Qualcomm’s latest smartphone chip is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. It’s a powerful sequel to the Snapdragon 888+, the first chip to use Qualcomm’s new naming convention, and oddly enough, the first Snapdragon chip with always-on camera support. Qualcomm claims this feature will dramatically improve Face Unlock functionality, but it also comes with some privacy concerns.
Real quick, let’s review the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1’s specs. This 4nm chip features a 1+3+4 configuration with a 3GHz ARM Cortex X2 Prime core, three 2.5GHz Cortex A71 cores, and four 1.8GHz Cortex A51s Efficiency cores. Its Kryo CPU is 20% faster than the Snapdragon 888+ but consumes 30% less power, and you can expect 30% faster Adreno GPU performance with a 25% decrease in power consumption.
All in all, this is a major upgrade over last year’s flagship Snapdragon chip. It even features some behind-the-scenes improvements, like Snapdragon Sound support, faster 3.6 GBps Wi-Fi connectivity, and of course, the always-on camera.
During its Snapdragon Tech Summit, the Qualcomm team explained that always-on camera support will greatly improve Face Unlock functionality and security. An always-on camera can detect your face even when you haven’t picked up your phone or pressed its power button, and it can automatically lock your device if you look away or have someone peeking over your shoulder.
While the always-on camera won’t fix Face Unlock’s biggest problems, it should make Android devices feel a bit more responsive. It could also increase personal privacy when you don’t want people to peek at your phone. But naturally, the phrase” always-on camera” raises some security concerns.
Qualcomm dedicates just one sentence to always-on camera security concerns. “You don’t have to worry about privacy. The always-on camera data never leaves the secure sensing hub while it’s looking for faces.” The company doesn’t detail how it’s blocking rogue apps or software from accessing the always-on camera, or if hackers could remotely tap into the camera feed (the same way that hackers break into Wi-Fi connected security cameras).
Of course, smartphone manufacturers don’t need to enable always-on camera if they don’t want to. Brands like OnePlus tend to bypass Snapdragon’s built-in features for custom alternatives, and always-on camera could suffer the same fate. But this feature could be a selling point for some phones, and as such, we will probably hear more about it in 2022.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip will appear in smartphones before the end of next year. At the time of writing, though, Google and Samsung have not committed to using the chip. We expect Google to continue using Tensor chips in its Pixel phones, but we aren’t sure what Samsung plans to do.