Qualcomm's Snapdragon 821 will power Google's VR-capable Daydream phones

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 821 chip has a 10 percent faster CPU and 5 percent faster GPU than the Snapdragon 820.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon chip in a smartphone.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip is in many smartphones today.

Credit: Qualcomm

The first smartphones to use Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform are coming later this year, and many could have Qualcomm’s latest processor, the Snapdragon 821.

On Tuesday, Qualcomm shared more details about the new flagship processor, which is the company’s fastest to date. It has a 10 percent faster CPU and 5 percent faster graphics processor than the Snapdragon 820, which is in top smartphones like LG’s G5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7.

Mobile chip makers often tweak processor designs to improve performance. The 10 percent CPU improvement is decent considering the Snapdragon 821 and 820 are based on the same Kryo architecture. Usually such performance improvements come with architectural upgrades in chips.

Smartphones will need a lot of horsepower for Daydream, which is Google’s ambitious attempt to bring virtual reality to the masses. It’s designed for Android smartphones that will snap into VR headsets, letting users roam 3D worlds, interact with friends or view streaming movies.

No Daydream products are out yet, but Google has set the requirements for smartphones and headsets to support the VR platform. Smartphones will need high-resolution screens and fast CPUs and GPUs, and the headsets will need a bevy of sensors to track motion and head movement. Daydream is based on Android 7.0.

Companies developing mobile devices for Daydream include Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus, and Alcatel. 

For developers to create mobile VR apps, Qualcomm is offering the Snapdragon VR software development kit, which will be compatible with Google Daydream.

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