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Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 explained: 2024's Android phones get a major AI boost

Qualcomm's latest chipset will power most of 2024's flagship Android phones. Here's what to know.
By
October 24, 2023

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 series of chipsets powers most high-end Android phones on the market. The company has now peeled the curtain back on its latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3.

Between the revised CPU, tweaked GPU, AI enhancements, and new camera tricks, there’s no shortage of improvements and new additions here.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 CPU: All the gigahertz

Qualcomm strayed from its conventional 1+3+4 CPU core arrangement when it announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 almost a year ago. That processor dropped one of the four little cores in favor of offering four medium cores, resulting in a 1+4+3 layout. Now, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is dropping one more little core.

Yep, the new Snapdragon chipset adopts a 1+5+2 CPU setup, consisting of one Cortex-X4 big core, five Cortex-A720 medium cores, and just two Cortex-A520 Refresh little cores.

The “Refresh” moniker is new for the little cores, but Qualcomm senior director Karl Whealton suggested in a media briefing that this was due to minor differences:

It’s just an implementation of the 520 (sic). We get better at implementing our cores every year. It’s not a different type of core, it’s a standard Cortex-A520 RTL and then obviously our special implementation of that core.

In another interesting move, Qualcomm told us it’s finally dropping support for 32-bit apps entirely in favor of 64-bit-only cores.

“This year, it’s a pure 64-bit-only core. And we believe that the app ecosystem has evolved in a way that, at this point in time, we don’t very much see a need for 32-bit cores (sic),” Qualcomm senior vice president Ziad Asghar said in response to an Android Authority question.

A slide detailing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 CPU.
Supplied by Qualcomm

Qualcomm is also offering some high clock speeds here, with the big core clocked at 3.3GHz, three of the medium cores clocked at 3.2GHz, the two other medium cores running at 3GHz, and the two little cores clocking in at 2.3GHz. The chip is also equipped with 12MB of L3 cache, up from 8MB last time out.

Between the much higher clock speeds, larger L3 cache, and the extra medium core, you’d assume that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is a major leap forward for horsepower. Indeed, Qualcomm says you can expect 30% faster performance compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.

We did wonder what this meant for efficiency improvements. However, Qualcomm responded to these concerns by noting that the new CPU is 20% more efficient than the previous chipset’s CPU.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3Snapdragon 8 Gen 2Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
CPU Config
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
1x 3.3GHz (Cortex-X4)
3x 3.2GHz (Cortex-A720)
2x 3GHz (Cortex-A720)
2x 2.3GHz (Cortex-A520 Refresh)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
1x 3.19GHz (Cortex-X3)
2x 2.8GHz (Cortex-A715)
2x 2.8GHz (Cortex-A710)
3x 2.0GHz (Cortex-A510)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
1x 3.0GHz (Cortex-X2)
3x 2.5GHz (Cortex-A710)
4x 1.8GHz (Cortex-A510)
GPU
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Adreno
(ray tracing support)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Adreno 740
(ray tracing support)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Adreno 730
DSP
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Hexagon
(fused scalar, tensor, and vector)
Mixed precision INT8/INT16
INT4 support
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Hexagon
(fused scalar, tensor, and vector)
Mixed precision INT8/INT16
INT4 support
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Hexagon
(fused scalar, tensor, and vector)
Mixed precision INT8/INT16
RAM support
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
LPDDR5X
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
LPDDR5X
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
LPDDR5
Camera support
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
• 200MP single shot
• 108MP single with zero shutter lag
• 64MP+36MP with zero shutter lag
• Triple 36MP with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• 10-bit HEIF image capture
• HDR video
• Dolby HDR photo
• Multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time semantic segmentation for photos and videos (up to 12 layers)
• Video super resolution
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
• 200MP single shot
• 108MP single with zero shutter lag
• 64MP+36MP with zero shutter lag
• Triple 36MP with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• 10-bit HEIF image capture
• HDR video
• Multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time semantic segmentation for photos and videos (up to 8 layers)
• Video super resolution
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
• 200MP single shot
• 108MP single with zero shutter lag
• 64MP+36MP with zero shutter lag
• Triple 36MP with zero shutter lag
• Hybrid AF
• 10-bit HEIF image capture
• HDR video
• Multi-frame noise reduction
• Real-time object classification, segmentation, and replacement
• Video super resolution
Video capture
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
8K @ 30fps (HDR)
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
Night Vision Video Capture (4K/60fps)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
8K @ 30fps (HDR)
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
8K @ 30fps (HDR)
4K UHD @ 120fps
720p @ 960fps
Charging
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Quick Charge 5
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Quick Charge 5
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Quick Charge 5
4G/5G Modem
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
X75 LTE/5G (integrated)
10,000Mbps down
3,500Mbps up
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
X70 LTE/5G (integrated)
10,000Mbps down
3,500Mbps up
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
X65 LTE/5G (integrated)
10,000Mbps down
(3,000Mbps up assumed)
Other networking
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
Bluetooth 5.4
Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Bluetooth 5.3
Wi-Fi 7, Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Bluetooth 5.2
Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), 802.11a/b/g/n
Process
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
TSMC 4nm (N4P)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
TSMC 4nm (N4?)
Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Samsung 4nm 4LPE

This new CPU setup is also coming as arch-rival MediaTek gears up to launch its Dimensity 9300 processor. It’s rumored that the MediaTek chip will ditch little cores entirely in favor of four Cortex-X4 cores and four Cortex-A720 medium cores. So we’re really curious to see which approach pays off in 2024 if this is the case.

Qualcomm confirmed that the chipset is a 4nm design built on TSMC’s N4P process. That means Apple’s A17 Pro is the only smartphone processor built on the smaller, 3nm process right now. There’s more to a great chipset than the manufacturing process, so we’re keen to see how the two chips fare against each other.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 GPU and display

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 introduced a headline GPU improvement with the introduction of hardware-accelerated ray tracing for more realistic lighting, reflections, and shadows. So what’s the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 got, then?

Qualcomm confirmed that the new chipset’s ray tracing chops have been augmented with support for global illumination via Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen Engine. Global illumination (or indirect illumination) is a graphical technique that more realistically models the way light interacts with an environment. This lighting technology also takes factors like a virtual material’s absorption and reflectiveness into account. It’s a bit too early to tell whether this will see widespread adoption, so it’s anyone’s guess whether this will turn out like mobile ray tracing (i.e. supported by very few games right now).

The new Adreno GPU is otherwise a claimed 25% faster than the previous generation while being 25% more efficient. Ray tracing gets a 50% performance boost as well. Fingers crossed that sustained performance holds up over time.

Aside from the usual horsepower and efficiency gains, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 GPU also gains support for global illumination tech.

These upgrades are pretty respectable on paper given that Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 GPU features “evolutionary changes” rather than an all-new design.

“It’s really a bunch of microarchitectural changes on the GPU in this front that are enabling those performance improvements,” Qualcomm head of display and GPU Salman Saeed explained. He added that the company focused on bottlenecks that largely affected Vulkan-based workloads, such as the shader pipeline and texture throughput.

Qualcomm is also offering two gaming-related features when you output a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 device to an external display, namely 8K gameplay and 240Hz support. The former is accomplished via super-resolution while the latter means you can play some games at 240fps. Qualcomm’s chip officially tops out at 144Hz at QHD+ resolution, although that hasn’t stopped the likes of Motorola, REDMAGIC, and Sharp from launching 165Hz or even 240Hz phones using previous Snapdragon processors (albeit at FHD+ resolutions).

AI: A big step forward for smartphones, not just Android

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 AI upgrades
Supplied by Qualcomm

Generative AI is everywhere, and Qualcomm is taking advantage of this trend. The company says that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3’s upgraded Hexagon NPU is designed with generative AI in mind. Headline improvements include up to 98% faster performance than the previous generation, a 40% efficiency boost, a two-fold boost to bandwidth in large shared memory, and more bandwidth feeding the Tensor Accelerator. Whealton says it’s also implemented a separate voltage rail for the Tensor Accelerator, allowing the NPU and Tensor silicon to each run at different power levels for a better balance of performance and efficiency.

Qualcomm says the chipset supports large language models with over 10 billion parameters running at almost 15 tokens per second. So what do all these improvements mean for actual use cases?

Text-to-image generation is getting a huge speed upgrade with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3.

One major benefit is that you can expect much faster image generation via Stable Diffusion. Qualcomm previously demonstrated on-device Stable Diffusion on a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 reference handset, taking over 15 seconds to generate an image from a text prompt. However, the company says Stable Diffusion now takes less than a second to generate an image. The company also says it’s working with Snapchat to implement this faster Stable Diffusion solution in the app.

Another interesting addition is “on-device personalization” for AI. Qualcomm says it’ll use your device’s sensors (e.g. GPS, Wi-Fi, microphone, Bluetooth, camera) to personalize chatbot queries. So if you were to ask a chatbot about the best restaurants or activities to do, you can expect more personalized responses based on your location and other factors instead of having to explicitly specify this in your query.

Qualcomm is also touting the privacy benefits of on-device personalization. The company sought to assuage concerns that apps would have access to this personalization data. Vinesh Sukumar, Qualcomm’s head of AI and machine learning, claimed that any app using this function would only get a “refined element of the input prompt that is filtered” before it gets to the app. He added that this personalization data is discarded after a prompt is generated.

The new chipset can also run chatbots locally, while on-device personalization promises more relevant AI results.

Either way, Qualcomm will showcase an AI system demo running on-device at the Snapdragon Summit, powered by Meta’s Llama 2 LLM. The company notes that this demo offers “end-to-end” voice support, so you can talk to the chatbot and have it talk back to you.

Finally, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 will pack support for multi-modal generative AI models. That means you can input text, images, and speech and have these generative models output text, images, and speech in return.

This improved generative AI support entails more than just better voice assistants and failed attempts at naughty AI-generated art, though.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 camera: What’s a picture, really?

A slide showing Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 camera features.
Supplied by Qualcomm

Qualcomm has been drawing AI ever closer to imaging in recent years, and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 continues this trend.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more clearly seen than with the new Photo Expansion feature. The new Snapdragon chip lets you “zoom out” of a captured photo, essentially extending the image’s borders with the aid of on-device generative AI. It’s a pretty crazy feature, although it doesn’t cross the line as far as photo authenticity is concerned so much as unabashedly speed past it. In saying so, a Qualcomm representative suggested during a media briefing that this could be used for creating wallpapers.

Another notable camera-related feature is the so-called Video Object Eraser. As the name implies, this feature lets you tap to erase objects from your videos in the same way you can erase objects from photos in Magic Eraser. We’re curious to see how this feature works in commercial devices, as Magic Eraser for photos isn’t perfect to begin with.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 introduces some impressive camera features, like object erasing for video and Photo Expansion capabilities.

Qualcomm is also touting Night Vision Video functionality on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. This feature, powered by Visionary AI’s neural networks, will allow you to capture video in “really really dark” environments. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen night mode video capabilities as the likes of OPPO have offered it for a while now via a custom imaging chip. But having this feature available as part of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 itself is pretty convenient for OEMs.

Qualcomm mentioned that Night Vision Video uses “frame rate conversion,” while press materials mention 4K/60fps support. The company confirmed to us that it’s indeed shooting at 4K/30fps before using frame interpolation to deliver 4K/60fps video in this mode.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 also improves upon the Cognitive ISP introduced last year. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s ISP was able to use real-time semantic image segmentation to identify up to eight objects in a photo or video and apply adjustments to them. This figure has now been boosted to 12 objects. We’ve also got a Vlogger’s View feature, recording video via both the front and rear cameras but cutting you out from the selfie camera and placing you in the main camera’s scene.

Two other noteworthy camera-related features this time include a rejuvenated TruPic partnership for authenticating images and Dolby HDR photo capture. In the case of the former, this will help consumers authenticate whether an image was AI-generated or not. Meanwhile, Dolby HDR photo capture is a new HDR photo format that promises 10-bit color depth and over a billion colors.

Perhaps the biggest question about all these new-fangled camera additions is whether any OEMs will use it. You might not want to hold your breath for manufacturers to use all these features, but we really hope to see some of them on 2024’s phones.

Other Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 features

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 overview
Supplied by Qualcomm

These aren’t the only new features coming to Qualcomm’s latest smartphone chipset. Here are a few more nuggets worth knowing:

  • The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 also brings generative AI backgrounds for video capture. This will ostensibly allow you to use Stable Diffusion to create a background for recorded videos.
  • Qualcomm’s new chip also supports Samsung’s new Zoom Anyplace tech, using a 200MP camera to simultaneously capture a 1x video and a 4x video with object tracking. Do you know what else supports this technology? The Samsung Exynos 2400 processor.
  • Expect continued support for Google’s nifty Ultra HDR photo format, following in the footsteps of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and Pixel 8.
  • The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 sensor hub delivers a performance boost of up to 3.5X with INT4 support, 30% more memory, and dual always-sensing ISPs. The latter means you can have one ISP facing the front (e.g. for faster face unlock) and one facing the rear (e.g. for scanning QR codes).
  • Expect cleaner, nicer-looking shadows in supported games thanks to the addition of Snapdragon Shadow Denoiser.
  • The chipset also supports 24-bit 96KHz lossless audio along with the firm’s XPAN tech for whole home coverage. This is also part of the new Snapdragon S7 and S7 Pro audio chipsets for wireless earbuds.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 benchmarked

We were fortunately able to benchmark a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 reference device as we were guests of Qualcomm at the Snapdragon Summit. The results? Well, it looks like the new chipset is one of the more significant leaps in a while.

We do have some concerns about sustained performance. The reference device dropped performance by more than half compared to the initial score. Fingers crossed that Android brands are able to get thermal performance under control. Either way, you can read our full Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 benchmark article at the link.

When can I get my hands on a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phone?

Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 official image
Supplied by Qualcomm

Qualcomm confirmed that the first phones with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset will be available in the “coming weeks.”

We’re not expecting a major global launch in the next few weeks, though. The first brands to adopt flagship Snapdragon silicon tend to launch these devices in China first before a global release a month or three later.

ASUS, HONOR, IQOO, Meizu, NIO, Nubia, OnePlus, OPPO, Realme, Redmi, REDMAGIC, Sony, vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE have all confirmed that they’ll release Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phones. In fact, Xiaomi has already launched the Xiaomi 14 series in China, being the first Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 devices.

It’s worth noting that Samsung is absent from the list, but this omission isn’t unusual. The Korean brand was missing from the list last year but the Galaxy S23 series was still powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.