Bad News Abounds with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810

Qualcomm Snapdragon

Qualcomm may have jumped the gun just a bit with their announcement of the Snapdragon 820 at MWC. There is mounting evidence that their current flagship SoC, the Snapdragon 810, is well… a dud.

The bad news started back in early January, when rumours started circulating about a major OEM passing on the 810 for their top-tier device. That OEM turned out to be Samsung, and the device in question the new Galaxy S6. For the past few years Samsung has sold flagships running their in-house Exynos chips in Asia and Europe, while their Americas-bound counterparts shipped with Qualcomm chipsets. Why the sudden change? Apparently the S10 runs too hot.

Then there was the news that the successor to the OnePlus One would be delayed, due entirely to “manufacturing challenges with the Snapdragon 810“.

Then there are the reviews of LG’s G Flex 2, for the moment the only available device with the 810 chip onboard. According to benchmark results, the performance of the phone is severely throttled with prolonged use, to compensate for thermal issues with the 810 chip.

Yesterday, the most damning statement yet about the chip was posted to Google+ by David Ruddock, Senior Editor of Android Police:

Having spoken to several people in the loop on Snapdragon 810 at MWC this year, I can pretty much confirm the chip has Qualcomm in full-on damage control.

Partners had no idea until the last minute that Snapdragon 820 would be announced at the show, and the general consensus on 810 is that of a significant misstep. Qualcomm is deeply worried that it will lose partners long-term who may end up getting burned (pun intended) by giving 810 their design win, and even had Peter Chou of HTC up there selling Snapdragon during the MWC press conference.

I’ve also heard at least one partner may drop 810 from their portfolio, instead opting for 808, which has a less aggressive dual-core A57 layout (with quad A53s). This version of the chip also will benefit from the revisions Qualcomm has made to its A57/A53 architecture to avoid the kind of thermal issues that legitimately plague the 810.

Essentially, Qualcomm will probably not provide a legitimate competitor to Samsung’s 7400-series Exynos this year, and if they do, it won’t happen until very late in the year, with mainstream Snapdragon 820 phones hitting the market probably in early 2016. Qualcomm isn’t on a failing trajectory by any means, but their 2015 flagship-tier SoCs are unlikely to impress versus those from Apple or Samsung.

Flagships from Motorola, HTC, and LG could all end up with suboptimal solutions this year because Qualcomm overpromised on 810 and categorically underdelivered.

Early benchmarking tests of the Snapdragon 810-powered HTC One M9 seem to confirm that overall performance is nowhere near that of the Galaxy S6. This is honestly the first bad news I’ve ever read about Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips; hopefully they get this figured out soon!