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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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That means you can find original programming – like Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” – and then start watching it on the streaming service that hosts it. “We deeplink right into playback for that [third-party streaming] app,” explains Ben Serridge, the product manager for the Movies & TV app at Google. “So if I wanted to start watching ‘The Good Doctor’ pilot, I press the play button and it goes into the ABC app and start playback.” Beyond the big names, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the app also pulls in content from ABC, CBS, FOX NOW, NBC, HBO NOW, HBO Go, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Max Go, Starz, Disney Now, HGTV, BET Now, Comedy Central, A&E, Cooking Channel, Crackle, DIY Network, Food Network, History, Lifetime, MTV, The CW, Travel Channel, Tubi TV and VH1. 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Also not addressed by either Apple or Google’s app are which shows may be available to stream or record via live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. (Although, to be fair, that’s not only a different set of services, it’s also a much larger challenge given that broadcast network availability varies by market. A dedicated solution like Suppose.tv or Fomopop’s live TV finder may work better.) Meanwhile, there are other tools for finding and tracking favorite shows, like Reelgood or TV Time (or a jailbroken Fire TV stick we should admit), but they don’t have the the benefit of matching content from a rent-and-buy marketplace like Google Play, or being available across phone, tablet, and desktop web, like Google Play. Google says the new features will roll out to Android phones and tablets in the U.S. over the next few days.

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