Qualcomm says don't fear the Snapdragon 808

Although the new LG G4 smartphone will be using Qualcomm's 808 -- and not the 810, its higher-end cousin -- the chipmaker is still betting big on the 810.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
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The LG G4 uses a Snapdragon 808, a small step down from the Snapdragon 810. Sarah Tew/CNET

Qualcomm's top-of-the-line Snapdragon 810 chip has had a rough start since it hit the market early this year, with Samsung dumping the processor from its flagship Galaxy S6 and persistent rumors that the chip overheats.

With all that negativity surrounding the 810, industry observers can't be blamed for wondering why LG -- after using the 810 in another new smartphone -- decided to use Qualcomm's slightly lesser Snapdragon 808 in its G4 smartphone, which was unveiled Tuesday.

However, the decision to go with the 808 was settled well before the 810 dustup began, Tim McDonough, Qualcomm's head of marketing, said in an interview, as he sought to allay any concerns that LG was walking away from the 810.

"The decisions on which chipsets to put on which handsets come from over a year ago," said McDonough, who refuted the overheating rumors about the 810, as Qualcomm executives have done before.

Qualcomm, the world's largest mobile-chips maker, lost hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and took a hit to its reputation when Samsung opted against using Qualcomm's highest-end chip in its new flagship Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones. Despite that snub, the 810 remains a critical chip for Qualcomm, and it has heavily promoted the 810 -- and not its cheaper cousin, the 808. Because of that, Qualcomm now is attempting to avoid speculation that LG -- a major partner -- might have moved away from the 810.

Showing just how significant the 810 is to Qualcomm's current cycle of new handsets, the company came out with a statement in February that included half a dozen major handset makers -- including Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, LG and Sony -- offering their support for the 810 and saying they will use it in upcoming devices.

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The 810 and 808, introduced at the same time last year, are very similar, reaching the top-tier of Qualcomm's chip line. One notable difference, though, is the 810 has a speedier octa-core processor while the 808 has a six-core processor. Few consumers, though, are likely to notice that speed difference. LG may be able to use the cheaper chip to lower the price on the G4, which could allow LG to make the phone more appealing to a mass market audience.

"They're very much cut from the same cloth," McDonough said of the two chips.

So, why the 808?

McDonough said a lot of the decision on the 808 had to do with schedules. The 810 would be available first, so was chosen for LG's curved-screen G Flex 2, which was introduced in January. LG then had the option to pick between the 810 or the 808 for the G4, which is the first smartphone introduced using an 808.

Although McDonough declined to discuss pricing for the G4, the cheaper 808 gives LG more flexibility to either pocket more profit or reduce the cost to consumers.

While Qualcomm hasn't spoken much about the 808 up until now, it said more devices using the 808 should be coming later this year.