Promising Smartphone Trends in 2016

While 2015 would be considered a year of stagnation in the world of Android based smartphone hardware for some, largely due to disappointing high-end applications processors from Qualcomm, the year for 2016 should on track for consumers to regain confidence in the platform improvements in both power efficiency and performance.

Power Efficiency with SoC Die Shrinks

The move to 14 & 16 nm manufacturing continues to promise to reap great benefits for power efficiency in the year of 2016, with more manufacturers shipping their SoCs based on the updated processes.

On the application processor side, Snapdragon 820 promises major performance-per-watt improvements over its predecessors. Qualcomm should have their X16 modem chipset available this year to further improve efficiency.

Samsung launched the Exynos 7 Octa 7420 with a 14 nm applications processor in 2015, typically configured with the modem part at 28 nm with Samsung Shannon 333 or Qualcomm at 20 nm. The Exynos 8 Octa is expected to launch with the application processor and modem at 14 nm this year. Intel’s Atom applications processors have been on 14 nm for quite a while now, but their XMM7460 modem is supposed to be available late this year.

14 &16 nm manufacturing technology is starting to reap benefits for other chip vendors as well in HiSilicon’s Kirin 950 and Mediatek’s X30 platforms.

These change hopefully lead to significant improvements in battery life under mobile data workloads in more devices.

Performance Improvements with Sufficient Memory

Android device hardware for this year finally seems to be inline with what is needed.

There were still many devices released in 2015 which were not equipped with enough RAM, which resulted in significantly reduced system performance. For example, the Canadian LG Stylo released in 2015 had only 1 GB RAM before other allocations. However, at CES 2016, LG’s newest mid-range all seem to have sufficient memory (1.5 GB) on paper to be able perform well from a performance perspective.

Intel released a memory tuning guide in August 2015, and this finally seems to be consistent with what manufacturers are equipping their devices with today:

Density and Screen Size 32 Bit Device 64-Bit Device
Android Watches 416 MB Not applicable
hdpi or lower on small/normal screens
mdpi or lower on large screens
ldpi or lower on extra large screens
424 MB Not applicable
xhdpi or higher on small/normal screens
tvdpi or higher on large screens
mdpi or higher on extra large screens
512 MB 832 MB
400dpi or higher on small/normal screens
xhdpi or higher on large screens
tvdpi or higher on extra large screens
896 MB 1280 MB
560dpi or higher on small/normal screens
400dpi or higher on large screens
xhdpi or higher on extra large screens
1344 MB 1824 MB

– Minimum physical memory required by kernel and user-space in Android 5.1 (Intel Aug 2015)

Display Improvements

Look forward to more consumer devices adopting improvements in display technologies including IGZO and LTPS displays.

Other Trends

  • NAND storage speeds have gotten ‘good enough’ for most devices released in 2015 even on generic devices, and should no longer be of concern in newly released devices
  • Android 6 reintroduces the ability to expand internal storage using microSD expansion as well as significantly increased standby battery life, and should be considered compulsory
  • In 2015, we saw significant improvements in image quality for smartphones across all manufacturers, and this year should be a continuation of this trend. The major areas of improvement to look for are in low light performance, focus speeds, and video stabilization
  • Google will be looking to proliferate Android Pay, so look for devices equipped with fingerprint sensors and NFC to take advantage
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