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Huawei's Kirin 980 chip gives glimpse of Mate 20's power

The processor shows us what to expect from Huawei's phone over the next year.

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The Kirin 980 is an insight into the next generation of Huawei phones.

Katie Collins/CNET

For many years, Europe's biggest electronics show, IFA, was the place Huawei chose to unveil a new Mate, the biggest of its flagship phones. That's not the case in 2018. We won't see the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, the latest in the series, until the fourth quarter.

But to whet our appetites, Huawei did give us a preview of what's widely expected to power the Mate 20. On Friday at the Berlin trade show it showed off the Kirin 980, its homegrown phone chip that's an answer to Apple's own-brand A series chipsets and Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors, the preferred chipsets of most manufacturers of Android phones.

The Kirin 980 is significant because it's the first commercially available 7-nanometer system on a chip (SoC). Huawei is well ahead of the game in this respect. The first 7nm chips weren't expected to make an appearance until 2019 at the earliest.

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Huawei's Kirin 980 chip

The Kirin 980 is the first 7nm chip to hit the market.

Katie Collins/CNET

The main features of the chip that push it past the previous generation are improved overall performance, more efficient power consumption and better capacity for powering AI. For example, the chip can support real-time video recognition as well as still image recognition.

The chip's eight cores are used flexibly, depending on the demands of the device. Four small cores handle power management, two medium cores provide long-lasting performance and two large cores will turbo-boost a phone and kick in when the most demanding gaming applications are in use.

We'll hopefully see the Kirin 980 in action when the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro debut in October. Other rumors include the suggestion that the Mate 20 Pro could have a 6.9-inch screen, making it more the size of a small tablet than a conventional phone. If that's on the large side for you, Huawei has a flagship alternative, the P20, which it released earlier this year and which is a more manageable 6.1 inches.

First published, Aug. 31 at 5:30 a.m. PT.
Update at 7:13 a.m. PT: Adds that the Kirin 980 will appear in both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, following Huawei's announcement of the launch.

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