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Snapdragon 835 vs 821 vs 820: What’s the difference?

What is the new Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset, what phones will it feature in and how does it compare with the existing Snapdragon 821 and 820 processors found in most of the biggest handsets of 2016? Here’s our full Snapdragon 835 vs 821 vs 820 processor comparison.

Qualcomm has just revealed some juicy details of the Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset, the processor that you’ll likely find stuffed inside a lot of flagship phones in 2017 – including the massive Galaxy S8 from Samsung.

Here’s how the Snapdragon 835 compares with the Snapdragon 821 (found in Google’s Pixel phones and the OnePlus 3T) and the Snapdragon 820 (packed into most of the big 2016 phones like Sony’s Xperia XZ and the Samsung Galaxy S7).

What is the Snapdragon 835?

Qualcomm’s latest premium mobile chipset has been revealed as the Snapdragon 835, succeeding the existing Snapdragon 821 and 820 as the processor of choice for super-powered Android smartphones.

The Snapdragon 835 was crafted in collaboration with Samsung, and its major talking point is the 10-nanometer process node, which in layman’s terms means increased efficiency – or improved performance – compared with previous Snapdragon chipsets.

How does the Snapdragon 835 compare with the 821 and 820?

The Snapdragon 821 was a minor upgrade compared with the Snapdragon 820, offering a 10 percent boost in performance and more efficient power usage. But the Snapdragon 835 is a bigger leap forwards, as the naming might suggest.

For a start, you get a 30 percent increase in area efficiency, meaning the 835 can take up less room inside a phone than previous Qualcomm chips. That could mean slimmer phones, or more space for a bigger battery and so on.

You also get up to a 27 percent increase in performance with the Snapdragon 835, or up to 40 percent lower power consumption, depending on a user’s priorities. That’ll make for blistering games performance, or a longer lasting battery life. 

On the subject of performance, the Snapdragon 835 has been designed by Qualcomm with VR in mind. That increase in performance means that detailed, fully-realised virtual worlds can be rendered by any phones packing the chipset. Mobile VR will be incredibly immersive, especially with the 835’s hands mapping tech for interacting with the environments. Check out our feature on the Snapdragon 835’s role in making mobile VR awesome for more info.

The Snapdragon 835 also supports Qualcomm’s new Quick Charge 4 tech, which delivers up to 20 percent faster charging than Quick Charge 3.0 (found in the Snapdragon 821 and 820). Hopefully this won’t have any thermal issues, with batteries heating up as they charge.

One of the biggest improvements in the Snapdragon 835 compared with the 821 and 820 is LTE Category 16 support, for download speeds of up to 1Gbps. On the older Snapdragons, which supported LTE Category 12, the download speeds peaked at 600Mbps.

As for camera tech, the Snapdragon 835 is built with dual-lens snappers in mind; a useful feature, as the likes of the Huawei P10 and LG G6 launched at MWC 2017 with dual lenses on the back.

Benchmarking test results for the Snapdragon 835

Here at Recombu we’re all about real-life testing. We don’t just play with phones, tablets and other tech in a lab, running a bunch of benchmarking tests to see what figures are spat out. We actually use phone review samples as our full-time handsets, to see how they handle the pressure of satisfying demanding users in a real-life environment. After all, that’s how they’re going to be used by consumers when they go on sale.

Chipset manufacturer Qualcomm agrees that benchmarking software is far from an ideal way to measure the prowess of a System on a Chip (SoC), which in much simplified terms is the brains of a handset. After all, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips, found in a very large number of mobile phones and other portable devices these days, are about so much more than performance.

The new Snapdragon 835 platform, which is already inside the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and expected to hit lots more flagship Android phones in 2017, places a strong emphasis on flexibility.

This supremely powerful chip is significantly smaller than previous Snapdragons, which in turn could mean slimmer smartphones – or alternatively, bigger batteries. And while you can get impressive performance if you really push the 835, Qualcomm has also focused on power efficiency. In fact, there’s a 50 percent power reduction compared with the older Snapdragon 801; not bad for roughly three years of hard graft.

Of course, the Snapdragon 835’s power efficiency is in no way measured by modern benchmarking tools such as AnTuTu and GeekBench. Also not covered is the chipset’s connectivity chops, photography capabilities, VR and AR functions, audio performance, security features and everyday battery performance or charging speeds.

So how does Qualcomm test its own Snapdragon SoCs, to ensure that these industry-leading chips are ready for use in the latest smartphones? We went on a tour of the manufacturer’s San Diego labs to see the full process.

Those San Diego labs are serious business, spread across a few rather large buildings in the heart of Sorrento Valley. Each section in these labs specialises in the testing of a specific component or feature of Qualcomm’s mobile platforms, be it power consumption, camera performance, connectivity and so on.

For instance, the multi-million dollar camera labs are designed to test pretty much every facet of the Snapdragon platform’s optical abilities. The Snapdragon 835 offers manufacturers some impressive built-in camera functions, including digital image stabilisation for smoothing out jerky video footage. This is tested on a vibrating tripod, with the resulting footage compared by eye against older technology. Qualcomm also has separate rooms for testing out focal speed, performance under varying lighting conditions and so on.

Connectivity is another important area of innovation which is rigorously tested in the labs. Qualcomm’s Gigabit LTE Network Simulation software can map out a virtual city and populate it with masts and thousands of devices with varying cellular capabilities. This can simulate the impact of replacing old Cat 6 smartphones with nippy new Cat 16 mobiles, capable of up to 1Gbps data speeds. The end result is better download speeds for everyone, as Cat 16 is more efficient than the older tech.

And of course power management is a key factor in Qualcomm’s testing. The Snapdragon chipsets are rigorously tested with intensive applications including VR games and 4K video recording, to see how much battery charge they burn through. This is directly compared with rival chipsets and older tech, to ensure that even more powerful platforms don’t eat up more juice.

Take a look at our Snapdragon 835 benchmarking feature for more info and the full results of the 835 platform tests.

What smartphones feature the Snapdragon 835?

The Snapdragon 835 is already in production, which means you will see Android phones packing the processor arriving in the UK in the first half of 2017.

So far we’ve only seen the Snapdragon 835 featured in the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the world’s first mobile phone to boast a 4K HDR screen. However, you can also expect the new Samsung Galaxy S8 to pack the new chipset, along with plenty more flagship phones launching later this year.