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Teardown: ST grows inside Samsung’s S9

Article by Junko Yoshida, EETimes, March 2018

Some gadget pundits are already writing off Samsung’s new Galaxy S9, scheduled for roll out next week, as being “too predictable” or “just too similar” to last year’s Galaxy S8.

As far as its look and feel are concerned, indeed, there is little argument.


But Romain Fraux, chief technology officer at System Plus Consulting (Nante, France), told us that his team, who just finished the preliminary teardown of the S9 handset (designed for the European market), has observed several hardware innovations in S9. System Plus is Lyon, France-based Yole Développement’s reverse-cost engineering partner.


For one, Fraux said, System Plus suspects Samsung’s use of modified semi-additive process (mSAP) inside Samsung’s main apps processor. Techniques such as mSAP and advanced manufacturing are elements Apple has also deployed in making a new PCB sandwich in its iPhone X.


Among various sensors embedded in S9, Fraux sees STMicroelectronics as the big winner. S9 uses ST’s 6-axis IMU in addition to ST’s pressure sensor.


Packed inside the S9 camera module are Samsung’s own dual camera. Architecturally, this is a Samsung variation on the triple-stacked image sensor with DRAM designed by Sony a year ago.


Inside the camera module comes a 2-axis gyroscope from ST, which offers optical image stabilization. Unique to S9’s camera module is a new variable aperture technology. It allows the camera to automatically adjust the aperture according to the available light on the subject.


As expected, the S9 also has a finger sensor. Reportedly, S9 users can unlock their phone by finger, iris scanner or face. S9, however, does not offer the elaborate “TrueDepth camera” originally designed by Apple for its iPhone X. Apple is enabling Face ID via a combination of technologies including dot projector, infrared camera, flood illuminator and Time-of-Flight sensor.


Big RF solution from Broadcom


Noteworthy in the S9 is Samsung’s use of one big RF module designed by Broadcom.


Broadcom’s big chip consists of power amplifier and BAW filters, taking care of both high- and mid-band. Presumably, the integration of different components in one RF solution is meant to improve its quality. The solution is, according to Fraux, “similar to one big RF module from Broadcom also used in iPhone X.”


Front-end radio systems for wireless devices have been traditionally fought over by a handful of companies including Broadcom and Qorvo (and more lately Qualcomm trying to move in). “No Qorvo can be seen in S9,” said Fraux.

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