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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

Apps

How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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Your MagSafe Questions Answered

Do you really need it?

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If you’ve ever owned an old MacBook before, you’ll know that those chargers magnetically snap onto place. That particular technology is called the ‘MagSafe’.

After the MacBook Pro touch bar and USB-C overhaul last 2016, everyone thought MagSafe ended for good. Not until they announced the new MagSafe for the iPhone 12 series four years later.

The MagSafe technology might not be new but the implementation for the latest iPhones makes the technology even more usable. Other than the securely-placed phone for wireless charging, there are a plethora of case manufacturers who continuously work on future accessories that support MagSafe existing ecosystem.

But is the Apple MagSafe more than just a gimmick? And do you really need it?

Watch our in-depth Apple MagSafe explainer here.

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