Every year Qualcomm launches a premium mobile processor that usually finds its way into the top Android phones of the next 12 months, and it's just unveiled the Snapdragon 855 system-on-a-chip (SoC) for 2019. Its headline features are 5G connectivity and yet more AI performance boosts.

The 5G connectivity is included courtesy of the X50 modem that partners the Snapdragon 855. The next-gen cellular technology is bound to be a big selling point for the phones of 2019, even if the physical infrastructure has a lot of catching up to do – expect to see it in plenty of flagship Android phones next year.

During its Snapdragon Tech Summit event, Qualcomm announced that 5G networks would begin rolling out in the US, Europe, and Asia during 2019. As well as significantly faster download and upload speeds (exact speeds will depend on your phone and network), 5G will offer more capacity, which means no more lost signal in crowded areas.

The other headline feature in the Snapdragon 855 SoC is a brand new AI engine. For the last couple of years, mobile chips have included dedicated artificial intelligence components, designed to handle calculations specifically related to AI – like voice and image recognition, and augmented reality – and this chip is no different.

What is different is the speed. Qualcomm says the AI processing is three times faster on the Snapdragon 855 than it was on the Snapdragon 845. Expect improvements to trickle through to AR apps, photo filters, and so on.

Qualcomm also showed off the new ultrasonic fingerprint recognition technology that the Snapdragon 855 will work with: that means we should see more handsets with a fingerprint scanner built into the front display. While several devices include the feature already, the new scanner in tandem with the Snapdragon 855 should make it faster and more reliable, and easier to implement for manufacturers.

Qualcomm hasn't yet revealed much else about the performance of the Snapdragon 855, but we do know it's being made through a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, down from the 10 nm of its predecessors. That should mean some notable improvements in performance, efficiency, and battery life, but we'll have to wait and see for details.

The Snapdragon 845 found its way into phones like the Pixel 3, the LG G7 ThinQ, the Sony Xperia XZ3, the OnePlus 6T, and some varieties of the Samsung Galaxy phones, so the line-up for the Snapdragon 855 should be equally strong in 2019.

The big names missing from that list are Apple and Huawei, which make their own chips. Samsung also manufacturers custom-made chips for some of its phone models in some regions. Apart from those exceptions, expect to hear a lot more about the Snapdragon 855 processor over the next 12 months.

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