with CLIPREVIEWED learn the articleQualcomm’s Snapdragon 480 Blasts Low-End Phone Performance Forward
Inexpensive phones are about to get a lot faster. Today Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 480, its first 5G chipset for phones that generally sell in the $200 range in the US.
Even if you’re underwhelmed by 5G so far, though, the Snapdragon 480 has a lot to recommend itself, doubling low-end phones’ CPU and GPU performance and adding support for full-HD 120Hz displays.
Qualcomm dominates the Android chipset market here in the US, but that isn’t the case in the rest of the world. Vigorous competition from MediaTek in China and India has pushed the company into second place globally, according to Counterpoint Research. Depending on where you are, Samsung’s Exynos chips also cut into Qualcomm’s market share.
The competition is most intense in the popular price levels for developing countries—phones in the $100-$300 range. While US carriers don’t seem much interested in providing the best possible handsets at that price point, there’s a strong push toward low-cost innovation in lower-income countries.
That’s where the 400 series comes in, and why the Snapdragon 480 is such a jump up. Qualcomm has four lines of phone chipsets: the 2-series, the 4-series, the 6-series and the 8-series. Faced by stiff competition in the 4-series price points, Qualcomm raised its game here.
Faster, Better in Every Way
The 480 has the biggest generational leap in CPU and GPU performance I’ve seen from any Qualcomm chipset in years. Moving to an 8nm process and new core designs, Qualcomm promises double the CPU and GPU performance of the previous Snapdragon 460, along with support for 2,520-by-1,280, 120Hz screens. Those features alone are a big leap from phones like the Moto E7 Plus.
On the camera side, the 480 now comes with ISP support to process three 13-megapixel cameras simultaneously, making for smooth zooming on multiple-camera phones. It can capture 1080p video and 64-megapixel stills.
Qualcomm folded in its AI processor and vector extensions as well, for what it says is an over 70% improvement in AI processing. On this chipset, it’s calling out voice assistant performance and video-call noise cancellation as advantages over last year’s chips.
For 5G, the 480 supports both sub-6 and millimeter-wave, which is a compelling differentiator over MediaTek. While Qualcomm is now on its third generation mmWave chipset, MediaTek hasn’t yet built one, and the latest rumors say it’s been delayed until mid-2021. Verizon requires millimeter-wave in its 5G phones.
The modem here is an X51, the same one as in the Snapdragon 690. The X51 supports up to 200MHz of millimeter-wave and 100MHz of sub-6 5G. That’s going to be slower than high-end 5G phones, but still faster than 4G, as long as carriers have a good, compatible 5G buildout.
Who’s Picking It Up?
HMD Global, maker of Nokia phones; Oppo; and Vivo pledged to support the Snapdragon 480, although they won’t be alone.
“Democratizing technology is at the heart of what we do at HMD Global. Our close collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies is allowing us to bring fantastic technology to all,” Adam Ferguson, global head of product marketing at HMD Global, said in a press release. “That new Snapdragon 480 5G Mobile Platform is a huge step towards global 5G access.”
HMD has made a nice little niche of high-quality prepaid phones in the US. Its Nokia 4.2 uses the Snapdragon 439 and its 3 V on Verizon uses the Snapdragon 429. A jump to the 480 would bring more vibrancy to Verizon’s and Cricket’s prepaid lineups.
The Snapdragon 480 follows the 460, which wasn’t widely adopted in the US. The only US phone I can think of with a 460 is the OnePlus Nord N100, which is supposedly coming to market soon. But I think there’s going to be a real market for the 480 as all three US carriers mandate 5G compatibility in their 2021 phones.
Motorola is another prime potential client here, in a successor to a phone such as the Moto G Power with its Snapdragon 665.
The Snapdragon 665 has four 2GHz performance cores and four 1.8GHz efficiency cores on an 11nm process. The 480’s cores run at the same speed, but with an 8nm process and a better GPU, so likely both faster and more power efficient. That will let companies like Motorola bring down their costs while offering better performance in 2021 phones. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this chipset in this year’s Moto G phones, with a $199 price point, for instance.
Qualcomm says we’ll see Snapdragon 480-based phones early this year, although by “we” they probably don’t mean the US.
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