Why Your Next Phone Probably Won’t Have Ray Tracing

At least not yet

Key Takeaways

  • AMD and Samsung are working on bringing RDNA 2 and more advanced graphical features to smartphones.
  • Ray tracing and variable refresh rate are chief among the next-gen visual options that Samsung and AMD want to deliver to flagship phones.
  • While exciting, experts say it’s still too early for ray tracing and more advanced graphics features to make a mainstream move in the phone industry.
Leisure gamer plays action video game on mobile phone.

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Smartphone companies talk about bringing ray tracing and other next-gen graphics features to smartphones, but experts say we have a long way to go before most consumers should care about those updates.

AMD and Samsung have partnered to bring RDNA 2, AMD’s latest graphics tech, to smartphone graphics processors. Mobile games could take advantage of next-gen visuals like ray tracing and variable refresh rates with RDNA 2 enabled, and experts say the new tech could elevate mobile gaming. It could also bring benefits for all types of mobile users.

"AMD's partnership and the RDNA2 graphics tech, in particular, gives phones a lot more processing power for graphics," Rex Freiberger, a tech expert and CEO of GadgetReview, told Lifewire in an email.

"As the tech becomes easier to produce and thus cheaper, I do think it will eventually benefit all users. Better graphics capabilities mean every graphical function of a phone works that much better."

The Benefits

RDNA 2 is a robust graphics architecture that AMD uses in its current graphics cards for PCs and the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. On top of offering features like ray tracing, RDNA 2 brings many other performance benefits to the table.

Of course, there’s the benefit that these updates and advances bring to mobile gaming. Ray tracing will allow for more realistic shadows and lighting, something we already see in newer games.

Alternatively, it can also allow for more performance-enhancing options similar to Nvidia’s DLSS, which has been a small part of the next-gen gaming experience. AMD is currently working on its own form of DLSS, which also could make the transition to phones in the future.

Most importantly, though, RDNA 2 allows for more efficient processing of any graphics system found on the device utilizing it. This could extend to phone animations, transitions, and other everyday features that users find themselves relying on.

Testing the Water

While there is a lot of potential for RDNA 2 and the graphical features it can offer smartphone users, Freiberger says this is most likely just a test to see how much consumers will care about those advances.

At the moment, mobile games don’t require extensive graphics processors with the features that RDNA 2 offers. But if manufacturers can prove that there is a market for it, we could see more widespread adoption of the tech.

But who really needs the more powerful graphics options enabled by RDNA 2? Well, for one, Freiberger says it could draw more graphical and creative industries to smartphones.

"While Ray Tracing has become a huge buzzword that has taken the PC and console gaming industry by storm with all its publicity, it's still far from widely adopted."

"It also gives phones more of a chance at competing for the attention of graphics professionals. Many artists and photographers use tablets, but a better graphics processor on phones could mean the adoption of higher-end phones as creative aids," he explained.

Outside of this, more graphics power also could unlock the potential for higher resolution screen support, which means greater quality.

Not Quite Mainstream

While ray tracing and advanced graphical features will be a nice touch for smartphones, the fact remains that most consumers probably just won’t care about these features. Even on PC and console, where ray tracing and other advanced visual options have become staple items, most consumers still run the games without them because it saves on overall performance.

Additionally, experts say that ray tracing isn’t a feature most consumers can pick out, just because the changes that it brings are more nuanced.

"It is too early for ray tracing in the smartphone industry," Tom Lindén, a 3D graphics expert, told Lifewire in an email. 

Closeup of someone gaming on a smartphone.

S3studio / Getty Images

"While Ray Tracing has become a huge buzzword that has taken the PC and console gaming industry by storm with all its publicity, it's still far from widely adopted. The list of games with ray tracing support is still rather short, as developers don't prioritize it, knowing that most people don't have the hardware for it yet," he said.

"Another reason is that while it has obvious advantages for graphics, many consumers will be hard-pressed to pick out the game with ray tracing turned on in a blind test. For someone with more rendering knowledge, it's easy to tell if a game is using it or not, but the average gamer will often not see the difference."

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