, on the other hand, maximizes the range but lessens the amount of charge transferred.

Induction charging

Within the last ten years, several non-profit organizations have created and set wireless charging standards for companies to follow. The most popular of which is the Qi standard established in 2008 by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). Other standards include the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard in 2012, and Rezence by Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) from 2012 to 2015.

All about that Qi

As mentioned earlier, the Qi standard is the most popular wireless charging standard in the world. Most of today’s smartphones and peripherals are supported by Qi. It was established in 2008, with smartphones first adopting it in 2012 through the Nokia Lumia 920.

Qi focuses primarily on energy regulation. Most charging pads that use this standard work with flat surfaces for better energy distribution. Chargers with the Qi standard regulate the amount of charge they give to devices, and immediately go on standby once full. These chargers only activate once a device is placed on top, saving on the cost of electricity in the process.

Magnetic resonance charging

Most smartphone companies have made the choice to implement the Qi standard in their latest models. Apart from Nokia, companies like LG and Samsung have adopted it beginning with the LG Nexus 4 and Samsung Galaxy S6, respectively. In 2017, Apple accepted the standard with the release of their iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. The company also planned a charging mat called AirPower that could charge multiple devices all at once, but it has yet to be launched.

Why do most companies prefer Qi, but some don’t?

The goal of the WPC is to put forward one standard for wireless charging in the world. The organization developed the Qi standard in such a way that companies are able to integrate them into their products seamlessly. It’s because of this standard that smartphones are aligned to wireless charging pads through magnets for better charging capacity.

Apart from that, the Qi standard allows for more intelligent control over charging your phone. It can tell if your phone is fully charged and will stop sending electricity to avoid overdoing it. Of course, you’ll be able to maximize the charging capacity of your Qi wireless charger if you’re only charging one device at a time.

Wireless charges for the Razer Phone 2, Google Pixel 3, and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

However, some companies recognize that most people own several smart devices. This is where other organizations like Power Matters Alliance come in. PMA initially used inductive charging as their base for wireless charging, which is what Qi uses, as well. Now, that same organization was able to look into resonance charging, which removes the limitation Qi has.

That’s one of the reasons why Samsung, for example, incorporated both Qi and PMA standards into their Samsung Galaxy S6. With resonance charging, devices can be charged a few centimeters away from the pad. This is especially good for people who use their phones while charging. While WPC is looking to incorporate resonance charging into Qi, certain factors and compatibility issues with devices make the standard less effective.

What does the future hold for wireless charging?

With all the talk about standards and devices, there’s no denying that wireless charging is here to stay. There are talks between the WPC and PMA on possibly coming up with just one true standard for all companies to follow. The best part is that it doesn’t stop there.

Both organizations are looking to expand their technologies beyond smartphones and consumer devices. WPC has already done so with furniture retailers like IKEA to apply wireless charging peripherals to office tables and couches. Meanwhile, PMA is looking to introduce wireless charging to restaurants and establishments, like McDonald’s and Starbucks with wireless-charging tables. It even reached a point wherein tech startups are developing their own hardware for wireless charging from longer distances.

It’s safe to say that the future is definitely bright for wireless charging. Whether companies will start making it a must-have feature for all their products remains to be seen.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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Here’s what you need to know about eSIM

The technology behind Apple’s first dual-SIM iPhone

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When Apple first revealed their new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, people were expecting something different. While on the outside nothing seems to have changed, the inside is a whole different story. The most notable change is the introduction of eSIM (embedded SIM) technology, something that they’ve done before with the Apple Watch.

But, what is this eSIM? How different is it from the SIM card that you know and love? And does using an eSIM change the game completely?

Let’s talk about the SIM and eSIM

One of the essentials for any phone in the market is a SIM card. Short for Subscriber Identity Module, a SIM card contains key identification and security features from any network carrier. It is used by these networks to identify their consumers and provide mobile connectivity for them — through calls, texts, and access to the internet. SIM cards also allow you to store information when you decide to switch devices every now and then.

eSIM technology, as the name implies, is embedded into the phone yet it still keeps the same functionalities as before. On devices that were designed with only one SIM card slot, adding an eSIM makes it a virtual dual-SIM machine. 

How have regions adopted eSIM?

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time Apple dealt with eSIM tech. The company had initially launched the eSIM for their Apple Watch Series 3 to give it better connectivity on the go. While Apples continues to incorporate eSIM in its newer Watch Series 4, they’ve decided to take it one step further with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

However, as of writing, only ten countries in the entire world currently support eSIM. This is mostly due to these countries having the proper infrastructure to support the use of it. While smartphone companies are looking to incorporate this new technology, the market for it seems to be relatively small.

The good and bad about eSIM

Like any other new technology, eSIM comes with its own set of benefits and difficulties — especially for those transitioning from the traditional SIM card. With eSIM installed in your phone, users will no longer have to go through the hassle of buying a specific SIM card.

Ideally, having an eSIM also allows you to switch between networks easily. Apart from an eSIM-capable phone, it also comes with the needed software to make the switching process faster and easier. In essence, you will be able to free up the allocated SIM card slot for a physical SIM card if your device supports it. This is most helpful when you travel abroad, and you need a local number in that country to access their network.

However, there are some processes that prove to be difficult with eSIM, one of which is quickly transferring your phone number to another phone, especially if you frequently switch devices. Unlike traditional SIM cards wherein you just transfer the card, you’d have to contact your service provider to activate the number in your new phone. This could be cumbersome depending on your provider’s customer service.

Furthermore, if the eSIM in your phone becomes corrupted or gets damaged in any way, it’s possible that you would need to replace your whole phone. Because the eSIM is integrated inside your phone, it won’t be easy to pry it out when things go wrong. This wouldn’t be too big of a concern for traditional SIM cards, especially when the card gets destroyed.

Are smartphones ready for the eSIM?

The eSIM technology is still in its young stages, and only a handful of devices currently support it. There is potential for the tech to be implemented across more devices in the future despite only a few countries welcoming them. However, a lot of people still primarily utilize traditional SIM cards given the difficulties of using an eSIM.

In the case of the new iPhones, for example, you can’t create two instances of chat apps on iOS. So even if you have two numbers running at the same time, you’d need a separate phone for another WhatsApp or Viber number, until Apple comes up with a software patch for this.

In the end, the technology’s impact can only be measured once more devices embrace it. But, for now, let’s celebrate how the eSIM gave us the first dual-SIM iPhone and see where the future will take us.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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