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New Snapdragon chip has me excited about phones again

OPINION: I’ve been jaded by the latest smartphones lately. We’ve reached a point where our pocket-friendly wearables are so fast and fully featured that I no longer crave upgrades as much as I used to.

Every year, several companies brag about their latest phone’s performance upgrades, but I don’t really care.

My Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G features the now obsolete Snapdragon 865 chip and is fast enough for me to surf the web, watch videos or take photos without noticeable lag.

Longer battery life is always welcome, of course, but my phone also lasts all day without needing to be recharged. Battery life is always an important consideration when buying a new phone, but I wouldn’t rush to upgrade my Galaxy S20 FE if its successors somehow manage to double that staying power.

When I think back to the past few years, I can’t remember many new smartphone announcements that really got me excited.

Microsoft and Samsung probably came closest with the Surface Duo and Galaxy Z Fold 3 thanks to its dual-screen and foldable designs. But extravagant price points and software teething problems rule out those phones being a realistic option.

So when I was invited to Hawaii for Qualcomm’s launch of the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 smartphone chip, my expectations were not sky-high. As expected, Qualcomm announced that its new chip will see 20% faster CPU speeds compared to the previous generation, and a 30% faster GPU. Improvements have also been made to power savings, potentially extending battery life for future phones.

Qualcomm has also increased peak download speeds for 5G connectivity to 10Gbps, but as the UK still doesn’t have coverage for mmWave, unfortunately we can’t hit those speeds.

There’s no doubt that these are impressive improvements for the next generation of smartphones, but they aren’t substantial enough to get me excited to upgrade my current phone.

However, after the announcement, Qualcomm invited me to several demos to see new features that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip is capable of thanks to artificial intelligence and other smart upgrades.

The first demo showed how AI can block background noise during voice calls. A Qualcomm employee demonstrated this by crumpling a crispy package and banging it on the table while speaking into the phone. He played the recording and as if by magic all I heard was his voice without distraction. It was remarkable.

I’m also impressed with the new always-on camera, which allows users to login to their phone via facial recognition without having to touch or press anything. A Qualcomm employee explained that this feature also allows you to scan QR codes without having to wake the phone first. That should make the process of loading a digital menu in a restaurant much easier.

The camera seems to have benefited the most from AI this generation, as the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip allows you to record video with a bokeh effect. A Qualcomm employee showed me this feature in action and I was impressed with how easy it was to activate. Just press a button in the camera app and the phone will automatically blur the background of your shot with a more intense focus on the person in the photo.

Photos generally look better with the new Snapdragon chip, with improvements to night mode, burst function and automatic facial recognition. Phones with the Snapdragon chip can also record video in 8K HDR.

And then there’s lossless audio via Bluetooth, so you can be assured of CD-quality sound when using wireless headphones. Unfortunately, you have to buy headphones that support the new Snapdragon Sound Technology to take advantage of this feature, but I’m confident that the technology will show up in many Bluetooth headphones in the near future.

Of course, specific phones must support the above functions and that is not always a guarantee.

As you can see, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 unlocks many new features for future smartphones. Admittedly, there’s not really a single killer feature here that makes me desperate to upgrade my phone in 2022, but I think the accumulation of all these features results in a smartphone chip that really feels like a major upgrade from its predecessors. .

But how does Qualcomm get this message across to people? It’s easy to understand that a new chip is faster than previous iterations, but it’s much harder to explain how artificial intelligence will improve your phone. I posed this question to Jeff Gehlhaar, who leads Qualcomm’s AI software team.

“The value to the end user is, I think, a more immersive, magical, natural experience,” he said. “These things [new features] are deployed because of devices like Snapdragon 8, and people just take it for granted. They don’t even realize it’s happening.”

I think that’s a very good summary of artificial intelligence. It allows users to take advantage of advanced features such as noise reduction and video bokeh effects by simply tapping a button. And all these features result in a more seamless experience for the user – as Gehlhaar says, it works like magic.

I’m impressed with the number of new features the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 brings to the table, and I’m excited at the prospect of discovering even more AI-based tricks Qualcomm has in store. I personally may not need a faster phone, but I could certainly benefit from AI turning my amateur holiday snaps into something I can proudly post on Instagram.

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