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Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 will bring advanced features to 2019 5G phones

The company, which is hosting a conference this week, offers only a few details about its newest processor.

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
3 min read

Qualcomm is making a big push with 5G devices. 

Shara Tibken/CNET
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Qualcomm's next processor that'll power most upcoming Android smartphones is called the Snapdragon 855. And it's bringing a lot more smarts to next year's devices. 

"That's the mobile processor that will be in the 5G smartphone as we launch 5G," Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said Tuesday at the Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Qualcomm, hosting its annual tech conference this week, has brought partners like Samsung, Verizon and AT&T to talk up their plans for 5G devices in 2019. It didn't provide many details about its newest chip but touted the artificial intelligence capabilities, camera smarts and ability to power 5G phones. Qualcomm plans to provide more details about the Snapdragon 855 on Wednesday. 

Qualcomm designs the mobile processors used in most high-end Android smartphones. As phone demand slows, companies are looking for new ways to get customers to upgrade their devices. The components inside the phones are key for enabling new features that make the devices must-have. It's key for Qualcomm to continuously improve its chips, and the Snapdragon 855 is its latest and greatest.  

Watch this: Qualcomm gives us a glimpse of our future in 5G

The Snapdragon 855 likely will launch next year in devices like Samsung's Galaxy S10 and will let all of us do more with our phones than ever before. They'll not only be smarter and more responsive but will tap into the super-fast 5G network, shoot better photos and recognize images, and let us securely unlock our phones using in-screen fingerprint readers. 

Faster and smarter

One of the biggest features for next year's phone is the ability to use 5G. The next generation of cellular technology, 4G LTE's successor, is expected to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can go 10 to 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection today, and even quicker than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. It'll take seconds to download a full TV season, and doctors will be able to perform remote surgeries in real time. 

Alex Katouzian, Qualcomm senior vice president and general manager of mobile, said Tuesday that the Snapdragon 855 will contain the company's fourth-generation AI engine. It lets the technology tap into the multiple cores of the chip to process information faster than before. The Snapdragon 855's performance is three times better than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 845. 

In other words, the digital assistant on your phone will be smarter and faster than before. 

"AI doesn't just happen on one core," Katouzian said. "It efficiently picks the proper core for the best user experience." 


Alex Katouzian, Qualcomm senior vice president of mobile, unveils the Snapdragon 855 during an event Tuesday in Hawaii. 

Shara Tibken/CNET

Also getting more smarts is the image signal processor for taking photos and videos using Snapdragon 855-powered smartphones. The chip will contain "the world's first computer vision ISP."

"It can now recognize who and what you're capturing," Katouzian said. "Now the 855 ISP has sight."

Another feature the Snapdragon 855 can tap into is Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Sensor. The technology lets handset makers put fingerprint readers under the displays of their devices. It uses sound waves to create a map of your fingerprints, making access to the device secure and convenient. 

"This is the future of fingerprint technology," Katouzian said. 

Originally published Dec. 4, 12:44 p.m. PT
Updated, 1:31 p.m. PT: Adds additional details and executive comments.

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