Conclusion & First Impressions

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is an interesting part, as it represents a fresh start for the series both in a marketing sense, and in a lesser technical sense as well. As a successor to the Snapdragon 888, the new chip  completely revamps the CPU setup to new Armv9 architectures while also bringing a very large GPU improvement, massive new camera features, and a host of other new features.

Qualcomm’s decision to streamline the naming is in my opinion not that necessary. But after the transition from the Snapdragon 865 to the 888, things had arguably already kind of jumped the shark last year, so it’s not completely unexpected. What I really don't like is Qualcomm taking a note out of Apple’s PR strategies and really diminishing the amount of technical detail disclosed, dropping even things such as the IP block generational numbering on the part of the GPU, NPU/DSP or ISP. This kind of opaqueness works for a lifestyle product company, but isn’t a great marketing strategy or look for a technology company that is supposed to pride itself on the tech it develops. Whatever the marketing aspect and shift from Qualcomm, what does matter for most of our readers is the technical side of things.

Technically, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is a larger upgrade in a lot of aspects. While Qualcomm isn’t quite as aggressive as what we saw from recent competitor announcements, the chip boasts a very strong showing on the part of the CPU configuration, featuring a new Cortex-X2 core at up to 3GHz, new Cortex-A710’s middle cores at 2.5GHz, and as well as the new A510 little cores. The performance metrics, at least on the part of the X2, look to be extremely solid, and while power efficiency is still something we’ll have to investigate in more detail in the next few weeks, is also seemingly in line, or better, than the expectations.

The new Adreno GPU really didn’t get the attention it deserved, in my opinion, as things are quite more complex than just what the presentations showcased. While we still don’t expect Qualcomm to be able to catch up with Apple or be as efficient as the upcoming MediaTek part due to lingering concerns on whether the Samsung 4nm process node is able to close the gap with the TSMC competition, the new architecture changes are significant, and we should see major improvements in performance and efficiency compared to the Snapdragon 888.

Finally, the biggest changes this generation were presented on the part of the camera and ISP system. Smartphone cameras over the last few years have seen tremendous progress in terms of capability and image quality, and rather than slowing down (in contrast to other aspects of a SoC), here it seems technology progress is still full steam ahead or even accelerating. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 ISP now features fixed function blocks for a lot of the typical “computational photography” techniques we’ve seen pioneered from the last few years, and I think this will enable for far greater camera implementations for many more vendors in 2022 flagship devices. So, while the rest of the SoC can be seen as a % gain in performance or efficiency, the new camera features are expected to really bring new innovation and experiences.

Overall, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 looks to be a very solid successor to the Snapdragon 888. And that’s what’s most important for Qualcomm: executing on developing and delivering a chip that the vast majority of vendors can rely on to implement into their devices. While the competition is diversifying and stepping up their game, it’s also going to be extremely hard to match or even surpass Qualcomm’s execution the market, and the 8 Gen 1 is unlikely to disappoint.

Massive ISP Upgrades, AI Uplifts
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  • mode_13h - Thursday, December 2, 2021 - link

    I thought I wanted a headphone jack, but I haven't even been using it in my phone of the past 3 years. It turns out that I value noise cancellation much more, and most of those headphones are bluetooth. Even ones that aren't still have an ADC + DAC, rendering it almost pointless to use a cord vs. Bluetooth with AptX HD or LDAC.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, December 6, 2021 - link

    My 30 year old truck didnt magically develop bluetooth, neither did my 15 year old car, my home stereo steup, my speakers in my kitchen, ece. Until they do, keep that headphone jack around!
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, December 7, 2021 - link

    Point taken. However, if you one day fancy a phone without a headphone jack, I'm sure you can get Bluetooth receivers for your car and elsewhere. Just sayin'.
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, December 13, 2021 - link

    The BT audio codecs I have encountered have also been clearly audibly inferior to Red Book which is slightly audibly inferior to 20-bit 48K audio (basically the limit of human hearing resolution).

    The ‘loudness war’ and mp3/aac have done their best to ruin sound quality but some of us still care. Analog headphone jacks are hardly ideal but they’re better than BT.
  • mode_13h - Monday, December 13, 2021 - link

    Suit yourself, but I've been satisfied with AptX HD, on my Sennheisers, and LDAC, on my Sony headphones (high-quality setting). Of course, you'll want to be sure your phone has good support for these, but I think Sony provides the LDAC encoder, royalty-free. Qualcomm owns AptX, but I'm guessing they charge extra for HD, because not all phones support that version.

    Unless you're in a perfectly quiet environment, it's hard to appreciate the benefits of a fully-lossless signal path. You might find that anything you give up by using one of the better BT codecs, you make up for by lowering the noise floor via noise-canceling. I've used sealed, corded ear buds, but the cord noise bugs me too much and they're not comfortable to leave in for as long.
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    The proliferation of BT audio standards also feeds the point about long-term compatibility.

    Corporations love the subscription model ‘must rent everything’ paradigm but not everyone is yet indoctrinated suitably.
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 17, 2021 - link

    > The proliferation of BT audio standards

    I'm not sure AptX and LDAC actually *are* standards. AFAIK, they're strictly proprietary. That's another whole discussion, in itself.
  • Tams80 - Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - link

    Umm, that's great for you, but no one asked you to try and convince us that we don't want a headphone jack.
  • vladx - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    "This admission was actually a breath of fresh air and insight into the situation, as it’s been something I’ve especially noted in our Kirin 9000, Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100 and Tensor deep-dives in criticizing all the new chips. "

    Why are you lying here, Andrei? Neither you or any other AnandTech writer has made a deep-dive of the Kirin 9000. Writing such useless lies in your last AnandTech article is downright pathetic.
  • casteve - Wednesday, December 1, 2021 - link

    This 18-bit ISP business seems like marketing BS. Consumer cameras with much larger pixels can maybe approach 12-bit dynamic range. I'd expect cell phone cameras to be closer to 10-bit at best. Sure, you can have fun with HDR stacking to average out noise...but 8-bits worth?

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