The Galaxy S range has always embraced multiple variants – the S6 for example comes with about a dozen different internal configurations (the cell radios and sensors they used). Some of this is unavoidable, CDMA networks aren’t going to work with a GSM radio.
However, both the Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge, in all their glorious (and externally indistinguishable) variations, shared a single processor: Samsung’s own Exynos 7420. There have been some indications that this would change with the Galaxy S7 using a mix of Qualcomm and Samsung chips.
We believe we’ve seen nine S7’s appear in our data. And they are indeed using two different chipsets: the Samsung Exynos 8890 on a Universal 8890 board and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 on a MSM 8996 board. These nine devices form two quite distinct camps, having internal differences that go beyond the CPU.
How we got the data
Every time a user downloads OpenSignal we take a single reading of the device specification. It’s what we use to create our annual Fragmentation Report. As part of this reading the Linux cpuinfo file on Android, which contains data on the number of cores and the speeds of these cores.
Recently, 8 new devices have appeared in our data, corresponding to 9 distinct users (from Taiwan, Brazil, US and Mexico). The devices are
Based on the naming of these devices which seems to follow Samsung’s Galaxy S6 convention, and other fields in our dataset (like manufacturer codes, screen size), we’re highly confident that these are all Galaxy S7s.
What we don’t know is if these are the Galaxy S7s that will be available to the public, these could be test devices featuring experimental configurations. Everything below should be read with this in mind.
A mystery around core numbers
When Samsung chose to name their latest chip the Exynos 8 Octa 8890, they weren’t taking any chances in communicating the multiplicity of its cores: there’s little doubt that this has 8 of them. In our data, and this could be a limitation of our current method, we’re only seeing 6 (while we did see 8 on the Exynos 7420).
As mentioned above, we get this data by extracting values from the cpuinfo file. For Exynos this looks like:
Processor : AArch64 Processor rev 2 (aarch64)
processor : 0
processor : 1
processor : 2
processor : 3
processor : 4
processor : 5
processor : 6
processor : 7
Features : fp asimd aes pmull sha1 sha2 crc32
CPU implementer: 0x41
CPU architecture: AArch64
CPU variant : 0x0
CPU part : 0xd03
CPU revision : 2
(thanks to Jasmin for lending me her phone to check this)
We count the lines that start with “processor” — yes, it has to be lower case and we get 8. This works pretty reliably. However, this method is only giving 6 cores on the Galaxy S7. Since we don’t extract the cpuinfo file, only the values within it, we don’t know the structure of the cpuinfo for the S7, and it’s likely our method is missing something. But it’s interesting all the same — something has changed here.
A mystery around CPU implementers
You can see in the above file the CPU implementer code, for Exynos 7420 it’s 0x41 or ASCII for “A”, and represents ARM.
For the Qualcomm CPU in the S7, we’re seeing 0x51 or “Q.” No prizes for guessing that this stands for Qualcomm. This CPU Implementer code isn’t new. After ARM it’s the most common one we see.
What is new is “0x53.” This is a code we’ve never seen before. Standing for “S,” it presumably represents Samsung. We don’t know if this code has anything beyond symbolic significance, perhaps it’s just Samsung planting their flag, but it’s certainly something for chip-geeks like us to ponder on long wintry evenings.
The Samsung vs Qualcomm chip families
These are the devices rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820:
And these are the devices with the Exynos 8890:
We’re seeing these two families of phones having quite different hardware profiles. For example, while they have the same set of sensors, they’re using different models. The vendor of the magnetic sensor to the phones with the Samsung CPU is Yamaha, whereas for the Qualcomm CPU, it’s AKM. The proximity sensor is sold by AMS in both cases, but we’re seeing two variants (TMD490X ALS_PRX and TMD4903).
GSM vs CDMA
We’ve seen instances of the Qualcomm chips in both GSM and CDMA phones.
For example the SM-G935T, which we believe may be the T-Mobile branded Galaxy S7, has a Qualcomm chip, but so does the SM-G935V, which appears to be the Verizon branded variant and uses CDMA.
So far we’ve only seen the Samsung chips on GSM devices. This could just be coincidence given the small sample size, however we have seen in the past Samsung shipping Exynos outside of the US markets and then using Qualcomm for CDMA devices, so this fits.
What does this mean for developers and consumers?
As noted, we can’t be sure that what we’re seeing here will be reflected in the Galaxy S7s that go on general sale. Presuming they do, we will see even greater diversity within Samsung’s Galaxy S7 range, the differences should be nigh on invisible to users – but there’s no guarantee of that. We’ll also see Samsung continuing in its ambitions to become a major player in building SOCs.
We’ll only know for sure when these phones hit the market, and we welcome tens of thousands of S7 users to OpenSignal to crowdsource cellular coverage and speeds.