History of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 series: World-class Android processors

Qualcomm has been a fixture in the smartphone industry since the late 2000s by providing Snapdragon processors and modems to the biggest players in the space. It’s the firm’s flagship silicon — the Snapdragon 800 series — that gets the most attention these days, and for good reason.

The US designer’s high-end chips have earned a reputation for being the top Android phone processors for a couple of years now — bringing a powerful CPU, class-leading graphics, and the latest connectivity.

We’ve charted the Qualcomm Snapdragon history for its flagship SoC series. Join us as we go from the beginning all the way to the current pinnacle of Qualcomm silicon.

See also: What is an SoC? Everything you need to know about smartphone chipsets

Before the Snapdragon 800 series: Sx and 600

Camera Testing Nokia Lumia 1020

The Snapdragon 800 series sits atop the pile today, but the series didn’t adopt the 800 moniker until early 2014.

Instead, Qualcomm’s first flagship processors for the modern smartphone era were members of the Snapdragon Sx series, ranging from the Snapdragon S1 to the S4 Plus range. These chip families spanned from the late 2000s to 2013 and varied wildly in terms of capabilities.

The early Snapdragon S family chipsets were notable at the time thanks to their 1GHz clock speeds — albeit with single-core CPU designs. The series then followed the general industry trend of going from single-core to dual-core CPUs. We also saw Qualcomm hopping from a custom Scorpion CPU core to its Krait 200 cores.

One constant — for the most part — was the use of Adreno GPUs, which were borne out of Qualcomm’s acquisition of AMD’s mobile division. We say “for the most part� because the first Snapdragon S1 chipset (MSM7225) lacked a GPU, and forced the single-core CPU to do all the heavy lifting. Could you imagine a modern smartphone processor lacking dedicated graphics hardware in 2020?

Otherwise, we also got Bluetooth 2 to 4.0 capabilities, LPDDR to LPDDR2 RAM support, and 65nm to 45nm designs.

HTC One M7

While there was some overlap, Qualcomm began to move away from the S series in early 2013 following the launch of the 28nm Snapdragon 600 chipset. This was adopted as the high-end chipset of choice by most Android OEMs at the time. It’s easy to see why too. It offered a powerful quad-core CPU design — featuring Krait 300 cores — while also supporting 1080p screens.

Snapdragon 400 series silicon powered classic phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One M7.

The Snapdragon 600 also came at a time when multi-core processors were gaining traction fast with the likes of Samsung and MediaTek going so far as to offer octa-core designs. However, Qualcomm showed that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to CPU cores.

Other notable specs seen on the Snapdragon 600 include LPDDR3 RAM support, a camera up to 21MP, 1080p video recording, a 28nm design, 2.4Ghz/5Ghz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, and Quick Charge 1.0.

Notable Snapdragon Sx phones: BlackBerry Z10, HTC Sensation 4G, Nokia Lumia 1020, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, Samsung Galaxy S Plus.

Notable Snapdragon 400 series phones: HTC One M7, LG Optimus G Pro, Oppo N1, Samsung Galaxy S4.

Did you know: The Snapdragon S4 Pro, which was one of the last chips in the Sx series, is essentially a Snapdragon 600 Lite (featuring tweaked CPU cores, for one). This particular processor made its way into phones like the LG Nexus 4, LG Optimus G, and Sony Xperia Z.

Snapdragon 800, 801, 805: Laying the foundation

Qualcomm followed up the Snapdragon 600 with the first Snapdragon 800 processors in its history. We got the Snapdragon 800 chipset in early 2013 and the Snapdragon 801 in early 2014. The 28nm Snapdragon 800 and 801 made for a big jump over the Snapdragon 600, while the 600 series naming convention was used for the mid-range segment from here on out.

The Snapdragon 801 is an incremental upgrade over the Snapdragon 800, featuring slightly faster CPU and GPU clock speeds and improved endurance. Otherwise, they’re both 32-bit chips with quad-core Krait 400 CPU designs and Adreno 330 graphics. Qualcomm’s first Snapdragon 800 processors also offered support for Quick Charge 2.0, LPDDR3 RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, and 2K screens.

This generation marked the first Snapdragon flagship processors to offer 4K video recording with the likes of the Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 all offering UHD recording as a result. Performance and/or storage requirements often meant that these early phones were restricted to a few minutes of 4K recording at best.

  Snapdragon 800/801 Snapdragon 805
CPU 4x Krait 400 CPU
(2.3Ghz for 800, 2.5Ghz for 801)
4x Krait 450 CPU
GPU Adreno 330 Adreno 420
Camera 21MP single
4K/30fps video recording
55MP single
4K/30fps video recording
Modem 150Mbps downlink
50Mbps uplink
300Mbps downlink
50Mbps uplink
Bluetooth 4.0 4.1
Quick Charge 2.0 2.0
Manufacturing process 28nm 28nm

Qualcomm would follow up with the Snapdragon 805 in late 2014, landing in the Motorola Nexus 6, and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 range. It would prove to be the last major 32-bit flagship processor from the company, and what a swansong it was on paper.

The Snapdragon 805 differed from the previous Snapdragon 800 series SoCs by offering tweaked CPUs with higher clock speeds, an all-new Adreno 420 GPU, 4K display support, 300Mbps LTE downlink speeds, UFS support, Bluetooth 4.1, and support for 55MP cameras.

Notable phones: HTC One M8, LG G3, LG G Flex, OnePlus One, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Sony Xperia Z2.

Did you know: The Snapdragon 600 and 800 chipsets actually got announced at the same time with the Snapdragon 600 appearing in devices in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, the 800 chipset landed in devices in the second half of 2013.

Snapdragon 808 and 810: Enter the 64-bit era

Apple caught the Android world napping when it launched the iPhone 5s in late 2013 featuring the first 64-bit smartphone chipset. Qualcomm didn’t have a response ready for 2014, but served up its first 64-bit flagship processors in 2015 with the 20nm Snapdragon 808 and 810.

The Snapdragon 810 was the more powerful chipset on paper, delivering an octa-core design for the first time in its flagship tier (4x Cortex-A57 and 4x Cortex-A53) and Adreno 430 graphics. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 808 offered a hexa-core CPU (2x Cortex-A57 and 4x Cortex-A53) and slightly less capable Adreno 418 graphics.

  Snapdragon 808 Snapdragon 810
CPU 2x Cortex-A57
4x Cortex-A55
4x Cortex-A57
4x Cortex-A55
GPU Adreno 418 Adreno 430
Camera 21MP single 55MP single
Modem 450Mbps downlink
50Mbps uplink
450Mbps downlink
50Mbps uplink
Bluetooth 4.1 4.1
Quick Charge 2.0 2.0
Manufacturing process 20nm 20nm

The Snapdragon 810 shared plenty in common with the Snapdragon 800/801, such as Quick Charge 2.0, 4K display support, UFS storage, Bluetooth 4.1, and 55MP camera capabilities. As for the Snapdragon 808, it had a lot in common with its stablemates too, but lacked 4K display support and 55MP output.

It’s widely believed that the Snapdragon 810 ran a little too hot for some brands. There were reports that phones released early in the year all suffered from thermal-related issues at first. The firm released a Snapdragon 810 V2.1 chipset in the second half of 2015 with the claim that it ran “cooler than ever.� This tweaked SoC appeared in the likes of the OnePlus 2 and Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Pro.

Notable phones: HTC One M9, Huawei Nexus 6P, LG G4, LG G Flex 2, LG V10, OnePlus 2.

Did you know: 2015 was the last time that Samsung’s flagships were powered entirely by an Exynos processor, ostensibly due to the Snapdragon 810’s thermal challenges.

Snapdragon 820: Back to basics

Qualcomm’s reputation took quite a beating in 2015 due to the Snapdragon 810, but 2016 showed that the firm could still deliver powerful, well-rounded processors. The Snapdragon 820 saw the firm revert to fully custom CPUs and a quad-core design, using the Kryo name for the first time.

Related: How to understand Kryo CPU numbering in Qualcomm Snapdragon processors

The switch to fewer CPU cores didn’t seem to harm the Snapdragon 820 either — at least for single-core tasks. The Adreno 530 GPU brought a stated boost of up to 40% over the Snapdragon 810’s GPU. The new flagship silicon also served up the Vulkan graphics API, which delivers improved performance in games and apps that support it.

Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 821 in the second half of 2016, delivering slightly better CPU and GPU performance as well as slightly better power consumption. Other than that, the two chipsets were identical. The two SoCs also served up Quick Charge 3, support for LPDDR4 RAM, Bluetooth 4.1, Cat 12 LTE (600Mbps down) and 28MP single cameras.

  Snapdragon 820 Snapdragon 821
CPU 2x Qualcomm Kryo (2.2Ghz)
2x Qualcomm Kryo (1.6Ghz)
2x Qualcomm Kryo (2.4Ghz)
2x Qualcomm Kryo (2Ghz)
GPU Adreno 530 Adreno 530
Camera 28MP single 28MP single
Modem 600Mbps downlink
150Mbps uplink
600Mbps downlink
150Mbps uplink
Bluetooth 4.1 4.1
Quick Charge 3.0 3.0
Manufacturing process 14nm LPP 14nm LPP

It’s also worth noting that the Snapdragon 820 and 821 formed part of Qualcomm’s major push into heterogeneous computing via the Hexagon 680 digital signal processor (DSP). That is, Qualcomm offloaded tasks from the CPU and GPU to the DSP — and eventually other bits of silicon — in the name of speed or power efficiency.

Tasks that can be offloaded to the DSP include computer vision, fitness tracking, and some image processing. This is one of the more important trends in the history of Qualcomm Snapdragon processors because it shows that a CPU, GPU, and modem isn’t enough to compete in this space. It would only rise in importance in the following years.

Notable phones: Google Pixel series, HTC 10, LG G5, LG G6, LG V20, Samsung Galaxy S7 series, Xiaomi Mi 5.

Did you know: The Snapdragon 820 and 821 remain the last flagship Snapdragon phone processors to use fully custom CPU cores. Samsung would launch its first custom CPU in 2016 — seen in the Exynos 8890 — but it killed off the division responsible for this project in late 2019.

Snapdragon 835: A blueprint for the future

The Snapdragon 835 in 2017 was a notable release for the company as it established a couple of traditions that the firm still maintains to this day. For starters, Qualcomm ditched its custom CPU strategy entirely in favor of using semi-custom Arm CPU designs (4x Cortex-A73 and 4x Cortex-A53). Another tradition established with the Snapdragon 835 was the switch to octa-core CPU designs instead of quad-core as seen on the Snapdragon 820 and 821.

Qualcomm also took heed of the dual camera trend established in 2016 by explicitly offering dual-camera support for the first time in the tier — namely 16MP plus 16MP or 32MP single. Other notable multimedia features include better zoom capabilities, HDR video recording, and HEVC support.

  Snapdragon 835
CPU 4x semi-custom Cortex-A73
4x semi-custom Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 540
Camera 16MP dual
32MP single
Modem 1Gbps downlink
150Mbps uplink
Bluetooth 5.0
Quick Charge 4.0
Process 10nm FinFET

Unlike the previous year, Qualcomm didn’t have a mid-year refresh — a Snapdragon 836 or 835 Plus, if you will. Qualcomm would buck this trend the following year too. Other noteworthy features include the Adreno 540 GPU, Bluetooth 5, Gigabit LTE, Quick Charge 4, and support for HDR screens.

This chipset also made its way into Windows laptops for the first time in the Qualcomm flagship series. Unfortunately, these first laptops and/or convertibles disappointed when it came to power and app compatibility — a challenge that Qualcomm, Microsoft, and partners continue to tackle today.

Notable phones: HTC U11 Plus, LG V30, OnePlus 5, OnePlus 5T, Samsung Galaxy S8 series, and Xiaomi Mi 6.

Did you know: One thing you won’t find on the Snapdragon 835 is 4K/60fps recording. The feature was missing from both Samsung Galaxy S8 variants even though the Exynos chipset powering the international variant supported the recording standard.

Snapdragon 845: Still powerful today

Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 845 at the end of 2017, which powered a plethora of smartphones in 2018 and was considered one of the better Snapdragon processors in the firm’s history. It delivered Arm’s DynamIQ CPUs for the first time (4x Cortex-A75 and 4x Cortex-A55) for improved power and energy consumption as well as the Adreno 630 GPU. The latter promised a 30% graphical rendering boost over the previous year’s high-end chipset.

The Snapdragon 845 also launched in the wake of dedicated machine learning silicon becoming a feature, as Huawei’s Kirin 970 debuted a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) months before Qualcomm’s launch. The firm didn’t offer dedicated ML silicon of its own in the 845, but it served up an upgraded Hexagon DSP for on-device processing of voice, imaging, computer vision, and other tasks.

Read: Artificial intelligence versus machine learning — What’s the difference?

This processor initially offered the same camera support — 16MP plus 16MP dual, 32MP single — as the Snapdragon 835, but Qualcomm retroactively brought support for 48MP multi-frame shots and 192MP snapshots. Other noteworthy camera-related features included 4K/60fps recording, 4K HDR video recording, and multi-frame noise reduction.

  Snapdragon 845
CPU 4x semi-custom Cortex-A75
4x semi-custom Cortex-A55
GPU Adreno 630
Camera 16MP+16MP dual
48MP single
192MP snapshots
Modem 1.2Gbps downlink
150Mbps uplink
Bluetooth 5.0
Quick Charge 4+
Manufacturing process 10nm LPP

The Snapdragon 845 also pushed AR/VR/XR in a big way by supporting features like six degrees of freedom and foveated rendering. Toss in features like Quick Charge 4-plus, TrueWireless tech for improved wireless audio, and a secure processing unit (SPU) for security and you’ve got a full-featured package that should still keep you going today.

Notable phones: Google Pixel 3 series, HTC U12 Plus, OnePlus 6, OnePlus 6T, Poco F1, Xiaomi Mi 8.

Did you know: Qualcomm also released a tweaked version of the Snapdragon 845 for laptops, dubbed the Snapdragon 850. It features a higher clock speed and several other minor tweaks.

Snapdragon 855 and 855 Plus: A return to mid-year refreshes

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro red blue black back panels

The Snapdragon 855 changed the fundamentals in a big way in 2019, taking a page out of MediaTek and Huawei’s book by offering a three-tiered CPU layout. So, you’ve got one high-end CPU core when you need plenty of power, three CPU cores for mid-weight tasks, and four CPU cores for light activities.

Combine the new CPU layout with a 7nm design for the first time and you’ve got the recipe for a powerful chipset that’s efficient too. The Snapdragon 855 Plus — launched in mid-2019 — would bring a clock speed boost to the top-end CPU core and the Adreno 640 GPU. Otherwise, it’s identical to the vanilla 855.

This was the firm’s first 5G-enabled chipset, albeit via the addition of an external X50 or X55 modem. Otherwise, the SoCs offered impressive 4G support, topping out at 2Gbps.

This also marked the first time we saw Qualcomm offer dedicated machine learning hardware, as its Hexagon Tensor Accelerator is a bit of silicon that forms part of the Hexagon DSP. So, machine learning tasks like voice recognition, speech-to-text, and more should be faster and more power-efficient.

  Snapdragon 855 Plus Snapdragon 855
CPU 1x Kryo 485 Gold (A76-based) @ 2.96GHz
3x Kryo 485 Gold (A76-based) @ 2.42GHz
4x Kryo 485 Silver (A55-based) @ 1.80GHz
1x Kryo 485 Gold (A76-based) @ 2.84GHz
3x Kryo 485 Gold (A76-based) @ 2.42GHz
4x Kryo 485 Silver (A55-based) @ 1.80GHz
GPU Adreno 640 @ 672MHz (estimated) Adreno 640 @ 585MHz
Camera 22MP dual
48MP single
192MP snapshot
22MP dual
48MP single
192MP snapshot
RAM 4x 16-bit channels @ 2133MHz
4x 16-bit channels @ 2133MHz
Modem Snapdragon X24 LTE
2000Mbps download
316Mbps upload
Snapdragon X24 LTE
2000Mbps download
316Mbps upload
Bluetooth 5.1 5.1
Quick Charge 4+ 4+
Manufacturing process 7nm FinFET 7nm FinFET

Qualcomm also concentrated on multimedia in a big way with the 855 series, starting with camera support. The firm debuted a so-called computer vision ISP (CV-ISP) for more advanced photography and videography, enabling HDR10 Plus video capture, 4K HDR video capture with portrait mode, 480fps slow-motion video, and HEIF/HEVC capture. Otherwise, the SoC sports the ability to capture 192MP snapshots, 48MP images with multi-frame processing, and 22MP dual camera capabilities.

Gaming was another big focus area for the firm with this generation of chipsets, which saw the company introduce the Snapdragon Elite Gaming suite of features for the first time. More specifically, the suite reduced jank/judder and offered anti-cheat extensions.

Another notable addition in this generation was the FastConnect suite, as Qualcomm decided to brand its wireless connectivity feature-set. The FastConnect 6200 platform includes Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6.

Other key features include Quick Charge 4-plus, a voice assistant accelerator, aptX Adaptive audio for more resilient wireless audio, and ultrasonic fingerprint support.

Notable phones: Asus ROG Phone 2, Asus Zenfone 6, LG G8, OnePlus 7/7T series, Samsung Galaxy S10 series, Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro/Redmi K20 Pro

Did you know: Much like the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895, Samsung’s Exynos 9820 had a video feature that the Snapdragon 855 lacked in 8K video recording. Unfortunately, as we saw with the Galaxy S8 series, the Exynos version of the Galaxy S10 series still didn’t offer 8K.

Snapdragon 865 series: The high cost of 5G

Snapdragon 865 Plus phone

The latest Snapdragon flagship processor is perhaps the most controversial entry in Qualcomm history since 2015’s Snapdragon 810. This time there’s no doubting that the Snapdragon 865 is a world-class performer packed to the gills with features while also being the fastest Android phone processor around.

Unfortunately, the biggest reported problem is the price. Several sources point to a steep price increase from the Snapdragon 855 series to the Snapdragon 865. For the most part, this has resulted in manufacturers needing to pass this cost to consumers as well, with even the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi offering drastic price leaps.

Qualcomm bundled a separate 5G modem (X55) with every Snapdragon 865 SoC, which means that even Snapdragon 865 phones in markets without 5G have the high-speed modem inside them. On the one hand, this means the device is ready for 5G when it comes to your market — provided it has other 5G components too. On the other hand, you’re paying a premium for mandatory 5G components even if you’re happy with 4G.

In any event, the Snapdragon 865 offers a similar triple power domain CPU arrangement as the 855 series. So, that means four Cortex-A77 cores — one prime core and three medium cores — and four Cortex-A55 cores for efficiency. We’ve also got the Adreno 650 GPU, which continues the trend of being a top-notch performer for advanced gaming.

  Snapdragon 865 Plus Snapdragon 865
CPU 1x 3.1GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex A77)
3x 2.4GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex A77)
4x 1.8GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex-A55)
1x 2.84GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex A77)
3x 2.4GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex A77)
4x 1.8GHz Kryo 585 (Cortex-A55)
GPU Adreno 650 Adreno 650
Modem X55 5G & RF system
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
X55 5G & RF system
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
Cameras 200MP single / 64MP single with Zero Shutter Lag
24MP dual camera
Hybrid AF, HDR video, multi-frame noise reduction
200MP single / 64MP single with Zero Shutter Lag
24MP dual camera
Hybrid AF, HDR video, multi-frame noise reduction
Quick Charge 4+ 4+
Bluetooth 5.2 5.1
Process 7nm FinFET 7nm FinFET

Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 865 Plus arrived in July and cranked the prime core to 3.1Ghz, passing the 3Ghz barrier for the first time in the series. It also offered 10% faster graphics performance compared to the standard chipset. Another notable difference is that the Plus variant sports Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity instead of Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1. Otherwise, the two chips are essentially identical.

Both chipsets have what is arguably the most impressive suite of camera features in a smartphone processor to date. Qualcomm’s 2020 flagship SoCs support 200MP snapshots, 64MP shots with multi-frame processing, and 25MP plus 25MP dual camera support. The crazy camera specs don’t end there. The silicon is also capable of essentially unlimited 960fps video, 8K video recording, and simultaneous 4K HDR video/64MP photo capture.

Other noteworthy features include aptX Voice for voice calls over Bluetooth, mmWave and sub-6Ghz 5G, Quick Charge 4-plus, an AI engine that delivers twice the performance of its predecessor, and support for a 144Hz refresh rate.

Notable phones: Asus ROG Phone 3, LG V60, OnePlus 8 series, Oppo Find X2 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 series (US), Xiaomi Mi 10 series.

Did you know: The Snapdragon 865 series is the first flagship silicon to offer GPU driver updates via app stores, sidestepping the traditional OTA update process. Oppo’s Find X2 series and Xiaomi’s Mi 10 range are among the first to offer this capability.

Snapdragon 875 and beyond

OnePlus 8 Pro in hand 2

Now, rumors have been swirling around for several months that Qualcomm is working on the Snapdragon 875, although this seems like a given. At least one Qualcomm employee’s LinkedIn profile has yielded the SM8350 code-name — the Snapdragon 865 series is code-named SM8250.

There are a few questionable leaks out there at the moment, but one feature we’re almost guaranteed to see is Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 5 technology. The firm has been stuck on the same fast-charge standard for several years now, so the new standard — pegged at 100W+ — is long overdue.

Related: Arm Cortex-X1 brings the fight to Apple’s powerhouse CPUs

Another addition we’re expecting to see is the use of the Cortex-X1 and/or Cortex-A78 CPU cores. Arm announced both cores earlier this year, with the A78 being a follow-up to the Cortex-A77 seen in the Snapdragon 865 range. However, the Cortex-X1 takes a completely different route, targeting Apple-like performance by prioritizing power over efficiency. In other words, we wouldn’t be surprised if the X1 is used as the prime core while the Cortex-A78 is used for the medium CPU cores.

Another potential area of improvement for Qualcomm is in the modem space, as we’d expect the new processor to offer an integrated 5G modem. This would be a welcome change compared to the dedicated modem bundled with the 865 series, and should deliver power and cost savings.

One rumor pointed to the Snapdragon 875 silicon seeing a major price increase over the already expensive Snapdragon 865. We don’t believe this to be the case at all though. Could we even see a cheaper price tag than the Snapdragon 865? Well, we can always hope.

That’s about it for our look at Qualcomm Snapdragon history for the 800 series. Did we miss anything? What do you want to see from next year’s silicon? Sound off in the comments below!

This entry was posted in Features, Qualcomm, Qualcomm Snapdragon. Bookmark the permalink.