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Qualcomm Juices Up Midrange Phones With Snapdragon 670

Qualcomm has a lot of chipsets. The company makes the vast majority of processors for Android phones in the US, and its rich, complex product line is constantly shifting and, honestly, pretty confusing.

The new Snapdragon 670, announced today, is notable because it's going to bring some high-end features to midrange phones. The 670 replaces the 660, which has been very popular in $300-$500 phones in China and India. Here in the US, because that price bracket tends to be pretty empty, it's best known for being the processor in the BlackBerry Key2.

The new chip boosts CPU performance by 15 percent and GPU performance by 25 percent over the 660, Qualcomm says. It's also a generational change in both those areas, vaulting from a Kryo 200-series CPU to the Kryo 360 and from an Adreno 500-series GPU to the Adreno 615. The CPU has eight cores, two running at 2GHz and six at 1.7GHz.

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The new chip's Spectra 250 ISP supports 25-megapixel single cameras and dual 16MP camera setups, with multi-frame noise reduction and multi-frame, super-high-res image support. 4K video capture should become the order of the day in these phones, with power demands on 4K capture reduced by 30 percent over the 660.

The 670's specs start to slam up against Qualcomm's 700-tier chips, which are mostly destined for China. But the midrange market is so broad that there's room for the two to differentiate, says Qualcomm product manager Nitin Kumar.

Where's the Midrange?

Qualcomm's recent focus on its 600 and 700 tiers can seem perplexing for people who spend a lot of time in the US, where most Android phones use 800-series chipsets at the high end and 400-series chips at the low end. The BlackBerry Key2 isn't exactly a best-seller.

It's a matter of economics. Here in the US, consumers either pay on monthly credit plans or they don't have enough money or credit to do so. That creates a sort of income inequality of phones: folks with credit flock to iPhones and Galaxy S units, which cost over $600 and have high-end processors. Folks who pay up front mostly spend under $400.

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That isn't the case in China and especially India, where monthly payment plans aren't popular and the $400-$600 bracket rules. Phones running 670 and 700-series processors can feel a lot like flagship devices, but they don't require as much saving up.

There are exceptions, of course. The OnePlus 6, India's leading flagship phone by sales, uses a Snapdragon 845 and, at $510, straddles the line between midrange and premium.

But the 670 is best to be understood as another shot towards keeping Qualcomm's position in these overseas markets solid. As for Qualcomm's next flagship processor for leading US phones, the 855, we expect to see that at the company's Snapdragon Summit in December.

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