Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 vs Snapdragon 888

Not content with one high-end chipset release, Qualcomm has just unveiled its second 800 series processor in just two months. The Snapdragon 870 5G Mobile Platform promises higher clock speeds than last year’s processors and will be powering upcoming flagship-tier products from Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo’s Iqoo brand, and Xiaomi.

In reality, the processor is closer to a “Snapdragon 865 Plus Plus” than an all-new design for affordable flagship smartphones. We had been hoping for a Snapdragon 888 Lite to fill that gap but that’s not to be. How does this processor stack up against Qualcomm’s other 2021 premium-tier option? Let’s dive into the Snapdragon 870 vs Snapdragon 888.

Snapdragon SoC guide: All of Qualcomm’s smartphone processors explained

Snapdragon 870 vs Snapdragon 888 specs

 Snapdragon 888Snapdragon 870Snapdragon 865 Plus
CPU Config1x 2.84GHz (Cortex-X1)
3x 2.4GHz (Cortex-A78)
4x 1.8GHz (Cortex-A55)
1x 3.2GHz (Cortex-A77)
3x 2.4GHz (Cortex-A77)
4x 1.8GHz (Cortex-A55)
1x 3.1GHz (Cortex-A77)
3x 2.4GHz (Cortex-A77)
4x 1.8GHz (Cortex-A55)
GPUAdreno 660Adreno 650Adreno 650
DSPHexagon 780
(fused scalar, tensor, and vector)
Hexagon 698Hexagon 698
Process5nm7nm FinFET7nm FinFET
Camera support• 200MP single shot
• 84MP single with zero shutter lag
• 64MP+25MP with zero shutter lag
• Triple 24MP with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• 10-bit HEIF image capture
• HDR video
• multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time object classification, segmentation, and replacement
• 200MP single shot
• 64MP with zero shutter lag
• 25MP dual camera with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• HDR video
• multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time object classification, segmentation, and replacement
• 200MP single shot
• 64MP with zero shutter lag
• 25MP dual camera with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• HDR video
• multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time object classification, segmentation, and replacement
Video capture8K @ 30fps
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
8K @ 30fps
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
8K @ 30fps
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
Video playback8K
4K HDR up to 120fps
H.265 and VP9 video decoder
360 degree
8K
4K HDR up to 120fps
H.265 and VP9 video decoder
360 degree
8K
4K HDR up to 120fps
H.265 and VP9 video decoder
360 degree
ChargingQuick Charge 5Quick Charge 4+
Quick Charge AI
Quick Charge 4+
Quick Charge AI
ModemX60 LTE/5G (integrated)
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
X55 LTE/5G (external)
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
X55 LTE/5G (external)
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
Other networkingBluetooth 5.2
Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 5.1
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 5.1
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n

Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 vs Snapdragon 888: More of the same

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip in hand

Credit: Qualcomm

A quick browse through the table above yields a number of key differences in the Snapdragon 870 vs Snapdragon 888 debate. First, the Snapdragon 870 is based on the slightly older Arm Cortex-A77 big CPU cores, rather than the cutting edge Arm Cortex-X1 and A78 clusters found in the Snapdragon 888. CPU architecture is often more important than raw clock speeds. The Cortex-X1 architecture does much more per clock than the Cortex-A77 and comes out ahead despite the 2.84GHz versus 3.2GHz clock speed discrepancy.

The 870 model also features a last-gen Adreno 650 GPU, Hexagon 698 DSP, and older image processing blocks, compared to the 888’s Adreno 660 GPU, Hexagon 780 DSP, and more powerful Spectra ISP. This makes the 888 the superior chip when it comes to gaming, AI processing, and imaging technologies. Although the slightly older features in the 870 remain very competitive, which includes support for dual-camera processing, 8K video recording, as well as mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G networks.

See also: Snapdragon 888 vs Exynos 2100 vs Kirin 9000 vs Apple A14 specs compared

Another important difference is that the Snapdragon 870 retains an external Snapdragon X55 5G modem rather than moving to an integrated part and is still manufactured on a 7nm rather than a 5nm process. As such, the Snapdragon 888 retains a healthy lead in the energy efficiency department as well as in terms of performance. There’s also no Quick Charge 5, Bluetooth 5.2, or Wi-Fi 6E support with the 870.

The 3.2% clock speed increase is the only difference versus last-gen's Snapdragon 865 Plus.

In fact, the 870 is based entirely on last year’s Snapdragon 865 Plus. The only difference is the increase in the Prime CPU core clock speed. Up from 3.1GHz in the 865 Plus to 3.2GHz in the 870, which is a rather minor 3.2% change. Remember, the Snapdragon 865 Plus was just a faster version of the Snapdragon 865. Meaning the Snapdragon 870’s feature set is plucked entirely from 2020.

That being said, the Snapdragon 865 Plus offers a 10% CPU and GPU improvements over the Snapdragon 865. The Snapdragon 870 still benefits from that performance improvement over a number of 2020 flagship handsets that didn’t feature the Plus chipset variant. We didn’t see too many Snapdragon 865 Plus smartphones launched in 2020, so the Snapdragon 870 will still provide a small performance bump over a number of last-gen handsets. Although no-where near the 30-40% performance improvements promised by the Snapdragon 888.

See also: Analysis — Qualcomm just spent $1.4 billion to compete with Apple’s Arm laptops

Should I buy a phone with a Snapdragon 870 inside?

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip by phone

Credit: Qualcomm

There’s much more to a great smartphone experience than just the processor, so we’d hesitate to make any recommendations based on the chip alone. Unless you’re after bleeding-edge performance and an integrated 5G modem package, that is. In which case the Snapdragon 888 is the way to go.

On paper, the Snapdragon 870 is a fine processor but it’s essentially just a rebrand of last-gen technology. Granted, we didn’t have any cause for complaints about the capabilities of 2020’s smartphones and this chip will continue to perform well in 2021. Just be aware that, despite the new name, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 offers performance, features, and energy efficiency that were already available in 2020. So don’t upgrade from a last-gen flagship to a Snapdragon 870 handset for performance alone.

The Snapdragon 870 could help build affordable flagships with last-gen performance.

Even so, the Snapdragon 870 remains an interesting option. We’re well past the point of smartphone performance being good enough. Instead, price is becoming increasingly preferable versus number crunching. The Snapdragon 870 could slot nicely into the growing gap between the mid-range Snapdragon 765G and the ultra-premium Snapdragon 888 — providing that Qualcomm prices the chip competitively.

Despite its last-gen credentials, manufacturers can certainly build great phones based on the Snapdragon 870. The Motorola Edge S and Xiaomi Mi 10S for Chinese audiences are two of the first phones packing this chipset and both are very competitively priced. We’ll keep an eye out for more Snapdragon 870-powered handsets throughout 2021.

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