Huawei promises its 7nm Kirin 980 processor will destroy the Snapdragon 845

At IFA today, Huawei announced its newest system-on-a-chip, the Kirin 980, which boasts a number of world firsts. It’s the first 7nm mobile processor, the first one built around ARM’s Cortex-A76 CPU and Mali-G76 GPU, the first with a Cat.21 smartphone modem supporting speeds up to 1.4Gbps, and the first chip to support 2,133MHz LPDDR4X RAM. The Kirin 980 has 6.9 billion transistors, but I’ve seen it for myself and it’s no larger than a thumbnail.

The road to today’s announcement started three years ago for Huawei, with the company engaging more than 1,000 senior semiconductor design experts and churning through more than 5,000 engineering prototypes. The end result is roughly a 20 percent speed improvement and a 40 percent reduction in power consumption relative to Huawei’s previous generation.

But the product that Huawei really wants to compare the Kirin 980 against is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, the chip that figures in practically every Android flagship phone not made by Huawei. It’s worth noting that the 845 has been out for many months now whereas Huawei’s 980 won’t be in any retail devices until next month at the earliest (Huawei let slip that it’s planning its Mate 20 announcement for October 16th). Still, the margin of improvement that Huawei is quoting over its major rival is impressive.

On the memory front, Huawei says the Kirin 980 has 20 percent better bandwidth and 22 percent lower latency than the Snapdragon 845. In practical terms, that means faster app launches across the full range of the world’s most popular apps. In gaming applications, the 980 has been shown to produce 22 percent higher frame rates than the 845, and its power consumption when gaming is said to be 32 percent lower.

Photography performance is another major upgrade for the Kirin chip, according to Huawei’s numbers. Using a new dual ISP (image signal processor), the Kirin 980 is 46 percent faster at camera processing than its predecessor, with a related 23 percent improvement in power efficiency while recording, and 33 percent improvement in latency.

Huawei has doubled down on its AI processing aspirations, adding a dual NPU (neural processor unit) to the Kirin 980, which performs AI-assisted image recognition tasks at a rate of 4,500 images per minute. By the same measure, the Snapdragon 845 reaches 2,371 and Apple’s A11, which enjoys performance leads in other categories, gets only 1,458. AI also aids the Kirin 980’s power efficiency, as Huawei says it’s using it to more accurately and intelligently predict load requirements, making it more responsive to the power needs of the user — both when the chip needs to power up more cores and when it’s done its task and can save energy by slowing down.

The architecture of the Kirin 980 has eight cores: two are for so-called turbo performance, two are for long-term performance, and the last and smallest four are used to maximize power efficiency when not much is going on.

The Kirin 980 will offer the world’s fastest smartphone Wi-Fi speed, clocking in at 1,732Mbps, which is substantially higher than the Snapdragon 845’s best of 866Mbps with a Qualcomm modem or 1083Mbps with a third-party modem. So, by all metrics that matter to an end user, the new Kirin chip is shaping up to be a winner.

Huawei, with the Mate 20, and its sub-brand Honor, with the Magic 2, are going to be putting the Kirin 980 into retail devices by the end of the year.

Sony’s Xperia XZ3 looks like a larger XZ2 with an OLED screen

Sony has just taken the wraps off of the Xperia XZ3, its latest flagship smartphone at IFA 2018, And while Sony is positioning this as its latest and greatest smartphone, it’s hard to look at the XZ3 and not feel like its just an iterative update on the XZ2 that it released earlier this year.

The differences on the surface are scant. The biggest change is the display: the XZ3 offers a larger 6-inch 2880 x 1440 OLED panel at an 18:9 aspect ratio, instead of the XZ2’s 5.7-inch, 2160 x 1080 LCD display. The XZ3 has a slightly larger battery too, at 3330 mAh instead of 3180mAh from the XZ2, and will ship with the latest Android 9.0 Pie release.

The rest of the base hardware on the other hand seems to be virtually identical: a Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, a fingerprint reader on the back, and a curved glass design. The cameras are mostly the same — a 19-megapixel rear camera, capable of 4K HDR videos and 960fps slow motion, although the front-facing selfie camera has been bumped up to a 13-megapixel sensor with a couple of new 3D face-scanning tricks.

Instead, Sony is touting new AI features as the standout for the XZ3. There’s a new Side Sense function, where tapping the side of the phone will bring up a new, contextual menu filled with apps to open based on predictions for what you’ll be using next. There’s also a Smart Launch feature that detects when you’re holding the phone up horizontally for a picture and automatically launches the camera app.

Are these all nice upgrades over the XZ2? Sure. But it makes me question why Sony felt the need to release both of these nearly identical phones just months apart in the first place.

The Xperia XZ3 is set to go on sale in October for £699 / $900.

Honor teases new bezel-free Magic 2 smartphone with sliding camera

Huawei’s Honor sub-brand showed up at IFA with a surprise this year: an early tease of its new Magic 2 flagship, a follow-up to the company’s original AI-enhanced Magic phone from 2016.

The big update on the Magic 2 is a new “Magic Slide” feature that hides the camera underneath a slider to enable a full, bezel-free screen without a notch — similar to the sliding Oppo Find X from earlier this year. According to Honor, the new design features a nearly 100 percent screen-to-body ratio, although it has yet to show off the Magic 2 beyond a brief onstage appearance of a prototype at its IFA press conference and a teaser image (seen below), so it’s hard to tell exactly what it looks like.


Image: Honor

A zoomed-in image from Honor’s live stream (via Android Authority) does seem to showcase an intriguing-looking device that lacks any bezels or notches, although we’ll have to wait for Honor to give us a better look to judge for sure.

The Magic 2 will also be powered off of Huawei’s new (and still unannounced) Kirin 980 processor, which is presumably the successor to the current-gen Kirin 970 chip found in phones like the P20 Pro.


Image: Honor (via Android Authority)

According to Forbes, Honor president George Zhao confirmed in an interview that the Magic 2 is at least two months away from release, but the company wanted to unveil it early since “a competitor” had heard about the design and was planning a similar phone. Just hours after the Magic 2 was revealed, Lin Bin, the president of Xiaomi, posted a render of the company’s upcoming Mi Mix 3 flagship (via GSMArena) featuring a similar sliding camera design, so it seems that Zhao was right to be concerned.