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Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 review: Hands on with Qualcomm’s latest smartphone processor

2018’s flagship smartphones are going to be powered by the Snapdragon 845, but how well does the latest processor perform?

We’ve known about the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm’s upcoming flagship mobile processor, since it was announced in December 2017 – but now we’ve had our first chance to go hands-on with it, and see how well it’s likely to perform ahead of its first handset releases later this year.

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Snapdragon 845 review: What you need to know

To recap, the Snapdragon 845 is – like the preceding Snapdragon 835 – an octa-core chip built with a 10nm process, with four “efficiency cores” running at 1.8GHz and four more powerful cores running at 2.8GHz. The lower-power cores have had their speed downtuned slightly from their 835 equivalents, which can hit 1.9GHz. However, in exchange you get a considerable boost to the “performance” cores, which only run at 2.35GHz on the 835.

The 845 also packs an upgraded GPU, the Adreno 630, as well as Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, which can supposedly reach download speeds of 1.2Gbps (up from 1Gbps on the 635’s Snapdragon X16 modem) and adds dual VoLTE support for devices with dual SIMs.

Snapdragon 845 review: Performance and first impressions

These are all very encouraging words and numbers, and we recently visited Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters to see how they translate into measurable CPU and GPU performance.

Testing on a non-retail reference handset with 6GB of RAM, a 2,560 x 1,440 display and Android 8.0, the Snapdragon 845 got off to a flying start in Geekbench: scoring 2,444 in the single core test and 8,339 in the multi-core test. That immediately shows considerable gains on the Snapdragon 835, which normally scores within the 1,900-2,000 range in the single-core test and within 6,300-6,700 in the multi-core test, depending on the device it’s powering.

It also handily beats the Samsung Exynos 8895, which provides the brainpower for the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, and scores similarly in Geekbench to the Snapdragon 835.

This new chip, then, has a good chance of being the most powerful Android-minded mobile processor ever, unless Samsung’s next Exynos offering can pip it. Notably, though, the Galaxy S9 has been rumoured to use the 845 in the US market, just like American Galaxy S8 units adopted the 835 instead of the Exynos 8895 us Europeans got.

What the 845 hasn’t managed is to catch up to Apple and its ludicrously fast A11 Bionic chip; the iPhone 8 Plus, let’s remember, scored a nigh-unbelievable 4,254 in Geekbench’s single-core test and 10,517 in the multi-core test. To be fair, Apple has always had the advantage of being able to relentlessly synergise iOS with its own hardware, whereas the Snapdragon family has some difficulty in optimising for open-source Android and its many manufacturer-designed variations.

Things seem to be a lot more even for gaming. In GFXBench Manhattan 3.0, the Snapdragon 845 sailed to 83fps in the offscreen test (which assumes a 1080p resolution for fairer comparisons between phones). That’s practically imperceptible from the iPhone 8 Plus’ 85fps, and another big improvement on the Snapdragon 835 and its Adreno 540 GPU; the older chip struggles to even break 60fps.

Of course, that’s not always a bad thing when most smartphone displays are capped at 60Hz, but with devices like the 120Hz Razer Phone increasing the maximum frames-per-second you can get, this kind of future proofing is reassuring at the very least. It also managed a slick 54fps in the onscreen test, which uses the native (in this case 1,440p) resolution, so it will outpace the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895 on sharper displays too.

Snapdragon 845 review: Early verdict

While it seems the iPhone range will continue to be the first stop for anyone wanting maximum power from their smartphone, it was always essential that the Snapdragon 845 proved itself a worthy successor.

That’s because the latter is an almost comically common component in the premium smartphone arena: almost every Android flagship launched in the past year, save for the European release of the Samsung Galaxy family, has a Snapdragon 835 in it. The Google Pixel 2, the OnePlus 5T, the HTC U11, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the Nokia 8… the list goes on, and there’s no reason to believe that their inevitable 2018 replacements will upgrade to the Snapdragon 845 as well.

This might mean, to the occasional chagrin of reviewers, that there once again won’t be much of a performance difference between this year’s major releases. Still, if that’s going to be the case, at least they’ll all be blisteringly fast.

It will probably fall to things like battery life to see how manufacturers harness the latest chipset, but the 845 might have one more trick. Following our benchmarking session, we saw two outwardly-identical phablets running GFXBench Manhattan on a loop – one, containing an 845, was averaging a power draw of 2,969mW. The other, running on the 835, was averaging a not-so power efficient 3,834mW.

Can the Snapdragon 845 deliver the dream of a big performance boost with higher efficiency and, thus, longer battery life? That, for now, will have to wait until 2018’s flagship smartphones begin to appear on store shelves.

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