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What to expect from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800, and why you want it

The next wave of popular smartphones are still going to be packing Qualcomm processors, but the majority of them will have the new Snapdragon 800. What does that mean for you, exactly, and why does it matter?

If you’ve spent any time with an HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, you’ve seen first hand with the Snapdragon 600 processor is capable of. In no way could you describe phones running this processor as slow or sluggish, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look to what’s next. After spending some time with the Qualcomm MSM8974, a reference tablet designed to allow developed to test the Snapdragon 800 processor, we’ve got a good idea of what we can expect from the next generation of Android phones and tablets.

In every way, the Snapdragon 800 is designed to be an incremental bump from the 600. The whole idea is that this chipset will be one step better for tablets, high-end smartphones, and possibly even Windows RT and Chrome OS devices. Qualcomm released the 800 in part of a larger plan to offer multiple performance tiers to their manufacturing partners. In doing so, the Snapdragon 800 takes the already impressive 600 and makes a series of small tweaks to get a greater result. The Krait 300 CPU has been replaced with a Krait 400 CPU –capable of 2GHz+ speeds– with the Adreno 320 GPU swapped out for an Adreno 330. The chipset now also supports 2560×2048 resolution, 1080p Miracast output, and up to a 21MP camera.

There’s another, somewhat peculiar piece of hardware in this reference design: a port for SuperSpeed USB 3.0. This port isn’t widely used in the PC world right now, but the design is such that you can continue to use your regular MicroUSB cable for data transfer if you wish. Should you decide to use the SS USB 3.0 port, you’ll find the transfer rates between your PC and your tablet to be incredible. An 8GB HD video transferred in under 90 seconds, which is exactly what you’d expect from USB 3.0. There’s no guarantee that this port will end up in consumer grade hardware anytime soon, especially since this reference kit wasn’t using it for charging, but the idea is exciting all the same.

Snapdragon 800

What does all of that mean, exactly? The problem with reference hardware is that it’s not designed to deliver a consumer experience. It’s designed to deliver a developer experience, to give developers an idea of what the boundaries for this particular piece of hardware are. As a result, we can run benchmarks until we fall asleep looking at numbers on a page that are incrementally larger than the numbers that showed up for the last thing we ran benchmarks on. While we did run a couple of benchmarks for the sake of seeing what happened at the end (hint, the Snapdragon 800 is crazy fast) we also ran some more important real world tests.

The big things you’re going to see from the Snapdragon 800 is the ability to do the same thing you do right now, only more efficiently. Games won’t tax the Snapdragon 800 to the point of making the entire device hot to the touch like the HTC One. Playing games at 24FPS to a 2048×1600 display for 30 minutes wasn’t enough to make this tablet warm to the touch. You’ll also notice that games load incredibly fast, noticeably faster than the previous generation of hardware. When comparing the load times against a Tegra 3 based tablet, the Snapdragon 800 was nearly three times faster in loading large apps.You won’t notice a difference in navigation, but the time you spend in between apps will be significantly decreased on Snapdragon 800 based systems.

Snapdragon 800-based systems will also be capable of more simultaneous tasks, but you’ll see these reflected in new features that become available through Android or through OEM branded features. These includes tools like facial recognition through the camera app, so you can tag photos with friends names and upload to your social network of choice with that information already attached to the photo. It also allows for voice control services that seem to be always-on and always listening for you to give instructions (as in the Moto X). These kinds of tasks will be a staple in the next generation of hardware, because the processor can now handle these simultaneous tasks with acceptable losses in battery performance.

In short, the Snapdragon 800 is exactly what you would expect it to be. Recent reports look like it may be slightly less powerful than Nvidia’s Tegra 4 processor, but the brand recognition and partner support guarantee that you’ll see plenty of these chips this year. Qualcomm has been leading the mobile market for the last few years, as the only chipset manufacturer able to combine performance with less power hungry LTE radios, and this next step in their lineup will open new doors to exciting new features on our smartphones and tablets.

Now read: Second gen Surface RT expected to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800

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