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Fast Charge: The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 brings Ray Tracing and heart-shaped bokeh

OPINION: This week, Qualcomm officially unveiled its latest flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. I got the opportunity to demo some of the new features at the brand’s Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii. 

One of the most exciting updates coming to the mobile platform this year is hardware-accelerated ray tracing

The tech brings lifelike lighting and shadows to mobile games, from the realistic ripples in a river to the flash of a sword held up to the light. Qualcomm even showed off elements that wouldn’t be visible without ray tracing, such as the reflection of a face bouncing off the curves of a vase or the trees bouncing off the water below.

Ray tracing adds another layer of realism to games, enhancing the look of the game and making the light appear more true to life.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 hardware-accelerated ray tracing
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Of course, Qualcomm isn’t the first company to launch ray tracing on mobile. Samsung actually brought the technology to its own Exynos chips last year with help from AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture. 

However, by bringing ray tracing to Snapdragon, Qualcomm should help kickstart the technology coming to a wider number of handsets from the many manufacturers that typically make use of the brand’s flagship platform.

Another key area that has seen some interesting developments with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is mobile photography. 

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 semantic segmentation
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Qualcomm has launched a new AI-powered Cognitive ISP that supports semantic segmentation. This feature allows your camera to separate what it sees into different sections – not unlike the individual, editable layers you’d find in Adobe Photoshop. 

In doing so, the camera is able to modify the skin, hair, clothes, backgrounds and more individually – all in real-time. 

I tested the feature at the Summit and found it did a decent job of detecting my skin, but it definitely picked up other beige-ish elements, such as my brown dress and orange iPhone, along the way. When put into action, the smoothing effect was incredibly subtle. 

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 heart-shaped bokeh
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My favourite new camera feature is undoubtedly the heart-shaped bokeh. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 makes it possible for the camera to adjust the size and shape of bokeh – the blurred objects in the background of portrait mode images – to hearts, diamonds or simply bigger spots.

Between ray tracing, heart-shaped bokeh and the obvious performance boosts arriving with the chipset, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 marks some fantastic updates I’m excited to see make their way onto smartphones in 2023.

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