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

A phone’s water protection plan: IP ratings explained

It doesn’t give you the right to dunk it in water, though

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Illustration by MJ Jucutan

If you plan to bring your phone to a beach trip with your friends, you normally bring a pouch with you. The main function of that pouch is to protect your phone from contact with any liquid while you enjoy the waves. Of course, it doesn’t fully guarantee that water won’t seep through it — especially when a big wave crashes on you and opens the pouch. But, it does give a sense of safety and security for your beloved smartphone.

That’s the whole concept behind an IP rating that’s given to most smartphones today. Nowadays, you hear a lot about these smartphones being advertised with IP68 ratings. But, what does an IP68 rating actually mean? Is it worth something to consider when buying a new smartphone?


What is an IP rating?

IP ratings are not new in the tech world. In fact, a lot of the electrical appliances and technologies you have at home come with it. An IP rating, or ingress protection rating basically tells you the level of protection any electrical device has against solid and liquid objects. It acts as a security measure to determine what objects the device can handle without malfunctioning.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) gives out these ratings to manufacturers as a safety measure for production. It consists of two numbers that describe its protection against a vast number of objects, even human touch. The first number denotes a device’s protection against common solid objects and dust. Meanwhile, the second number denotes a device’s protection against liquids, even steam-jet liquids. The higher the number, the more protection it gets!

IP ratings are not just present in most recent smartphones. Things like electrical sockets, cameras, even phone cases come with IP ratings, as well. 

The reason it exists

Manufacturers and consumers see an IP rating quite differently. Those two numbers ultimately stand for how well your device can stand against, well anything. For manufacturers, an IP rating basically gives them a standard to follow when producing more devices. Before shipping their latest smartphones, they subject their devices to numerous tests to validate their IP ratings.

Also, it gives a more concrete way of stating that their devices are resistant to such objects. When you come across smartphones that claim to be water resistant, oftentimes you tend to ask just how resistant it is. With manufacturers, the IP rating gives a more definitive measure to that claim. For example, a smartphone with an IP68 rating is heavily protected against dust, and you can submerge it in waters deeper than a meter — perfect for beach trips.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort, Maramegmeg Beach, El Nido

For consumers, the IP rating just provides a peace of mind when buying a new smartphone. It’s basically placed there to tell you that your phone can still be used even if you subject it to too much dust or water that’s too deep. You see this in most YouTube videos or channels that basically bend, scratch, and dunk phones in buckets of water. In the end, you won’t have to worry about destroying your phone that much when you go on that beach trip without a pouch.

Some manufacturers simply don’t need the rating

However, there are manufacturers that simply found the rating unnecessary or simply just a marketing tool. Companies like OnePlus even did an entire ad that showed off their new flagship devices, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro without an IP rating. The whole issue sparked debates on whether or not IP ratings do make sense, or companies could simply do without them.

OnePlus argues that one reason their new smartphones don’t have an IP rating is because of the cost to get one. Even simply requesting for a phone for consideration costs a lot on the manufacturing side, which ultimately bumps up the phone’s price. Pete Lau, one of the co-founders of the company estimated the cost for getting an IP rating is at US$ 30. Of course, it is entirely up to the consumer’s view of its value to the overall product.

The other reason is because of the coverage of the device’s warranty, particularly towards water damage. OnePlus claims that even if smartphones have IP ratings that show how resistant they are to water, water damage isn’t fully covered by its warranty. This also furthers their argument on why they wouldn’t want to spend on getting one in the first place. An IP rating is not a legitimate reason for people to have their phones fixed for free after dunking them in buckets of water.

To them, it does not make sense to simply attach an IP rating onto a phone even as a marketing tool. It gives off the wrong impression that the device is waterproof when the rating basically leans towards phones being water resistant.

Do we really need to know the IP rating? 

The IEC created IP ratings for everyone’s protection — from manufacturers to consumers. The whole purpose of having an IP rating is to provide a level of protection for anything electrical, smartphones included. It ensures the safety of everyone, but it’s not a way to bail anyone out when they dunk their phones in water.

While some may argue that it helps to know what your device’s IP rating is for better care, others just see it as a marketing ploy. It only seeks to sell a device perceived to be waterproof according to a standard. However, IP ratings were not meant to waterproof your phone by any means. It’s there to tell you that your phone can handle water, just possibly not too much.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves whether we truly see the value in having these IP ratings. Whether or not your preferred device has an IP rating, just remember: it’s not a reason for you to exploit your phone.

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Enterprise

Huawei vs the US: A timeline

An FAQ on Huawei’s problems

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Who’s afraid of Huawei? Right now, everyone is. Does anyone really know why?

Since 2017, the US has dealt continuous blows against the Chinese company. More than two years later, the war is still in full swing. Both sides have fired multiple salvos against the other. Still, despite the conflict’s longevity, most people are not really sure what’s happening.


Why are they fighting? Should we stay away from Huawei? Is it time to get rid of our Huawei devices as soon as possible? Should we really fear for our cybersecurity?

For ordinary consumers, the entire Huawei debacle is mired in political lingo and endless controversy. It’s time to clear the air. What’s up, Huawei?

How did this all begin?

Let’s go back to where it all started. In late 2017, American lawmakers reviewed the businesses of ZTE, another Chinese tech company. Soon after, the investigation unveiled a flurry of shady business deals involving Iran. By law, companies operating in the US are not allowed to communicate with blacklisted countries including North Korea and Iran. Naturally, the violation caused monumental sanctions against ZTE. The US banned ZTE from American soil — effectively, the same ban on Huawei today.

At this time, Huawei was just a moderately innocent passerby stuck between two fighting giants. At most, Huawei was accused of spying on its customers. American lawmakers proposed a boycott of Huawei’s products. The proposal drew from the emerging rise of Sinophobia. Still, at the time, the US government’s eyes were firmly on ZTE.

Current restrictions prevent Huawei from providing 5G technologies to American consumers

In its infancy, the Huawei-ZTE issue was a product of a small fear. It still hadn’t affected everyone. In fact, US President Donald Trump even tried to save both companies from utter destruction. Both companies enjoyed a reprieve from America’s ire. However, this was short-lived.

In a surprising about-face, Trump started his controversial trade war against China. The American leader abandoned his salvific efforts. Instead, he adopted an incredibly aggressive push against Chinese companies. Unsurprisingly, ZTE already crumbled from the initial push, leaving Trump without a company to make an example out of.

Trump set his sights on Huawei, the world’s second largest smartphone maker. His weapon: the same ban meant for ZTE. His motive: potential cybersecurity issues. This time, America means business. Recently, Trump finally pulled the trigger, enacting a total ban against Huawei on American soil. However, instead of just the US, Trump has been lobbying for a similar ban on other countries. Since then, Huawei has suffered a world of hurt.

What does the ban mean?

Naturally, a “total ban” sounds daunting. Banning Huawei smells like certain doom for the tech giant but what does the ban really mean?

When enforced, Huawei can no longer deal with American companies. To Huawei’s dismay, the tech maker uses a fair number of American components in its products. Most notably, Huawei’s smartphones come with Google’s Android. The ban will prevent Huawei from using the operating system going forward. On paper, this is a huge deal. Android remains the world’s biggest operating system. A lot of consumers trust Android. Huawei is losing a massive chunk of its package with the loss.

As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook — and its slew of apps — have withdrawn from Huawei’s products. The company’s smartphones will no longer have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp installed out of the box. The threat is becoming real.

Huawei makes its own chipsets but relies on several American companies for other components

Additionally, Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm have blacklisted Huawei after Google’s announcement. Huawei has also lost the support of the ubiquitous ARM chip architecture.

It’s not looking good for the Chinese company. Huawei is slowly being dismembered. Faced with an army of bans, it’s natural to worry about Huawei. Worst case scenario, Huawei will become a mere shadow of its former self, devoid of the components that helped its recent success.

Should we really worry, though?

Not just yet. Right now, Huawei is enjoying a temporary reprieve. Soon after the initial ban, the American government granted the company a three-month extension. Until around the end of August, Huawei can still operate with its current partnerships. Except Facebook, its devices will still ship with the same components we love. At least for the near future, Huawei is safe.

In the meantime, Huawei is hunting for adequate alternatives for its failing parts. This means a new operating system, new chips, and likely an entirely new package. To its credit, Huawei’s development team is working around the clock. Only a month removed from ground zero, they are already promising optimistic developments for the future. Huawei remains confident in their future, launching a bevy of new phones amidst the controversy.

Likewise, some American companies are also lamenting the loss of business. Before the ban, Huawei was a loyal customer, delivering American components to a massive global audience. They aren’t happy with Trump’s ban. For one, Google has publicly defended Huawei. According to them, Huawei’s — and subsequently, the world’s — cybersecurity standards will collapse without a collaboration between international companies. With Android, Google can act as Huawei’s checks and balances against potential cybersecurity threats from malicious forces. If anything, Huawei still has its share of public defenders.

The US ban will prevent Huawei from using Android as its operating system moving forward

Most importantly, Trump still has the power to reverse the ban before the 90-day extension runs out. If China and the US reach a meeting point, all might go back to normal. Though uncertain, it’s too early to give up on Huawei just yet.

What will Huawei 2.0 look like?

Unfortunately, Huawei’s future is muddled with uncertainty. This includes any potential iterations in the future. As far as we know, Huawei isn’t bleeding from the multitude of losses. The company has reinforced its Kirin chipsets. Further, they are developing their own dedicated operating system codenamed Ark OS.

Other than that, there’s not much to go on. Speculatively, the biggest changes will come from its app supports. If Google leaves, Huawei will be left without the Play Store’s support and security. The Chinese company will have to rely on its own native software to power their phones. Unfortunately, an all-Chinese ecosystem is less than ideal for most. In fact, having one might even justify the American Sinophobia. But again, it’s all up in the air.

I have a Huawei phone. Should I just sell it?

No, you still shouldn’t. The grey market is already doubling down against the onslaught of Huawei returns. If you don’t know a willing contact, finding a buyer will be difficult. If you do find one, you’ll receive only a mere fraction of what you paid for.

At its current iteration, Huawei’s phones are still on top. They are a delight to hold and use, and if anything, have challenged its competitors to offer better value to consumers over the years. Right now, it’s best to play the long game. Wait and see what happens. If anything, Huawei — and its official partners — already has an insurance policy in place. Several retailers have declared a 100 percent refund policy in countries like Singapore. If Google cuts the cord, Huawei users can get their money back.

Similarly, Google has promised Android Q support for existing Huawei handsets. Just this week Huawei also announced the rollout of Android-based EMUI 9.1 to older models. If you already own one, a Huawei phone shouldn’t be an immediate cause for panic.

So, should we really be worried about Huawei?

Understandably, uncertainty isn’t an ideal for everyone. Huawei’s troubles are an excruciating thorn for both businesses and consumers alike. Switching to another brand is a natural solution against the company’s shaky future. However, if you’re looking at the silver lining, worrying is likely a premature reaction. If you’re not a Huawei user, the controversies shouldn’t affect you. If you’re already a Huawei user or looking to buy a Huawei device, it will likely pay off to play a longer strategy. After all, Huawei devices are still some of the best smartphones you can buy on the market.

Editor’s Note: Looks like we really shouldn’t worry after all. Not even an entire day has passed since this article was originally published but Huawei no longer banned in the US. Rejoice, Huawei users!

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Computers

Explaining OLED screens and Dark Mode

Why that screen fits in the dark

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Most of the applications you’re currently using must have rolled out their own version of dark mode by now. The smooth transition from a light to dark interface can be done through a push of a button, or by sending the moon emoji on Messenger. A lot of people also find dark mode quite sexy, and that’s probably because of the screen they’re looking at.

A lot of newly released smartphones now have OLED screens, and dark mode seems to work best on such displays! But why is that? How do OLED panels allow dark mode to flourish?


Better, blacker, affordable screens

Organic LED (light-emitting diode) or OLED is essentially a kind of display technology. In a nutshell, OLED panels allow for better and clearer images and colors.

Thin layers of carbon fiber make up OLED screens. Because of these lightweight fibers, screens show brighter and more vibrant colors. Apart from that, OLED screens show deeper blacks and reduce instances of motion blur when navigating. The best part is that OLED screens are becoming gradually cheaper to manufacture. That explains why more and more of today’s smartphones use this panel.

More colorful than the rest

In comparison to regular LED screens of the past, OLED promises more accurate colors by producing light from individual pixels, instead of relying on backlighting. Back then, LCD screens relied heavily on the backlight of the display to make colors pop. Although, such displays also make the colors seem washed, especially when compared to OLED.

Image credit: Denise Chan

However, OLED’s colors don’t always turn out better than on LED and LCD screens. One such case is when you turn your screen’s brightness to its maximum, especially under strong daylight conditions. LED and LCD screens are designed to perform relatively better in color accuracy when your screen’s brightness is set to max. OLED screens were not designed for maximum brightness, so colors at that point would be saturated.

Which OLED is best?

There are two types of OLED technologies that currently exist: AMOLED and PMOLED. A lot of people hear AMOLED tossed around a lot because lots of smartphones use it. Essentially, AMOLED uses a storage capacitor that controls how much light each individual pixel will give off. It’s the one responsible for projecting all sorts of vibrant colors on most OLED smartphone screens. Apart from that, AMOLED screens do support wider resolutions at a more affordable and efficient rate.

PMOLED, on the other hand, does not have a storage capacitor and instead relies on user control. Essentially, the user will control lighting settings, and the individual pixels will adjust accordingly. You can find PMOLED screens on smaller devices like older iPods and pocket Wi-Fi devices. Take note that these screens use more power to implement such color changes.

Joining the dark side

Ever since dark mode rolled out for different apps and interfaces, people have been contemplating on switching to it — and for good reason. On normal LED or LCD screens, the new feature does not bode well with the technology. The depth of the black their dark mode possesses is not reflected well, to the point that the blacks look more gray than actual black. This is much more obvious when the screen’s brightness is turned all the way up.

Image credit: Mike Enerio

Aesthetically, dark mode looks better on OLED screens because of the technology’s emphasis on deeper blacks. Most OLED screens have capacitors that control light passing through each pixel, which also works for blacks and whites. As such, dark mode shows up deeper and blacker, which is the intended look compared to regular modes. But, there’s actually more to just aesthetics for this mode.

It’s also been proven that dark mode on OLED helps save your battery life. Google confirmed this at its Android Dev Summit, citing that on max brightness, blacks consume less power than all other colors. Individual pixels need less electricity to show blacks on screen, which results in lower power consumption through time. Note that Google got these findings through tests on their original Pixel smartphones and their own apps like YouTube.

What’s left for OLED and dark mode

Apps and operating systems are now starting to embrace or consider incorporating dark mode into their software. While apps like Twitter and YouTube introduced such an option early on, others are beginning to take notice. Of course, you’re gonna need the right screen to fully immerse yourself.

Image credit: Simone Dalmeri

It has been proven: OLED and dark mode are indeed a perfect match. But, it is entirely up to you whether you want to stay in the light or switch to the dark side.

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