The first batch of 2018 flagships are arriving and already there is a definite pattern.
A lot of the new devices that are being released are all utilizing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, which I spoke about when it was announced back in Dec and was honestly really excited about.
And even though it’s only been a short bit since the chipset was announced, all the usual players are already releasing flagships with it and the new features it enables. This means that there is now a pretty solid expectation of features that flagships in 2018 will have that I think are super exciting (so I, um, made a video about them, of course).
Firstly, they’re all going to be more powerful (duh). 30% more powerful in terms of CPU and GPU processing speeds as well as 30% less power-hungry thanks to that Snapdragon 845.
So, as usual with an upgrade in the chipset, faster performance plus better battery life. Check.
Next, we have one of my favorite features that will hopefully make its way to more and more smartphones: 10-bit HDR capture. The Sony XZ2, for example, is the first device to support this.
Without getting too technical, basically, this means there’s a lot more data for videos to work with. Instead of just having 8 bits like we’re used to there’s now 10 and that means each color now has a lot more shades that can be shown, this reduces banding in images and makes for a more life-like image. In addition to the color depth, there are just more colors to work with. Instead of the rec 709 space, we’re used to that has about 16 million colors, this new chip will be able to handle rec 2020 which supports over a billion colors to choose from.
This type of color gamut and depth isn’t even on most cameras costs thousands of dollars and now there will be phones released with it shortly. (Maybe camera companies need to use the Snapdragon 845 for their DLSRs…)
Another feature regarding the camera you’re going to see a lot of is better slow-motion. From the 960 fps short burst slo-mo that the Sony XZ2 and the Samsung S9 has to prolong high frame-rates at 240 fps in all of the devices launched already. Expect your social feeds to have a lot more epic shots of people throwing crap in the air.
Combined with the cameras on these devices comes a bunch of AI and depth sensing technology thanks in a big part to the Snapdragon 845’s Hexagon Vector processor (what other companies would call an NPU).
For example, prepare to see a lot of real-time AR. AR emoji on the S9, for example, allows you to capture your face using the front camera and turn you into an emoji that you can use to send real-time animated videos with your facial expressions; the Sony XZ2 has 3D Creator which can use the front or back camera to scan your face and make a 3D model or even scan any object and the ASUS has ZenMoji.
Facial tracking using just the camera and software without the need for other hardware is getting pretty good with this new batch of devices, right?
The last thing I’ll mention about the cameras on these things is the putting of AR objects into our world easier without added hardware. We’ve seen this with plenty of 835 devices and iPhones so far, but this new gen is more precise and just has faster performance. I still don’t have a huge use for AR like this in its current form, but it’s cool to see it progressing so quickly.
On the audio side, Hi-Res audio via wired and even Bluetooth connections is now standard in these guys.
If you’re not familiar, Hi-Res Audio is defined as better than CD quality in terms of bit-depth and frequency. Basically, when digital music is converted from the analog sound (and then back to analog to be listened to) digital devices sample the audio at different rates and with different levels of gradiation. So a CD is 44.1khz and a 16-bit depth. This means that it slices every second of music into 44,100 samples and each sample has 65,536 possible gradiations.
Most Hi-Res audio files are 96khz and 24-bit depth (so 96,000 slices of data and over 16.7 million gradiations per slice. Making it just that much closer to the curved analog signal and therefore sound more like real sound. Many 845 based devices, including the Sony XZ2 and Asus 5Z, uses an Aqstic Codec or DAC that can deliver high-fidelity audio at these high bit-rates.
Now, for Bluetooth, the prevalent tech for Hi-Res audio is furnished by Qualcomm’s AptX HD (instead of just normal AptX we saw a lot of last year) and it allows for that 24-bit audio to be streamed over Bluetooth to a compatible headset.
Basically, all the flagships with the 845 that were announced at MWC have both of these so audiophiles can be satisfied (just stock up on 3.5mm to USB-C adapters cause headphone jacks are definitely becoming an endangered species).
Another feature along the line of audio is the fact that thanks to that same codec in these devices, they can enable always-listening hot-word detection while utilizing almost no power at all. The Sony XZ2, for example, can activate Google Assistant without needing to be plugged in or have the screen on. Same for Bixby on the Samsung S9. So, you can just say “Hey, Google” or “Hi, Bixby” and it’ll just be ready to go: making it a lot more useful in my opinion and more in line with how I use my voice assistants in devices like the Echo and Google Home.
Now, along with all of this, it seems that more and more of the flagships are finally getting on board with not only Gigabit LTE (more info on that in my video here) but with 2nd Gen Gigabit LTE from the 845 giving them peak download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. Which is already available in some markets and future proofs them for the ones coming shortly.
And there we go, and that’s just a few of the stand out things I’ve noticed so far this year and frankly makes me super excited to start testing them all in the real world. Let me know what you guys think in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on social for more tech.
Also, check out the Snapdragon 845 page on Qualcomm’s site for more info on what it’s capable of and more insight into what other features might be coming (since most flagships will be using this chipset).