Qualcomm is indisputably the leader in the Android smartphone system-on-chip space. Although the company faces tough competition from the likes of Samsung’s Exynos SoCs and Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin SoCs in the high-end space, they are essentially unparalleled in the mid-range and budget price segments of the smartphone market. The Snapdragon 600 series has consistently distinguished itself by offering higher performance and power efficiency when compared to competing solutions from the likes of MediaTek.
In particular, chips like the Snapdragon 636 (found in the newly launched Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro) redefine the user experience and performance which consumers can expect at prices going as relatively low as $220. At the higher-end of the mid-range segment, Qualcomm has the Snapdragon 660, which was announced last year as a downgraded variant of the Snapdragon 835. Despite featuring excellent CPU performance and power efficiency, we didn’t see many smartphones featuring the chip as OEMs preferred to use the lower-end Snapdragon 600 series for their mid-range smartphones and the Snapdragon 835 for their flagship smartphones.
Therefore, it’s clear that a gap exists between the capabilities of the Snapdragon 660 and the Snapdragon 835 (or even the cutting-edge Snapdragon 845). In terms of GPU performance, the Snapdragon 835 was still much better than the 660, and the Snapdragon 660 also featured a lower-end DSP (the Hexagon 642 vs. the Hexagon 682).
In order to fill that gap, Qualcomm has announced the new Snapdragon 700 mobile platform series at Mobile World Congress. The “Platform” nomenclature exists because of Qualcomm’s view that its SoCs are more than just a CPU paired with a GPU. The Snapdragon 700 series fits between the Snapdragon 660 and the Snapdragon 800 series, and is thus intended for more affordable smartphones. According to Qualcomm, the new series will have features and performance that were previously only found on the premium Snapdragon 800 series. They will have a focus for on-device AI, supported by the Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine.
It’s important to note that today’s announcement is not for any specific SoC in the Snapdragon 700 series. This explains the lack of technical details being provided.
According to Qualcomm, the new series also features improvements to camera and device performance, as well as device power. It’s supported by the heterogeneous compute capabilities of features which include the Qualcomm Spectra ISP, the Kryo CPU, the Hexagon DSP, and the Adreno Visual Processing subsystem. Let’s take a look at these advancements one-by-one:
On-device AI. The Snapdragon 700 series will come with the multi-core Qualcomm AI Engine, which is said to deliver up to 2x improvements for on-device AI applications compared to the Snapdragon 660 SoC. (Qualcomm didn’t give any comparison figures for on-device AI performance relative to the Snapdragon 835 and the Snapdragon 845.)
Heterogeneous computing. According to Qualcomm, the new architectures of the Snapdragon 700 series, which include the Hexagon Vector Processor, Adreno Visual Processing subsystem, and Kryo CPU, work in cooperation to “learn voice and speech”, improve the ease of taking photos and videos, and enhance battery life without changing applications or settings.
Camera improvements. The Snapdragon 700 series has the Qualcomm Spectra ISP, but the company didn’t specify which version of the ISP would be included in the new series. For reference, the Snapdragon 835 has the Spectra 180 ISP, while the Snapdragon 845 has the next-generation Spectra 280 ISP. The company stated that consumers should expect “professional grade camera features” supported by “high-quality specs”, but once again, no specifics were provided.
The Snapdragon 700 series will also debut new architectures across the SoC, including the Spectra ISP, the Kryo CPU, and the Adreno Visual Processing subsystem. The new architectures are said to offer 30% improvement in power efficiency, and they will offer better performance and battery life across various applications when compared to the Snapdragon 660 SoC.
For some background, the Kryo CPU is a semi-custom CPU core based on ARM’s cores (since 2017) using the “Built for Cortex” license. However, it’s unknown which Kryo CPU will be included in the Snapdragon 700 series. For reference, the Snapdragon 835 features Kryo 280 “Performance” and Kryo 280 “Efficiency” cores, which are semi-custom versions of the ARM Cortex-A73 and the Cortex-A53 respectively. The newer Snapdragon 845, on the other hand, has Kryo 385 “Performance” and Kryo 385 “Efficiency” cores, which are semi-custom versions of the Cortex-A75 and the Cortex-A55 respectively.
Charging. In terms of features, the Snapdragon 700 series will feature support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 4+, which is “engineered to get up to 50% charge in only 15 minutes,” according to Qualcomm. This is a potentially important inclusion, as we have seen only a few smartphones support QC4+ up until now.
Connectivity. With respect to connectivity, the new SoCs will feature “an advanced set of wireless technologies” with “ultra-fast LTE,” carrier Wi-Fi features, enhanced Bluetooth 5 multicast audio and ultra-low power wireless earbud support.
“The Snapdragon 700 Mobile Platform Series will bring premium tier technologies and features into more affordable devices, something our global OEM customers and consumers are demanding,” Alex Katouzian (Senior Vice President and general manager, mobile, Qualcomm Technologies) said. “From our cutting-edge Qualcomm AI Engine, to superior camera, device performance and power, the Snapdragon 700 Series is optimized to support the experiences consumers have come to expect from the most advanced mobile devices at a lower price point.”
Our view: We are optimistic for the Snapdragon 700 series, even though Qualcomm hasn’t yet announced a particular SoC in the series, which means that many of the details are currently unknown. If the new series has the right balance of features and pricing, it has the potential to take the user experience of mid-range smartphones to the next level.
The other side of the equation is that there are still substantial issues with chipset adoption (for example, the Snapdragon 636 has only been used by a single smartphone so far, while there are very few smartphones with the Snapdragon 660). If Qualcomm solves this problem and ensures adoption of its newer, more powerful chipsets, then consumers of future mid-range smartphones have something to look forward to.