Huawei’s Kirin 990 SoC Is the First Chip With an Integrated 5G Modem


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Huawei’s year has been anything but good, but the company has pushed ahead with new technology introductions and smartphone designs. The Chinese firm has now announced its latest SoC, the Kirin 990. The new chip will ship in two flavors — the Kirin 990, and the Kirin 990 5G. These two chips are based on the same SoC design, but there are some significant differences between them.

First, the Kirin 990 5G is built on TSMC’s 7nm+ process node, which utilizes EUV. The Kirin 990, in contrast, is a standard 7nm design. It seems as though Huawei will be the first customer to ship a part that uses EUV for manufacturing. Huawei’s stated reason for using EUV for the 5G variant is that it allowed for a smaller die. Die size on the 5G part is larger than 100mm2, while the LTE chip is less than 90mm2. Transistor counts are also significantly different, with the LTE chip at 8B and the 5G chip at 10.3B.

Kirin-990-Comparison

One interesting fact that Anandtech mentions is that the Kirin 990 was originally expected to use ARM’s Cortex-A77 CPU, not the Cortex-A76. Apparently the Huawei team didn’t like how the Cortex-A77 clocked on TSMC’s 7nm process node. The A77 had higher peak performance, but overall power efficiency between the A76 and A77 was practically identical on 7nm and the A76 design was capable of hitting much higher clocks. Supposedly the A77 tops out around 2.2GHz on 7nm at the moment and the design may not be used widely until 5nm CPUs are available.

The new ARM Mali-G76 implementation is substantially wider than the 10-core implementation used on the previous generation Kirin 980. GPU power efficiency can often be improved by using a wider GPU clocked at lower frequencies, and Huawei believes the new GPU design will still be more power-efficient than the old Kirin 980, despite being substantially wider.

The NPU design is a homegrown Huawei effort. Where the company previously licensed an NPU from Cambricon, the new Kirin 990 uses Huawei’s Da Vinci architecture. Huawei intends to scale this AI processing block from servers to smartphones. It supports both INT8 and FP16 on both cores, whereas the older Cambricon design could only perform INT8 on one core. There’s also a new ‘Tiny Core’ NPU. It’s a smaller version of the Da Vinci architecture focused on power efficiency above all else, and it can be used for polling or other applications where performance isn’t particularly time critical. The 990 5G will have two “big” NPU cores and a single Tiny Core, while the Kirin 990 (LTE) has one big core and one tiny core.

Huawei’s Balong modem will support sub-6GHz 5G signals with a maximum of 2.3Gbps download and 1.25Gbps upload. Overall CPU performance improvements from the Kirin 980 to the Kirin 990 are modest — Huawei claims single-threaded gains of 9 percent and multi-threaded boosts of 10 percent. Power efficiency, however, has improved significantly. The top-end cores are supposedly 12 percent more efficient, the “middle” cores of Huawei’s Big.Little.littlest are supposedly 35 percent more efficient, and the low-end Cortex-A55 chips are 15 percent more efficient. Most workloads are supposed to run on the middle cores for maximum performance/watt.

It seems unlikely that these devices will come to the US market in any numbers, though you may be able to buy them from third-party resellers if the Trump Administration doesn’t take further action against the company. While devices are going to start carrying 5G modems from this point forward, I’ve yet to see a 5G phone I’d actually recommend. While it’s true that the first generation of LTE devices didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, the first generation of LTE devices didn’t overheat and shutdown when summer temperatures rose above 85F / 29.4C. They didn’t require you to be literally standing underneath an LTE access point in order to see faster service, either. Verizon has already stated that outside city centers, its 5G network will closely resemble “good 4G,” which raises the question of what, exactly, consumers are paying all this money for.

The first LTE devices were the HTC Evo 4G, the Samsung Craft, and the HTC Thunderbolt. They sold for $200, $350, and $250, respectively, though this was in the era of two-year contracts. Apple’s first LTE device was the iPhone 5, which cost $649 if purchased without a contract. Assuming Apple and the other AndroidSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce manufacturers continue to offer 5G as a luxury feature, we’ll likely only see it on devices at or above the $1000 price point for the next 12 months. I wouldn’t pay $1000 for a phone under any circumstances, but I definitely wouldn’t step up to a $1000+ device to buy a feature that I’ve got no chance of using at any point in the next few years.

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Huawei Announces Refreshed P30 Pro with Android 10


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Everyone involved in the mobile industry is watching Huawei’s next moves closely. With a pending export ban in place, Huawei can’t launch new phones with Google-certified Android, so the upcoming Mate 30 may be the first major Android phone to launch without Google apps. Huawei just launched a new phone, but it’s not the Mate 30. In fact, it’s not even “new” by some definitions. The revamped P30 Pro has been unveiled at IFA with a new exterior design and Android 10. 

Huawei first launched the P30 Pro in March of this year, several months before the US Commerce Department added it to the “Entity List.” People and companies land on this list when the government decides they pose a threat to US interests. In this case, Huawei is accused of having close ties with the Chinese government and engaging in espionage activities. Huawei vehemently denies these claims. 

The new P30 Pro has a redesigned exterior with a textured glass effect covering the lower two-thirds of the back panel. It looks a bit like Google’s current Pixel phones, but it’s available in much more fun colors like Mystic Blue and Misty Lavender. The matte glass makes the phones less slippery in the hand as well. The internals specs are unchanged with a Kirin 980 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. 

The re-released P30 devices will also have Android 10 at launch, along with a new version of its system skin known as EMUI 10. Huawei has made a number of design changes in the new EMUI including bolder app fonts, a Pixel-style quick settings bar, and new icons. Huawei also has a gesture navigation system similar to Google’s. You also get the standard Android 10 features like dark mode, more granular privacy controls, and more. 

So, why re-release the P30 right now? Huawei currently enjoys a second 90-day delay on the full implementation of US export controls. Since the P30 Pro (and other P30 variants) launched before the trade ban, Huawei can continue certifying updates for those phones under the terms of the temporary delay. However, it can’t launch new phones with Google’s support. So, it seems all but certain that Huawei will have to release the Mate 30 without the Play Store and other apps everyone expects on Android. 

The re-launch of the P30 Pro might be a way for Huawei to compensate for the Mate 30. While the Mate 30 will suffer from its lack of Google support, the Google-y P30 Pro is back for another round, and it’s a very similar piece of hardware. It might soften the blow of losing Google apps, but it’s just a temporary fix.

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Android 10 Starts Rolling Out Today


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Today is a big day for Google’s Android platform. Android 10 is rolling out to Pixel phones today, marking the first time since 2008 Google has released a version of Android without a dessert name. Android 10 also brings several long-overdue features to phones, and it promises better update support going forward. Unfortunately, it’ll take time for phones outside of Google’s Pixel lineup to get the OTA. 

Google began testing Android 10 (AKA Android Q) earlier this year with an open beta for Pixel devices, and a few OEMs like OnePlus and Huawei followed with their own test builds. Google has made some adjustments over the months, but there are no major surprises in this release. 

Android 10 brings a new gesture navigation system to Android — yes, Google released a “new” gesture navigation system last year, too. The two-button gesture setup from Android Pie didn’t earn many fans, so Google has reworked it in Android 10 to function more like the iPhone. You can swipe up to go home, left and right to change apps, and the back gesture is swiping in from the left or right edge of the screen. Developers will need to update apps to adjust for that gesture, so we could be looking at a rocky few months for apps with a lot of swipe gestures. Thankfully, Google will keep the traditional three-button nav setup around for accessibility reasons. 

The system-wide dark theme is also a big deal. Google has toyed with dark themes in several Android beta tests, but now it’s real and developers can build support into their apps. With the dark theme enabled, apps with support will shift to black/gray interfaces that aren’t as hard on your eyes at night. It’ll also save battery on OLED phones. 

Security and privacy are also a major focus of Android 10. There is a new unified privacy menu in the settings, and the system treats your location permission as a special case. You can give apps persistent location access or only allow access when the app is open. System updates have always been a pain on Android, but Android 10 supports a feature called Project Mainline. With Mainline, Google can implement important security patches without waiting on OEMs and carriers. 

If you can’t wait to get your hands on Android 10, you’d better hope you have a Pixel phone. Those devices will start seeing OTA updates today. If you can’t wait even that long, there are OTA images available for sideloading on Google’s developer site. Other phones will (maybe) get updates in the coming months. Companies like OnePlus and Essential are quick to update phones, but Samsung, LG, and others will take at least 3-4 months to release any updates.

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