Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds.
Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Two digital pinballs roll slowly across the screen, one a dull grey blob, the other a dynamic orb with light and shadow dancing off its surface as it rolled. This is one demo Qualcomm used this week to show off how its new 5G chips for 2020 -- the Snapdragon 865 and 765G -- will upgrade gaming on your future phone.
Built for high-end devices, the Snapdragon 865 chipset contains the lion's share of the new features, which you should expect to see on phones like a future Samsung Galaxy S11 or LG G9. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 765G is a midprice 5G chip made just for gaming phones, a distinction from the regular Snapdragon 765 that should help nudge more phones for gamers into the market.
Mobile gaming is an enormous business, and growing every day. Fortnite had nearly 250 million players around the world in March 2019, according to Statista. Esports viewers will surpass every pro sports league by 2021, and 80% of gamers in China will pay more for a gaming phone according to Qualcomm.
We've already seen gaming phones such as the Razer Phone 2 and Asus ROG Phone II help push the demand to bring desktop gaming benefits, which include higher screen refresh rates that make graphics smoother and software modes that keep the focus on the game, to mobile.
Here's how gaming on phones can look more like desktop gaming.
5G rendering speeds for premium and midrange phones
Any phone in 2020 that uses either the Snapdragon 865 or 765G chips will work with 5G networks, and that's good for gaming.
Faster speeds mean you'll be able to download large game files faster, and it'll also make real-time gaming possible. You might even gain an advantage against cloud gamers on 4G, who will be hampered by slower reaction times. (The 765G's Adreno 620 GPU renders graphics 10% faster than the standard 765.) Snapdragon 865 supports 5G speeds up to 7.3Gbps, while 765G supports up to 3.7Gbps downloads over 5G.
Up to 144Hz screen refresh rate
Higher-than usual screen refresh rates are starting to hit the mainstream, thanks to support for 90Hz displays in the Pixel 4 and OnePlus 7T, and 120Hz screens in the Asus ROG Phone II and the Razer Phone 2.
That means smoother graphics rendering and faster response time for gameplay, which promises to make the experience smoother overall. Snapdragon 865 will support up to 144Hz display refresh rates, which is a first for mobile and the gold standard for desktop, Qualcomm said, especially among competitive gamers and eSports players.
Qualcomm added that PUBG Mobile now has a 90fps gaming mode that'll roll out soon, after working with Qualcomm to optimize the refresh rate.
Unoptimized games get a graphics makeover
There are a lot of engines baked into Snapdragon's Elite Gaming platform to make games look their best, like adding support for over 1 billion colors and 10-bit HDR gaming.
But for games that aren't designed for such high-resolution graphics from the ground up, Qualcomm's chips aim to automatically enhance the graphics' colors and details on all games running on Snapdragon, without having to make changes to game code.
One example is Lineage II: Revolution, which has made over $1 billion in revenue and commands an average of four hours' gameplay in a single session. In the demo we saw, playing on Snapdragon 865 changed the fast-paced action and scenery from blurry and glassy to saturated and sharper just by enhancing the color, which in turn helps differentiate details.
Let's return to pinballs bouncing around the screen. Snapdragon's gaming suite is designed to apply desktop-level depth of field, dynamic lighting, shadows and motion blur to make the little details more immersive and realistic.
In addition, a new hardware feature, called Adreno HDR Fast Blend, can accelerate the rendering of particle effects such as fire, snow and smoke, which use up a lot of resources to process well. This tool helps squeeze out those details quickly and accurately, without churning through battery and overheating your phone.
Get driver updates straight from Google Play
PC gamers can update their drivers frequently, to fix bugs, and also boost performance. Being able to update individual GPU drivers wasn't possible on Android, but a partnership with Google has made it so.
You'll soon be able to download drivers from the Google Play store, starting with Qualcomm's app, called Adreno GPU Driver. You'll be able to access those drivers after you've had your phone for awhile, not only just after it's launched.