Qualcomm intros new super-fast 5G chips for lower-cost devices

The Snapdragon 778G Plus, 695 and 480 Plus will bring 5G to mid-range and cheaper phones, while the Snapdragon 680 gives handset makers a 4G option.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
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Qualcomm's four new chips will power inexpensive smartphones.


Qualcomm on Tuesday introduced a trio of 5G chips -- and a 4G variant -- for inexpensive smartphones , as the chip giant aims to get super-fast connectivity into as many user hands as possible.

The new Snapdragon 778G Plus, Snapdragon 695 and Snapdragon 480 Plus all feature both ultra-fast 5G millimeter wave connectivity, as well as the slower but more reliable sub-6GHz version of 5G. They aim to bring 5G to less expensive devices around the globe, while the new Snapdragon 680 features 4G and older connectivity to give handset makers an option for LTE devices. 

Many of the chips will likely appear in phones outside the US, though the 778G Plus in particular could make its way to mid-range smartphones here. 

Watch this: Have 5G networks underwhelmed you so far?

"All these platforms are designed to enable increased performance and capabilities with new options across our 7-, 6- and 4-Series," Kedar Kondap, Qualcomm vice president of product management, said in a video statement provided to reporters ahead of the news. "As 5G continues to grow rapidly across the world, we're seeing increasingly strong demand for 5G devices."

The continued advancement of 5G is more critical than ever now that the coronavirus has radically changed our world. The next-generation cellular technology, which boasts anywhere from 10 to 100 times the speed of 4G and rapid-fire responsiveness, could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality. In the US, few phones have hit the market this year without 5G, and the ultra-fast, millimeter-wave version has come standard in devices like Apple's iPhone 12 lineup. While many consumers now have 5G phones, there still isn't yet the "killer app" that shows consumers what the connectivity can really do. 

Qualcomm has been the leader when it comes to 5G modems and systems-on-a-chip, essentially monster processors that combines the CPU -- the brains powering the device -- with other capabilities. But it's facing new competition, both from chip rivals like MediaTek and from handset customers developing their own processors. Google last week launched its Pixel 6 and 6 Pro phones with its self-designed Tensor SoC in order to provide more advanced capabilities to its users, something it said other chips couldn't accomplish.

"The key element in making this decision was around AI and how we could bring AI at a much different, more personal level to the end user," Phil Carmack, the vice president and general manager in charge of Google's chip business, said in an interview with CNET ahead of the Pixel launch. "We simply weren't able to get there with the existing solutions that were out there."

Qualcomm's new family of processors joins its high-end Snapdragon 888 Plus, which it unveiled in June. That chipset supercharges the Snapdragon 888, which arrived earlier this year in premium phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21

Expanding 5G to cheaper devices

Qualcomm is gearing up to introduce its next high-end processor. It will host its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit in late November and early December in Hawaii after taking a year off. Qualcomm typically unveils its next 800-series Snapdragon chip at the conference. While Qualcomm's high-end chips are important for setting the bar on performance and capabilities, it's the company's lower end processors that likely will appear in more devices. 

"Mid-range smartphones are expected to be the main driver for accelerating 5G device adoption – especially in emerging regions," Deepu John, Qualcomm senior director of product management, said in a press release. 

The Snapdragon 778G Plus is a follow up to Qualcomm's Snapdragon 778G. It features boosted GPU and CPU performance and "is designed to deliver cutting-edge mobile gaming and accelerated artificial intelligence to enable stunning photo and video experiences," Qualcomm said. The Snapdragon 7-series adoption has grown by 44% in the past year "due to tremendous high-tier demand," the company added.

Compared with the Snapdragon 690, the new Snapdragon 695 features up to 30% faster graphics rendering and 15% improvement in CPU performance. The boosts will enable "immersive gaming, high-end capture and increased productivity," Qualcomm said. 

Oppo is one handset maker that plans to introduce a device based on the Snapdragon 695 "in the coming months," it said. And Xiaomi plans to use the Snapdragon 778G Plus and Snapdragon 695 in phones. 

The Snapdragon 480 Plus is a follow-up to last year's Snapdragon 480. That processor marked Qualcomm's effort to bring 5G to cheap handsets, and the company said more than 85 devices have been announced or are currently in development based on the 480. The 480 Plus gives "users access to truly global 5G connectivity and boosted performance to power in-demand productivity and entertainment experiences," Qualcomm said. 

HMD Global, which sells phones under the Nokia brand, said in a press release that Qualcomm's Snapdragon 480 "has been an instrumental part of HMD Global's drive to bring high quality, affordable 5G smartphones ... to as many people as possible." It plans to introduce new devices with the Snapdragon 480 Plus. 

The Snapdragon 680, meanwhile taps into 4G and older networks. It offers handset makers -- largely outside the US -- another option for customers who aren't ready for 5G or in areas that don't yet have a solid network. 

It's built on 6-nanometer process technology and "is designed to deliver compelling all-day experiences, including optimized gaming and triple [image signal processor] featuring AI-enhanced low light capture technology."