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.

Samsung is preparing a improved Galaxy Note 4, probably for Korea

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is less than a few months old, but it’s already getting an upgrade: On Monday, Samsung announced a new Galaxy Note 4 variant powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor.

The Snapdragon 810 will be Qualcomm’s flagship mobile chip in 2015. It’s likely to be at the heart of most of the top-tier Android phones launching this upcoming year — like the Galaxy S6, Sony’s Xperia Z4 and the high-end phone HTC is working onIMG_3533

The new Galaxy Note 4 is likely to benefit from the new silicon in two specific ways.

The United States version of the  Note 4 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805, which is one of the last 32-bit mobile chips. The Snapdragon 810 uses eight 64-bit cores, which the latest version of Android can take advantage of. Android 5.0 launched without a flagship 64-bit capable phone, and the new Note 4 can fill that gap until more Snapdragon 810-equipped devices hit the market.

The new Note should also be able to take advantage of Category 9 carrier aggregation for LTE-Advanced which should result in faster mobile broadband speeds. The new Note 4 supports aggregating 3 x 20 MHz data channels, so the device can theoretically download data as quickly as 450 Mbps on networks that support it. In reality, users won’t see speeds close to the what can be done in a lab. The United States is somewhat behind other countries at adopting carrier aggregation. For instance, South Korea’s SK Telecom started testing the technology on its network in 2013. AT&T has used only used carrier aggregation to boost speeds in some parts of the United States since March.

The Snapdragon 810-equipped Note 4 will be the phone’s third variant. In addition to the two [company]Qualcomm[/company]-powered versions, there’s a Galaxy Note 4 variant equipped with Samsung’s own Exynos 5433 chip.

[company]Samsung[/company] has a habit of launching slightly upgraded versions of its flagship phones in its home country. Last year, it sold a special version of the Galaxy S5 with a sharper screen and faster processor, but this year’s special Note 4 should be identical to the current Note 4 except for the upgraded processor. Although there’s no official price or word on availability, Americans shouldn’t save their dollars for this device — this phone’s likely staying overseas.

Dude, Dell’s got a Windows RT tablet; the $499 XPS 10

Dell’s XPS 10 is the company’s tablet that runs Microsoft Windows RT and it starts at a reasonable $499. Add the useful keyboard dock though — which also includes additional ports and a second battery — and you’re looking at a base price of $679. Is that compelling?

Court docs offer peek at Samsung Windows Phone 8 handsets

We already knew that Windows Phone 8 would support better hardware and here’s proof. A pair of planned phones from Samsung indicate that the company won’t miss out on the next generation of Microsoft’s mobile platform, even though Android is such a success for Samsung.