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The Samsung S10 is now the world’s most advanced smartphone powered by Qualcomm’s 855 – at least until Huawei challenges with its new Kirin 990 in the coming Mate 30 series.

This is an article about smartphone technology and how the evolution under the bonnet affects us all. Invariably today’s flagship processor, in this case, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 features will flow down to the Snapdragon 7XX, 6XX, 4XX and 2XX series.

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Note that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is for use in certain international markets. Samsung also uses its Exynos 9820 that has similar performance specifications to the Snapdragon 855 (in all but name!) and powers the S10 series in many markets.

You can read all about the S10 here.

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Why the two chips?

Samsung needs to control its silicon, just as Huawei has its Kirin and Apple its A-series chipsets. If you want to do something different you need to make sure that the silicon can support it.

SamMobile published the Exynos 9820 vs Snapdragon 855 specs comparison

Specification Exynos 9820 Snapdragon 855
Process 8nm LPP FinFET 7nm FinFET
CPU Octa-core custom CPU: Dual-core (Custom CPU) + Dual-core (Cortex-A75) + Quad-core (Cortex-A55) Octa-core semi-custom Kryo 485 CPU: Single-core (Cortex A76 @ 2.84GHz) + Tri-core (Cortex-A76 @ 2.42GHz) + Quad-core (Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz)
GPU ARM Mali-G76 MP12 Adreno 640
Dedicated NPU Yes Yes
Display WQUXGA (3840×2400), 4K UHD (4096×2160) Up to 4K, HDR and 10-bit colour depth
LTE Modem LTE-Advanced Pro Cat.20 8CA 2Gbps (DL) / Cat.20 3CA 316Mbps (UL) X24 LTE 2 Gbps (DL)/316 Mbps (UL), Optional X50 5G Modem
Storage UFS 3.0, UFS 2.1 UFS 3.0
Memory LPDDR4x LPDDR4x
Camera Rear 22MP, Front 22MP, Dual-camera 16MP+16MP Up to 20 MP dual cameras, up to 48 MP single camera
Video Capture 8K @ 30fps or 4K @ 150fps 4K HDR @ 60fps. Supports shooting in HDR10+, HDR10, HLG
Video Playback 10-bit HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9 codec 8K 360° VR, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, 10-bit colour depth, H.265, VP9 video decoder

To my trained eye, there are a few minor differences, but none that really matter – in real life the new 7nm Snapdragon 855 is marginally ahead of the 8nm Exynos 9820 in performance.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 integrates even more into the chip

One of biggest advancements is the tighter integration of formerly separate components into a single System on a Chip or SoC. This means smaller chips (Qualcomm 855 is now a very thin 7nm) that use less power and do not suffer the loss of speeds by using an external bus to connect them.

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The 855 has eight-cores that run up to 2.84GHz each. This scales up or down as needed and gives 45% more performance over the 845.

It also supports USB-C 3.1, Wi-Fi 6 (AX), Bluetooth 5.0 (2Mbps), NFC and almost every version of GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, SBAS, Beidou, Galileo, Dual frequency GNSS.

Wi-Fi 6 gives MU-MIMO and HT160 (aggregation) with supporting routers for up to 10Gbps speeds.

Adreno 604

20% faster graphics than the previous generation while continuing to lead the mobile industry in performance per watt. It has full AR and VR functionality.

It supports 4K, HDR10+ (video capture and screen), 10-bit (1 billion colours) and Rec 2020 colour gamut. That is the best you can get. It supports OpenCL 2.0 FP, OpenGL ES 3.2, Vulkan 1.1, and DX12 standards.

X55 5G modem

The 855 incorporates its X24 4G LTE modem which means Dual Sim Voice over LTE (VoLTE), Ultra HD Voice; Cat 20 2Gbps download/Cat 13 316Mbps upload, 7x20MHz carrier band aggregation and more. It is the fastest 4G can go subject to the Telco’s network implementation. This is for the S10 series.

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The Galaxy S10 5G version adds the X55 modem for multi-gigabit speeds using the sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequency bands. It also supports 5G non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) modes, and 5G/4G spectrum sharing.

It can achieve 7Gbps download and 3Gbps upload.

The S10 5G at 6.7-inches is physically larger than the 6.4-inch S10+ to accommodate larger antenna, battery and chips.

Qualcomm 3D Ultrasonic fingerprint under glass

It uses sound waves to read the valleys and ridges of a finger. It transmits an ultrasonic pulse against the finger, creating a detailed three-dimensional reproduction. This is a true differentiator compared the legacy two-dimensional, light-sensing optical approach. 

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Unlike optical scanning solutions, Qualcomm 3D Sonic isn’t spoofed by 2D materials such as a fingerprint’s photograph. It also uses sophisticated machine learning technology to extract ultrasonic-based image characteristics to prevent spoofing by 3D materials.

Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit (SPU)

This adds vault-like characteristics for system integrity, user authentication and key management, helping to keep precious data out of prying eyes. It works with Samsung Knox security software.

Spectra 380 ISP (Image signal processor)

It integrates numerous hardware accelerated computer vision (CV) capabilities, enabling the world’s first dual 14-bit CV-ISP to provide cutting-edge computational photography and video capture features while at the same time offering up to 4x power savings compared to the 845.

Put in layman’s terms, it supports the five cameras on the S10+ as well as on-chip encoding/decoding for video formats including H.265 (HEVC), H.264 (AVC), HLG, HDR10, HDR10+, VP8, VP9. HEIF saves photos, videos, and computer vision data at half the size.

Qualcomm AI Engine

 A new dedicated Qualcomm Hexagon Tensor Accelerator and delivers 3x the AI performance compared to the previous generation.

It can process over 7 trillion operations a second – that is huge – and is the basis for split second AI and machine learning applications.

Audio

Qualcomm TrueWireless stereo bud Technology, Broadcast Audio technology, Aqstic audio technology, aptX audio technology and aptX Adaptive. In short 32-bit/384kHz support for true high res and works with two voice assistants wake up phrases simultaneously.

Battery

Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+ technology is faster again than QC 4.0, 3.0 etc.

It supplies 3-11V, in 20mV steps and 0A to 3A in 50mA step increments via USB-PD 3.0. What that means is that will intelligently charge any battery from 3-20V (Class B adaptors) and up to 4X faster charging if your device supports it. It is backwards compatible.

GadgetGuy’s take: Sorry to be a techie

Simply put this is now the world’s fastest, most advanced chip and enables Samsung’s S10 series to do what it does – be a superb 2019 flagship.

As we said earlier these changes are under the bonnet – you can’t see them.

So yes it’s still a glass slab, but we will see future innovations in the S10 a foldable phone before mid-year and the S10 5G as well.