As far as 5G smartphone chipsets go, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 might be the best known, but there's one issue: It's as expensive as it is powerful. The company's new Snapdragon 690 chipset is a little different -- instead of powering new flashy new flagships, it's going into much more reasonably priced phones. The next 5G-capable step down from there, the Snapdragon 765, can usually be found in devices that cost between $500 and $700. Meanwhile, phones with the relatively new, LTE-only Snapdragon 675 typically sell between $300 and $400. Although Qualcomm doesn't produce its own phones and can't confirm what the typical Snapdragon 690 phone will cost, it seems clear that the age of the cheap 5G phone is nearly here.
To achieve the higher speeds, Qualcomm says it bumped the clock rates of the 14-nanometer chip from 2.1 to 2.4 GHz. Otherwise, it's borrowing the Snapdragon 820's tech, including the 600 Mbps X12 LTE modem, Ultra HD Voice tech for improved call quality, and Upload for faster downloads. At the same time, it'll deliver greater speeds, battery life and app performance. So which devices can we expect to use the Snapdragon 821? Qualcomm isn't saying, but possible candidates include HTC's upcoming Nexus phone and the ASUS ZenFone 3. It also said that it'll be used for "mobile VR head mounted displays and other new devices," on top of smartphones and tablets. That implies we could soon see standalone mobile VR headsets (that don't require a smartphone like Samsung's Gear VR), something that Google confirmed at its I/O conference in May.
Qualcomm launched its second-generation Snapdragon 7c processor, which aims to add integrated LTE, extended battery life and camera and audio upgrades to entry-level Windows PCs and Chromebooks. In addition, Qualcomm said it is launching the Snapdragon Developer Kit for Windows 10 PCs, which will give developers the ability to optimize applications on its platform. With the Snapdragon 7c, Qualcomm is hoping to enable more premium features and multi-day battery life to PCs in the $300-range. Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management at Qualcomm, said the company's plan is to extend its PC reach from entry level experiences up. Qualcomm first launched its PC processor plans in late 2019.
The company has introduced a Snapdragon 870 system-on-chip that should deliver speedy performance in those phones where the 888 isn't an option. Ultimately, it's a slightly faster Snapdragon 865 Plus, which itself was a speed bump for the 865. The first batch of Snapdragon 870 phones will arrive in the first quarter of 2021, and early customers include OnePlus, Motorola, Oppo, iQOO and Xiaomi. It may seem odd to release yet another slightly improved Snapdragon 865 when the 888 is a more substantial leap and doesn't carry a huge premium -- the 888-equipped Galaxy S21 costs less than its predecessor, after all. The addition might well confuse people wondering why Qualcomm would have such a crowded high-end SoC lineup.
Despite the efforts of companies like Samsung and Xiaomi, 5G support is still mostly limited to more expensive phones. But starting this year, you're likely to see the feature make its way to a greater number of budget phones thanks to the introduction of Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 480 chipset and its built-in X51 modem. The X51 supports mmWave and Sub-6GHz bands, as well as both standalone and non-standalone deployments, meaning it's compatible with almost any 5G network in use today. In testing, Qualcomm says the X51 put up download speeds in the ballpark of 2.5 Gbps over a 5G connection. The modem is no slouch when it comes to LTE either, with it delivering theoretical downloading speeds of about 800 Mbps.