For someone who has bought a smartphone, of course we have been confused by the specifications of our smartphone. The choice between top quality cameras, high resolution screens, and of course advanced features such as face recognition or fingerprint sensor that is integrated directly with the screen. These sophisticated specifications certainly affect the depth of our pockets.
The influence of smartphone specifications on product decisions which we will choose will certainly vary. For gamers and techno junkies, perhaps the most influential in choosing a smartphone is the processor. This smartphone user segment is very hungry for the performance of their smartphones. Even so, many of them are still confused with the mobile device processor. The many technical terminology also does not help the users in recognizing the device they are using. Because we are kind and not arrogant, we will give a little insight about the processor that is on the mobile device that you use everyday.
System on Chip (SoC)
The mention of processors for mobile devices is actually rather ambiguous because the specifications commonly mentioned in the cardboard smartphone units are the chipset system. What is meant by the chipset itself is a series of electronic integrated circuits (ICs) that regulate data flow between the processor, memory, GPU, and others. In System on Chip (SoC), the chipset is assembled into one with several components consisting of:
• CPU (Central Processing Unit),
• GPU (Graphic Processing Unit),
• Connectivity (mobile network, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.)
• DSP (Digital Signal Processor)
• Image Sensor Processor
• Location (GPS, GLONASS, etc.)
A lot, right? All types of chips are collected into one component called the system on chip. Indeed, during the early generation of smartphones, this chip set was separate and the smartphone trend is getting thinner and denser. SoC is now used in almost all smartphone devices from middle to upper classes.
The CPU is the brain that regulates all the components that are in the smartphone. The most popular type of CPU on smartphones is ARM based. ARM is a processor architecture company just like Intel or AMD. The difference is that ARM does not produce its own processors but rather is produced by several vendors such as Qualcomm, Apple, Samsung, and MediaTek. Just like a desktop, CPU performance for mobile devices is determined by the type of architecture, clock speed (in Hz), and number of cores. The difference with a desktop processor is that the processor on a mobile device must consider the use of battery power, heat generated and the number of applications running simultaneously. Therefore, vendors prefer to use the latest architecture and a high number of cores so that they are able to save battery power and are more efficient when used for multitasking. In this section vendors such as Qualcomm usually specify custom configurations for their CPUs called Kryo.
The most recent architecture from ARM until this article was revealed is Cortex A76. This processor is a 64-Bit processor that uses 7 nM technology with a clock speed of 3 GHz. Yup! Cortex A76 is predicted as a smartphone processor that can rival the performance of a laptop. Even so, there are no vendors and OEMs that use this processor architecture and may only launch later in 2019.
As we know, the Graphic Processing Unit functions to process visual displays on smartphone screens. The higher the GPU performance the higher the quality of the visual display on the screen. On a desktop, these visual display quality parameters are usually determined by the number of FPS (frames per second), which is the number of images that can be displayed every second. The more the number of FPS, the smoother the movements and animations on the screen.
If we are users who only use smartphones for social media and browsing, we will not be able to distinguish between high-performance Graphic Processing Units and those that have low performance. After all, the difference in performance between one GPU and another on a smartphone is not significant when compared to a GPU on a desktop. Especially with the SoC, users don’t have many choices. Like it or not, to get a high-performance GPU, one has to buy a smartphone with the highest series of SoCs like the Snapdragon 845, which includes an Adreno 630 GPU.
The easiest thing to do to compare this chipset is to look at its features. Chipset produced by several vendors such as Qualcomm, Huawei, or Intel is indeed not much attention by users except the type of its mobile network (3G, 4G, or 5G). Bluetooth versions are also rarely noticed by users from Indonesia because wireless devices such as smartwatches or wireless headphones are also not very popular. One feature that might be noticed is VoLTE (Voice over LTE) because there is one mobile operator that has fully used this technology and left the traditional network so that without VoLTE support users cannot receive calls and SMS.
Digital Signal Processor is a component that converts analog signals to digital. As we know that the smartphone that we hold has many sensors such as light, distance, temperature, microphone, gyroscope, and even the camera is included in the category of sensors that capture analog signals. The task of this DSP is to convert all these signals into digital data continuously without interruption if needed and vice versa, namely changing the digital signal (for video and audio) to analog so that it can be captured by the human senses. This task can actually be done by other types of chipsets. The chipset vendors then separate this function because it is far more efficient in battery usage.
Image Sensor Processor
This is a processor created specifically to process image signals captured by the camera. This ISP has a huge effect on the image quality of the photos we take using our smartphone’s camera. SoC producers have usually included these ISP components in their products. However, smartphone manufacturers are not satisfied with the quality produced and modify these ISP chips. Google for example, they designed their own ISP chip called Pixel Visual Core for their smartphone, Pixel 2 and the resulting image was sharp. By combining Pixel Visual Core with an artificial intelligence chip, along with its SoC, Pixel 2 can even produce bokeh photos with just one camera. Even so, we don’t need to pay attention to the specifications of this ISP. We just need to see the results of the picture quality review and provide their own assessment.
In the SoC there is also a chipset for position tracking. Currently there are two types of positioning methods, namely GPS that we are familiar with and GLONASS, a positioning system from Russia which only in 2011 completed its satellites into 24 satellites. The difference between the two actually lies only in the position of the satellite. In general GPS is more accurate but if we are near the north or south pole, GLONASS is a little more accurate. The new chipset usually combines these two methods.