Qualcomm announced on 30 November 2021 the successor to its top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 and Snapdragon 888+ mobile system-on-chips: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The Xiaomi 12 and Xiaomi 12 Pro are the first smartphones to sport this chip. Furthermore, the flagship-grade Realme GT 2 Pro is also the first mid-range smartphone to use this mobile SoC as part of its budget-friendly but power-oriented selling proposition.
Nonetheless, as the newer flagship-level chip from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is also considered the most powerful among the entire Snapdragon 8 series line of chips and the most advanced among the entire Snapdragon brand. It boasts of advanced process nodes or fabrication technology, a newer integrated graphics processor, the most up-to-date wireless communication radios, and dedicated artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.
Pros of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1: Notable Features and Advantages
More Powerful Mobile Processing Capabilities
One of the advantages of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 compared to the previous-generation Snapdragon 888 and 888+ and other previous-generation SoCs from MediaTek and Samsung is the improved central processing performance. The chip has an eight-core CPU. The inclusion and configuration of these cores balance power and battery efficiency.
The CPU specifically has a single high-performance primary Kryo Prime core based on ARM Cortex-X2 that has a maximum clock speed of up to 3.0 GHz. There are also three other Kryo Gold performance cores that run at 2.5 GHz and four Kryo Silver power-efficiency cores with a maximum clock speed of up to 1.8 GHz.
Data showed that the CPU is 20 percent faster than the same eight-core CPU found in the Snapdragon 888. It also reduces power consumption by up to 30 percent to improve battery life performance. This newer configuration makes this new Snapdragon SoC the ideal chip to power most of the flagship Android smartphones for 2022.
Results from benchmark tests showed specific performance improvements compared to selected flagship-level chips. For example, based on AnTuTu 9, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU achieved a score of 229138. Results from GeekBench 5 showed that it reached a single-threaded or single-core score of 1202 and a multi-threaded or multi-core score of 3784.
Note that the Snapdragon 888+ had a CPU score of 218372 based on AnTuTu 9, as well as a single-core score of 1159 and a multi-core score of 3622 based on GeekBench 5. The Samsung Exynos 2200 had an AnTuTu 9 score of 23167 and a respective GeekBench 5 scores of 12017 and 3493 for single-core and multi-core processes.
All-New Adreno 730 for Better Graphics Processing
The Snapdragon 888 and Snapdragon 888+ come with Adreno 660 for integrated graphics processing. This GPU is designed for high-performance gaming and graphics-intensive usage. It can offer up to 35 percent increase in graphics processing performance compared to the older Adreno 650 while providing up to 20 percent improvement in power efficiency.
However, the Adreno 730 is the more advanced GPU technology from Qualcomm. The specifications sheet from the company claims that this integrated graphics processor can deliver 50 percent faster graphics rendering performance. It is also 25 percent more power-efficient than the previous generation of Adreno GPU.
The entire Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC is also the first platform from Qualcomm to showcase Unreal Engine 5. Note that the Unreal Engine is a gaming engine used in desktop computers, gaming consoles, and mobile devices. The Unreal Engine 5 has been showcased in PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S gaming consoles.
Fundamentally, the chip is powerful enough to support an advanced game engine that can provide advanced lighting and shadow effects for a more compelling gaming experience. The Adreno also has a dedicated Frame Motion Engine that efficiently increases the frames-per-second for smoother graphical transitions during gameplay.
The GPU score of this chip using AnTuTu 9 is 438172. The previous-generation Snapdragon 888+ has a GPU score of 323190 using the same benchmarking platform. Other top-tier Android SoCs such as the Samsung Exynos 2200 achieved an AnTuTu 9 GPU score of 412728 and the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 had a GPU score of 393810.
Latest Wi-Fi and 5G Technologies for Wireless Connectivity
Another advantage of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is that it has a built-in Wi-Fi radio based on the most recent Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E standards. The Wi-Fi 6 standard supports Wi-Fi connectivity running either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. This has been the standard Wi-Fi technology found in modern mobile devices, laptops, and routers.
However, the Wi-Fi 6E is a more advanced standard because it supports the 6 GHz frequency band. Note that higher frequency means higher speeds. In addition, this standard also has a maximum link rate of 600 to 9608 Mbit/s. The 6 GHz band also supports 14 additional 80 MHz channels and 7 additional superwide 160 MHz channels.
This chip also supports 5G network connectivity via the integrated fourth-generation Snapdragon X65 Modem-RF System. Qualcomm claims that it is the first 10-gigabit 5G modem in the world, as well as the first 3GPP Release 16 5G solution and 5G uplink carrier aggregation. It is important to note that it supports both sub-6 GHz and mmWave 5G technologies.
Some SoCs with built-in 5G modems can only connect to a 5G network based on the sub-6 GHz 5G network technology. Others only support the mmWave 5G technology. The sub-6 GHz 5G network is common in less dense areas. But it is slower compared to mmWave 5G networks that are common in urban or densely-populated areas.
The X65 Modem-RF System is definitely another strong selling point of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The support for two different 5G network technologies ensures that devices equipped with this chip can take advantage of a fast and next-generation wireless network technology regardless of the particular 5G network infrastructure of a particular area.
Improved Dedicated Artificial Intelligence Engine
Similar to the previous Snapdragon 8 series of chips, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 also has specific capabilities for artificial intelligence processing. Its specific AI technology is on its seventh generation and includes the Adreno 730 integrated GPU, the eight-core Kryo CPU, and a dedicated Qualcomm Hexagon Processor.
Note that the Hexagon is a brand for a family of digital signal processors developed and deployed by Qualcomm. The specific version found in the 8 Gen 1 SoC is based on a fused accelerator architecture that includes a Hexagon Tensor Accelerator, Hexagon Vector eXtensions, and Hexagon Scalar Accelerator, as well as 2x larger shared memory.
The specifications sheet from the company noted that the AI capabilities of this SoC are up to four times faster than Snapdragon 888 and Snapdragon 888+. The 2x larger shared memory and the 2x faster tensor accelerator collectively deliver the best performance-per-watt when compared to all other generations and models of Snapdragon chips.
Specific use cases of these AI capabilities include support for advanced mobile camera systems and image processors for taking clearer images and videos, personalized user experience based on the device usage history of the consumer, natural language processing for voice input functionalities, and built-in health and wellness monitors, among others.
Other functionalities that can be improved by the AI capabilities of the chip include better task management and delegation using the different cores of the CPU, performance and efficiency balancing, better image signal processing for improved photo and video capture performance and quality, and better augmented reality capabilities.
New Snapdragon Sight Technology Camera Features
Qualcomm also launched its proprietary Snapdragon Sight Technology—which is a collection of premium camera features and technologies. One of such is the 18-bit image signal processor that supports camera systems for capturing images and videos in extreme dynamic range while producing vivid colors and high-quality clarity.
Furthermore, the chip supports recording 8K HDR video at 30 frames per second that can capture and produce over a billion of shades, Qualcomm claims that this capability is the first one to be seen in a chip used for Android devices. The 18-bit ISP can process 4000x more data than a chip with a 14-bit ISP. It can also capture 3.2 gigapixels per second.
There is also support for low-light image capture that works by taking 30 different images at once and merging them to feature the best parts. Note that merging different images at once will produce a single image that is brighter, clearer, and more colorful photos after dark. Night mode image capture and video recording is inherently built-in on the chip
Another notable feature of the Snapdragon Sight Technology is the always-on camera. This specifically represents an image signal processor that is always active for faster launching of the camera app and support for face recognition as part of biometrics security. Manufacturers that partly bank on camera system capabilities can take advantage of this new technology.
Cons of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1: Critical Issues and Limitations
Variations in Real-World Performance and Capabilities
Remember that Qualcomm designs and manufactures mobile SoCs for other device manufacturers. It does not have a platform or business unit for designing and building its own smartphone or tablet devices. This fact means that the capabilities and other features of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 might not be accessible to all devices that sport this chip.
Consider the Realme GT 2 Pro as an example. This flagship-grade mid-range smartphone uses the 8 Gen 1 SoC from Qualcomm. This device delivers a considerably impressive processing performance ideal for gaming and heavy usage. But its camera capabilities have failed to maximize the Snapdragon Sight Technology.
Several reviews for the aforesaid device also noted that its camera system is miles below when compared to the camera systems found on flagship Android devices launched in 2021 that feature previous-generation SoCs. These include the Samsung S21 line of smartphones that feature older Snapdragon and Samsung Exynos chips.
Scores from benchmarking platform provide another example. The RealMe GT 2 Pro achieved a score of 965.817 using AnTuTu 9. However, the Xiaomi 12 Pro, which also uses the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, achieved a score of 1011.911 using the same benchmarking platform. These discrepancies show that not all devices featuring the same chip will perform the same.
Consistency Issues With Sustained Intense Performance
One of the notable drawbacks of the Snapdragon 888 is that it was a power-hungry SoC when compared with other processors from other manufacturers. This is also a notable disadvantage of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Power efficiency has undeniably improved. But the higher clock speed of the performance Kryo cores means that the CPU innately consumes a lot of power.
The benchmark scores of smartphones sporting this chip are undeniably higher than smartphones that use previous chips. However, when it comes to heat generation, these devices also generate a lot of excessive heat. Some stress tests showed temperature jumping from a high of 46 degrees Celsius to as high as 60 degrees Celsius.
Note that excessive heat or overheating can damage the individual hardware components of a particular device and can possibly compromise the entire system. Overheating also poses safety risks. Solving the heating issue of the chip would require manufacturers to use advanced and more expensive heat management technologies.
It is also worth mentioning that the performance of previous-generation SoCs remain acceptable based on modern standards. Devices using these chips can still operate smoothly and run apps efficiently. The 8 Gen 1 chip is indeed more powerful on paper. But real-world usage would show that there are no immediate and noticeable performance differences.
Superiority of the Apple A15 Bionic and M1 SoCs
Apple is one of the biggest competitors of mobile chip manufacturers. The company has been designing its own A Series of system-on-chips for the iPhone and iPad devices. These chips directly competed with manufacturers and brands such as Qualcomm Snapdragon, Samsung Exynos, and MediaTek Dimensity, among others.
Note that Apple has also begun using the Apple M1 chip on some of its newer iPad models. The M1 is a powerful chip that also powers several models of the MacBook and Mac line of laptop and desktop computers from 2020. The company has also introduced the A15 Bionic chip to power the iPhone 13 line of smartphone computers.
When compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the A15 Bionic outperforms. Based on results from GeekBench 5, the chip from Apple achieved a single-core score of 1731 compared to the 1202 score of the 8 Gen 1. For multi-core processing, the A15 achieved a multi-core score of 4689 while the chip from Qualcomm scored at 3784.
Even the previous-generation Apple A14 Bionic achieved better scores than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Results from GeekBench 5 showed that it achieved scores of 1586 for single-core processing and 4071 for multi-core processing. These figures mean that even the older chip from Apple is about 8 percent to 32 percent faster than the latest Snapdragon chip.