Snapdragon 805 hands-on at CES, the processor in your next smartphone

Fire up your Windows Phone and you’re running on silicon from Qualcomm. Every Windows Phone in existence has been powered by Qualcomm’s system-on-a-chip. Recent phones, like the Nokia Lumia 1520, are powered by Qualcomm’s latest chip – the Snapdragon 800 processor. While the first batch of Windows Phone 7 handsets were powered by earlier Snapdragon processors. Last week at CES we spent some time looking at the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processors, the latest and greatest chip from the San Diego-based company. Here’s what you can look forward to in future Windows Phone devices.

Snapdragon 805 at CES

The Snapdragon 805 processor is currently available to OEMs for sampling and expected to commercially become available sometime in the first half of 2014. Which also just so happens to be the time that the next version of Windows Phone will drop. Don’t color us surprise if the first wave of flagship devices running Windows Phone 8.1 are powered by the Snapdragon 805 processor. We wanted to see what makes the Snapdragon 805 processor so special, so we swung by the Qualcomm booth at CES. Let’s go over the raw specs and notable features first:

  • Krait 450 quad-core CPU running at up to 2.5 GHz
  • 16 KiB / 16 KiB L1 cache per core
  • 2 MiB L2 cache per core
  • 4K UHD video upscale and play
  • Dual camera image signal processor
  • Adreno 420 GPU
  • 25.6 GB/s memory bandwidth
  • gpsOne Gen 8B with GLONASS
  • USB 2.0 and 3.0 support
  • 28 nm manufacturing process

Specs are fun and all, but to the average consumer it’s nothing but gobbledygook. What really matters about the Snapdragon 805 processor is what’s new and different about it in the real world. Thankfully, we took some videos of the various features and improvements the Snapdragon 805 will bring to the mobile landscape and to Windows Phone. Let’s check the demos below.

Snapdragon 805 camera demo

The Snapdragon 805 is bringing some impressive features to smartphones. One of the demonstrations that Qualcomm was presenting focused on the camera improvements available at the hardware level to OEMs. The Chromeflash camera feature in the Snapdragon 805 processor allows for the multiple images to be taken at once and combined to created balanced images. It’s a mix of HDR and photo merging, at the hardware level. You’ll have scenes with competing levels of brightness balanced to create natural looking photos. The next feature we saw was called Opti-Zoom, which is a bit like the technology used by Nokia to retain zoom in images from the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520. Again, available at the hardware level to all OEMs from Qualcomm. Omni-Focus was the other feature that will be available to OEMs in the Snapdragon 805 chipset. This allows for multiple planes of focus in one image, again something we’ve seen from Nokia.

Nothing wowed us about the new camera and imaging experiences available in the 805, this is stuff we’ve all seen from Nokia at one point or another during the past year. What’s special about it in the 805 is that all OEMs will have access to these features out of the box, so Nokia (eventually Microsoft) will need to further innovate to standout from all smartphones now that this will become a base level of experience.

Graphics Demo

Surprise! The Snapdragon 805 processor packs even more graphics power than its predecessors. In the 805 you’ll find the Adreno 420 GPU that has 40% better graphics performance than the Adreno 330 found inside the Snapdragon 800 chipset. It also includes DirectX 11.2, which is great because you get tessellation support at the hardware level in games.

4K Demo

The Snapdragon 805 chipset will be found in both smartphones and tablets. 4K is the future video content and something that the 805 processor will support from the get go. You’ll get the first commercially available hardware with support for HEVC (H.265) decoding that will help push the 4K content. It was pretty amazing to seeing a processor that will be in our smartphones in a few months handling 4K content with no problem.

Display Demo

Some of the tech seen in this demo is already shipping in some Snapdragon 800 series, like the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 2520. The display controller in the chipset is separate from the GPU and responsible for producing the video signal. You’ll see colors corrected at the hardware level in chipsets running the tech from Qualcomm.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 processor isn’t due in smartphones for quite some time. Maybe we’ll see new devices powered by the chipset at Mobile World Congress, but that’s still more than a month away. Those phones will probably be running Android, with the first batch of Windows Phone 8.1 hopefully being powered by this incredible system.

Sam Sabri