MWC: First impressions – Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, the new powerhouse processor

Alex Walls
February 26, 2013

While Mobile World Congress has seen a dearth of major announcements in the mobile phone market, Qualcomm’s next generation ‘system on a chip’ – the Snapdragon 800 – has put on a good show.

The successor to the Snapdragon S4, which has been a major success amongst the current generation of smartphones (powering everything from the Lumia 920 to the Samsung Galaxy S3), the next generation is not due to see the light of day until mid-2013.

However, what has been demoed so far is impressive – Qualcomm’s spokesperson told What Mobile that the Snapdragon 800 will (eventually) be able to power a quad core processor running at 2.3Ghz.

By comparison, the S4 is reaching the end of its life at around 1.7GHz (seen in phones such as the LG Optimus G). What this new system on a chip is capable of is a bit more than ‘faster, better’. Qualcomm claims it will be 30% more energy efficient, yet will still be able to play games and full HD movies.

Its GPU, the new Adreno 330, presented some excellent real time 3D rendering capabilities – a tech demo of a dragon flame throwing a castle wasn’t to be sniffed at – while Qualcomm claims a ‘video game console’ level experience, I’d say its closer to a late Playstation 2 (or early Playstation 3) in terms of quality. While that sounds like me whinging, it is phenomenally impressive for a smartphone.

Qualcomm also demoed the chipset playing the latest Star Trek trailer in ‘ultra HD’, better known as 4K (3840 pixels Ã’ 2160 pixels). Again impressive, but the video had a noticeable lower frame rate which resulted in slight shuddering, and loss of detail and clarity (colours were muddy) – it won’t replace a dedicated UHD player or TV (which, by the way, none of us will be seeing in the next few years for less than £25,000). Impressive for a smartphone, but I can’t imagine a use case on a 4-6-inch screen.

More impressive is the chipset’s surround sound capabilities – full 7.1 surround sound. Working with DTS to develop a technology they’ve dubbed ‘Headphone X’ the demo was indeed impressive, with the headphones imitating a full cinema surround system with uncanny accuracy.

So far, the demo of the show, and more evidence that desktop PCs are rapidly becoming specialist tools – tech like this will wipe out the ‘casual’ PC user, leaving desktops for work, and the creative professions (video editing, photography, design).

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