Explainers

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

Explainers

The new online generation: Explaining 5G internet

Faster, better, and more available?

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Are you still bothered by slow internet in your country? Even with the advancements and supposed improvements in infrastructure, we’re all living in a 4G world. The current generation of internet connectivity is still present in today’s mobile and telecommunication networks. But now, a new generation has emerged, and it has the potential of taking the whole world by storm.

Let’s stop and ask first: What really is this new generation? How different is it from the existing generation’s internet? And, what needs to be done to welcome the change?

What really is 5G?

5G is the new generation we’re speaking of here. Specifically, it’s the next level of mobile network connectivity being rolled out at the moment. What 5G offers to everyone is pretty straightforward: faster internet speeds, close to zero latency, and improved accessibility. It’s expected that 5G will replace existing 4G technology once fully deployed in the near future.

Currently, 5G is still in its early stages of deployment — much like an early-access game. Companies are given plenty of time to integrate the 5G connectivity interface on their devices, or at least until March 2019. Once the initial deployment is done, 5G will be available in more devices, whether it’s your phone or your smart device.

A connection that comes in waves

Remember that one science class you had about the electromagnetic spectrum and visible light? Basically, devices that emit electromagnetic waves fall under a spectrum depending on their frequencies and wavelengths. For most network connections, their waves follow a similar concept, with 4G found on the leftmost and 5G in the middle.

There are two ways that 5G can work in any place at any time, and one of them includes waves. This strand of 5G is called the millimeter wave (mmWave), and is currently present in most research facilities and military devices. With mmWave, 5G connections are ideally faster (peaking at 10Gbps) and provide lag-free services because it adds additional bandwidth for devices to use. Although, it is held back by obstacles such as walls and floors that just bounce the signal off.

The second way is through a sub-6GHz spectrum. Unlike mmWave, the sub-6GHz spectrum is more of a middle-of-the-pack approach to 5G connectivity. Basically, 5G signals will strengthen connections that currently exist in the world like 3G and 4G. This is mostly because 3G (2.4GHz) and 4G (5GHz) fall under the 6GHz limit. This method is the more cost-effective approach, and it doesn’t easily experience interference.

How different is it really from 4G?

We always talk about how 5G is faster than 4G in terms of data transfer, which is true. But, there are other things that differentiate 5G from its predecessor. For starters, 5G connections can cover a wider area than 4G. This means that even if you’re far from your router or cell tower, you can still access 5G networks at the same speed. Just don’t be too far away, as the technology isn’t capable of reaching that far yet.

Apart from that, 5G is less prone to interference compared to 4G networks. Even if mmWave is hampered with the presence of obstacles, it still doesn’t stop it from performing relatively better than 4G. For example, even if there were several other antennas in your area, you still experience better speeds while on a 5G network compared to 4G. 5G targets devices directly, instead of spreading the waves across the whole area.

Finally, with 5G connections, more devices have access to the network. Currently, 4G networks still have a cap when it comes to the number of devices simultaneously connected. As more devices connect to the same 4G network, internet speeds tend to get slower. With 5G, however, adding more devices won’t hamper its overall performance mostly because of additional bandwidth and wider coverage.

What’s next for the new generation?

Believe it or not: We’re living in the early-access world of 5G. We hear about major telecommunication companies starting to adopt 5G in their mobile networks, and things are about to get bigger. While their data plans are available to the general public, several improvements to network infrastructure are to follow. We’re talking better signal towers, and more of them across the world.

In the future, 5G may not be limited to just mobile networks. Car companies are looking at the possibility of applying 5G to smart cars, especially for navigation. Cars on the road will be able to share data like traffic situation, road hazards, and other delays. Even things like virtual and augmented reality can make use of 5G for better simulations.

By March 2019, the early deployment of 5G will be finished. Hopefully by then, we can get more information on what 5G can do for the world. The new generation is here, but we still have to wait and see how far 5G will take us.

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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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