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Qualcomm Boosts Midrange Processor Power

A slew of midrange phones with faster LTE, better Wi-Fi, and dual cameras arrive soon thanks to a pair of new Qualcomm chipsets announced today. But they may not be coming to the US.

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 660 and 630 mobile platforms look like they're going to power up a range of $200-$400 phones in Asia. But US market trends mean we still may not get this particular mix of price and performance.

The Snapdragon 660, which should be appearing in phones very soon, has 20 percent better CPU performance and 30 percent better GPU performance than the Snapdragon 653 it's replacing, according to Qualcomm. It has the X12 modem and Spectra image-processing chip that were in last year's high-end phones, supporting 600Mbps LTE and dual cameras. 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi promises better Wi-Fi speeds. And it has an always-on sensor hub, which enables "OK Google" wake-up functionality. Better power management means two hours more use in a mixed-usage scenario than the last generation of chips, Qualcomm says.

Snapdragon 660 Slide

The Snapdragon 630 is a step down in some ways, but not all. It has the same modem and image-processing chip as the 660, but a slightly slower CPU and GPU, and it lacks support for 2,560-by-1,440 screens. (It supports 1,920-by-1,080.)

Both chipsets support USB-C, which means we should see USB-C as an even wider standard on midrange phones this year. Both also support Bluetooth 5, which increases range and lets you listen on two sets of headphones at once.

Looking a little more deeply at the chips, they're an example of how Qualcomm takes its high-end innovations and bubbles them down to the midrange the following year. The 660 and 630 are 14nm chips, like the Snapdragon 820, and the 660 uses the Kryo 260 core that Qualcomm invented for the Snapdragon 820.

Why the 600 Is More Common Elsewhere

The Snapdragon 600 series hasn't been popular in the US, although it's popular abroad. Here in the US, our most prominent recent 600-powered phones have been the BlackBerry KeyOne, Moto Z Play and Moto G5 Plus. None of them are big players on US carriers.

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That's because the price range the 600 aims for isn't common in our market. Snapdragon 600-series phones tend to list in the $250-$500 range, which is a sweet spot in countries where people buy their phones up front on the open market. Here in the US, our carriers sell a lot of high-end phones on payment plans and lower-end phones to lower-income people. To compete with Galaxy S8 phones on payment plans, unlocked phone vendors feel they need to offer an 800-series processor as well. We see a lot of Snapdragon 800-series and Snapdragon 400-series devices here in the US; there isn't a lot of demand for the midrange 600 series.

But the situation is different in Asia. The Snapdragon 600 series went into some of the latest Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi phones, which are big sellers in countries like India, Indonesia, and China. That's a reason why Qualcomm is launching these products today in Singapore, not the US.

Still, though, we hope to see these chips appear in affordable phones in the US soon as well.

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