Qualcomm says your next smartphone will look sharper and last longer

The company hopes its latest mobile chip will win back Samsung, which eschewed Qualcomm in favor of its own chip for the Galaxy S6.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
2 min read

Qualcomm has been trying to win back Samsung's business. Claudia Cruz/CNET

Qualcomm promises its new chip will improve your next smartphone's camera while keeping it alive longer.

Qualcomm, the world's largest maker of chips for smartphones, shared details on its Snapdragon 820 chip, including a new Adreno 530 graphics processing unit and Spectra image signal processing unit -- two components that will lead to sharper looking images and power virtual-reality headsets.

The Snapdragon 820 is the processor Qualcomm is counting on to woo back Samsung, which earlier this year snubbed the chipmaker in favor of its own Exynos chip. Qualcomm and Samsung had been close partners for years, with Samsung using Snapdragon chips in many of its flagship phones, including last year's Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4. But Samsung's move dealt a blow to Qualcomm and its Snapdragon franchise of mobile chips.

Qualcomm thinks the Snapdragon 820 can turns things around. The differences consumers will notice in their next smartphones relate to the camera picture quality and battery life, said Tim Leland, the vice president of product management who runs Qualcomm's visual processing group.

Devices also won't get as hot and batteries won't drain as quickly when watching movies or playing games. Smartphone cameras will be able to focus in on subjects faster, preventing blurry photos. The display will show colors that are more true to life (so that blue dress you order will look the same on both the phone screen and in person). When taking photos at concerts or other areas where something is brightly lit but surrounded by a dark background, the object -- such as a band performing onstage -- won't look so washed out. And skin tones will look more natural.

"Essentially, the image quality would be significantly better," Leland told CNET.

Qualcomm's chips continue to be used in devices like Apple's iPhone and HTC's One M9 phone, but losing the Samsung business for the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge -- as well as the expected Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus -- has cost Qualcomm hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

It's just one of the issues that Qualcomm has had to deal with. The company in July said it would cut its full-time workforce by 15 percent. It also said it would consider separating its technology licensing business from its chip operations.

Qualcomm expects smartphones using the Snapdragon 820 to launch in the first half of next year, and it's believed Samsung is testing out new smartphones with the processor. Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf hinted on the company's quarterly earnings report last month that reception to the Snapdragon 820 has been "warm."

Leland declined to provide information about Samsung or how many customers plan to use the Snapdragon 820 but said "we're definitely very excited about what this chip can do."

"It will be very competitive," he said. "We're working very hard with lots of potential customers for this chip. Things are going very well."