Qualcomm’s new mid-range phone chips get high-end features

The lines between an average and a flagship phone are going to blur this year as Qualcomm trickles current high-end features down to its newest mid-range chips. The company on Wednesday provided details of its four newest Snapdragon chips that will power phones as soon as the first half of this year.

The new chip quartet is the evolution of both the Snapdragon 400 and 600 chips, which are currently used for budget and sub-flagship phones: Say hello to the [company]Qualcomm[/company] Snapdragon 415, 425, 618 and 620. Devices with the 415 are expected to launch by the end of June, while the other three chips will find homes in products by year-end.


Many features previously found in the Snapdragon 800 line — the chips used for the cream of the [company]Google[/company] Android crop such as the Galaxy S5, Nexus 6, HTC One M8 and G Flex 2 — are getting crammed into the cheaper chips. For comparison: phones such as the $179 Moto G shown below use a current Snapdragon 400 variant.

Moto G

Qualcomm’s new X8 LTE modem, for example, brings carrier aggregation and category 7 LTE to the Snapdragon 425, 618 and 620, offering peak download speeds of up to 300 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 100 Mbps. I’m surprised that modem is part of the 425 chip as that line of silicon can be found in phones today that cost under $200; that’s a low-cost entry point for high-speed connection capabilities.

The bigger changes come to the more expensive chips, the new Snapdragon 618 and 625. Both get new Cortex A72 chips — a dual-core configuration in the former, a quad-core setup in the latter — for improved performance and power efficiency. Support for 4k video capture and playback is included with support for a pair of 13-megapixel cameras if device makers choose. And audiophiles won’t have to spend a bundle for a device that can handle 192kHz/24bit music playback; both of the new 600-level chips can decode and play those tunes.

While chip evolution is expected on a yearly basis, it’s good to step back every once in a while and appreciate the bigger picture. The high-end features found only on smartphones costing $600 or more a year or 18 months ago are finding a home in the next iteration of handsets that will cost around one half to one-quarter as much.