Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is the company’s latest flagship smartphone processor, likely to power the majority of 2022’s flagship Android phones.
It’ll have tough competition this year though, with Apple, Samsung, and Google all manufacturing their own chipsets, and third-party rival MediaTek now offering comparable flagship performance in its silicon for the first time too.
Revealed in late November, the 8 Gen 1 has a whole new name to go along with new architecture, a smaller 4nm manufacturing process, and a host of new AI and camera features.
Here’s what you need to know about the 8 Gen 1, including why it’s got that new name, how powerful it is, and, most importantly, which phones will be powered by it – and when.
When will the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 appear in phones?
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 was announced at 2021’s Snapdragon Tech Summit on 30 November, and it’s already appearing in actual phones.
While Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun declared at the 8 Gen 1 launch that the upcoming Xiaomi 12 series will be the first phones to use the chip and “available soon,” in fact Motorola beat them to the punch.
The Moto Edge X30 debuted in China on 9 December, and will go on sale there from 15 December. We can expect the Xiaomi 12 to follow within days, though neither phone are likely to launch out of China until next year.
Similarly, expect most 8 Gen 1 phones to launch in 2022, including the first Oppo 8 Gen 1 phone, which is promised in Q1 2022.
Which phones will use the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1?
It would probably be quicker to list the major phone companies that won’t release a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phone than the ones that will: Apple, obviously; Google, as its shift to in-house silicon production for this year’s Pixel 6 will presumably continue; and Huawei, as it’s still limited by the US trade ban (though we may see it adopt a 4G-only version of the chip).
Every other phone company you can name will probably use the chip in at least one new 2022 phone, with support already promised by Black Shark, Honor, iQoo, Motorola, Nubia, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Redmi, Sharp, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE.
The Xiaomi 12 series is already confirmed to support the chip, as is the Realme GT 2 Pro, the Moto Edge X30, the next iQoo flagship, and an unnamed Oppo phone – likely the Find X4 Pro.
Xiaomi’s Redmi K50 Pro is also rumoured to use the chip, while it’s almost certain that the Asus ROG Phone 6 will use it some time next year too.
You may have noticed that Samsung isn’t in the list above, but don’t worry. Qualcomm didn’t mention Samsung support at the launch of the 888 either, which went on to appear in the S21 series. Geekbench leaks have even already revealed the 8 Gen 1 in a Samsung phone (likely the Galaxy S22), and the company is also tipped to feature the chip in the Galaxy Tab S8 series.
Why’s it called the 8 Gen 1?
Just a week before the chip’s announcement Qualcomm revealed a re-brand for its Snapdragon line that includes scrapping the three-digit naming system its used so far, including for last year’s Snapdragon 888.
Instead, Snapdragon chips will adopt “a single-digit series and generation number” – hence 8 Gen 1 – which is similar to the naming of the company’s computer chips – with the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 is also expected to launch at this week’s Snapdragon Summit.
The change is partly to add further emphasis to the ‘Snapdragon’ brand over Qualcomm’s own name, but there’s also a more practical reason: with the 888 launched last year, Qualcomm was simply running out of numbers. It either had to move to a 9-series or change structure entirely, and this move gives them more room to maneuvre going forwards, both for its flagships and its lower tier chips.
What are the 8 Gen 1 specs?
The headline change this year is a jump to a 4nm process, with manufacturing handled by a Samsung foundry (although one report suggests TSMC may now also produce some of the chips), along with use of the new Armv9 architecture. Let’s break it down in more detail by component.
First up, the heart of the chip is the CPU. The new Kryo CPU – un-numbered this year, and presumably going forward – has a similar structure to the last gen but with upgraded specs.
- 1x Cortex-X2 prime core @ 2.995GHz
- 3x Cortex-A710 performance cores @ 2.5GHz
- 4x Cortex-A510 efficiency cores @ 1.8GHz
In terms of actual performance, Qualcomm says this delivers up to 20% more power than the Snapdragon 888, combined with 30% improved power efficiency.
This is also almost exactly the same makeup as MediaTek’s recently announced rival, the Dimensity 9000 – though the Dimensity runs just a little faster, with its X2 clocked at 3.05GHz, and its three performance cores at 2.85GHz.
The first 8 Gen 1 benchmarks reveal a solid step up in CPU benchmark performance – around the 20% predicted by Qualcomm – but it’s clear that the chip still lags behind Apple’s latest on pure processing performance.
One quick final note: there’s support for LPDDR5 RAM, but not the newer LPDDR5X standard that launched this year.
The new Adreno GPU is also un-numbered, but boasts similar performance upgrades to the CPU. In this case that’s up to 30% improved rendering, with 25% better power efficiency.
Qualcomm says it can drive displays at up to 144Hz refresh rate at a QHD+ resolution – an interesting counterpoint to its MediaTek rival, which can hit 180Hz but only at a lower FHD+ resolution.
It also benefits from some new gaming-focussed features like a new Frame Motion Engine that can deliver up to double frame rates in certain use cases, along with new variable rate shading support.
Benchmarks shared by Ice Universe suggest a considerable jump in GPU performance this year, with the 8 Gen 1 actually rivalling the Apple A15 Bionic, and out-performing it in one test – something that never really happened in previous recent generations.
Do you believe it now? The GPU of Snapdragon 8 Gen1 is enough to compete with the A15. pic.twitter.com/5NYfXDMx4C— Ice universe (@UniverseIce) December 8, 2021
AI and machine learning
Qualcomm is always bullish about its AI performance, and this year is no exception.
The 7th-gen AI Engine here includes upgrades like double the shared memory pool and a faster tensor accelerator, supposedly deliver 4x the AI performance overall.
That enhanced AI power will have impacts throughout phones, from natural language processing and virtual assistants through to just about everything that the camera does – more on that later.
The sensing hub within it also has a new trick: an extra image processor (ISP) that can be used for always-on purposes. Qualcomm’s main example is unlocking a phone by facial recognition without even touching it, though it also suggested security applications like locking a device if it recognises a face looking at your screen over your shoulder.
So, let’s turn to the actual camera power here.
Once again Qualcomm has included a triple ISP, though it’s now 18-bit and capable of processing up to 3.2 gigapixels per second.
Together with the updated AI Engine, that unlocks features like 8K video recording in HDR, a bokeh engine for 4K video, and support for an extra four stops of dynamic range.
In demos Qualcomm has also shown off support for a novel panoramic camera setup – stitching together the output of two overlapping camera sensors and lenses to produce one 140-degree panoramic shot in real-time. That means you can see this ultra-ultra-wide shot in the viewfinder before you take the shot, and avoid the edge distortion effects common to traditional ultra-wide lenses.
At this point it almost goes without saying that the 8 Gen 1 has 5G support, handling both mmWave and Sub-6 frequencies with up to 10Gbps speeds. The integrated X65 modem can also deliver a record 3.5Gbps upload speeds by combining mmWave and Sub-6 – though you’re unlikely to ever hit these speeds in real-world conditions.
There’s also support for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, though oddly Bluetooth 5.2 is found rather than the more recent 5.3 included in MediaTek’s rival chip. Still, Qualcomm has included a world-first in support for lossless CD-quality audio over Bluetooth, which the company calls the “next era of Bluetooth audio.”
We talk more about the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1’s launch as our lead topic on our weekly podcast, Fast Charge, which you can watch below: