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New Qualcomm chips to put AI, premium features in cheaper phones

The Snapdragon 700 line of processors will power more affordable devices this year, especially in China.

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Qualcomm's new processor will bring high-end features to lower-end phones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You may no longer have to shell out big bucks to get high-end smartphone features like artificial intelligence.

Qualcomm on Tuesday unveiled its newest processor family, intended to bring premium features to more affordable smartphones, particularly in places like China. The Snapdragon 700 series of chips will enable on-device artificial intelligence support, improvements to the camera, and better 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," Alex Katouzian, Qualcomm senior vice president and general manager of mobile, said in a statement. 

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Qualcomm is the world's biggest wireless chipmaker. It counts most of the world's largest phone makers, including both Apple and Samsung, as its customers, and the new Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus feature its ultra high-end Snapdragon 845 chip.

It's also fighting a fierce legal battle against Apple and is facing increasing competition from not only Chinese chipmakers and Intel but also device makers like Samsung building their own processors. At the same time, rival Broadcom is attempting to buy Qualcomm. 

Releasing a lower-priced chip that appeals to handset makers in places like China should help Qualcomm maintain its position against its rivals there. It also could help expand the company's customer base as Intel pecks away at its wireless business with customers like Apple. 

The Snapdragon 700 line of processors will feature Qualcomm's multicore "AI Engine" to process on-device AI requests up to twice as fast as the previous chip aimed at the midrange market, the Snapdragon 660. Phones using the chip also will be able to offer "a multitude" of professional-grade camera features, such as slow motion and low-light shooting, the company said. 

Power efficiency improves by up to 30 percent from the Snapdragon 660, and new phones will be able to offer Qualcomm's Quick Charge 4+ technology, which delivers up to a 50 percent charge in 15 minutes. The connectivity in the phones will also get a boost, with the Snapdragon 700 chips featuring "ultra-fast LTE" and Bluetooth 5 multicast audio and ultra-low power wireless earbud support. 

Customers will have samples of the chips in the first half of 2018. Qualcomm declined to specify timing for when Snapdragon 700-powered devices could hit the market beyond saying it will be sometime this year. 

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