We focus a lot on individual smartphone releases, but for Android smartphones, nothing is more important than what Qualcomm has to say. Being the most dominant producer of mobile chipsets for those Android smartphones, new chipset announcements tell us exactly what features we can expect from smartphones to be released in the year to come. In January, we learned about what the new Snapdragon 835 means for this year’s premium phones, and now we’re hearing about the chipsets that will be powering cheaper, midrange phones — the Snapdragon 630 and 660.
Why do Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets matter so much? Well, they aren’t just CPUs — Snapdragon chipsets include a CPU, a GPU (for graphics), an image signal processor (ISP), a digital signal processor (DSP), a modem and antenna hardware, and security hardware. Altogether, that chipset establishes a ceiling for any phone that uses it — how good a phone can be at handling 3D gaming, photography, audio playback, fingerprint recognition, and cellular connectivity.
The new Snapdragon 630 and 660 chipsets are going to power the midrange Android phones of 2017, and they’ll allow a lot of last year’s premium features to become available on much cheaper smartphones. They’re replacing the 625 and 653, respectively, with the main difference being processing power — the 660 has a Kryo 260 CPU and an Adreno 512 GPU, while the 630 has a slower ARM-based CPU and an Adreno 508 GPU. That all represents marked improvements over last year’s 625 and 653 chipsets. The extra power, along with better ISPs and DSPs, means the new chipsets can handle more intense machine learning processing, which enables features that make phones more context-aware.
But, the extra power won’t be a battery drain. Qualcomm is adding loads of battery optimization features to ensure that LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity and processing is handled more efficiently. The big feature to look for is Qualcomm’s All-Ways Aware tech, which is in the digital signal processor of both chipsets. The DSP is important in playing back video and music, but it can help support a lot of background tasks, too. If you’ve gotten to use a premium phone lately, you might notice that they use almost no battery power when asleep these days — All-Ways Aware is part of the reason, and for the first time, it will be available in 600-series chipsets. On top of that, both chipsets support Quick Charge 4.0, which can provide five hours of battery life with five minutes of charging.
Meanwhile, the ISP determines how good of camera quality we can expect. Both have the Spectra 160 ISP, which, like last year, enables phones with 600-series processors (like the ZTE Blade V8 Pro) to have dual-camera systems on the back. Those camera systems should be more battery efficient and perform better in low light with the ISP upgrade this year. You can expect faster autofocus and better image stabilization for video, too.
Both chipsets will also have the X12 modem, although they won’t have the same feature sets. Only the 660 will get the upgrade to 2 x 2 MIMO Wi-Fi, which opens up the shorter-range, faster 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi connection. However, both will support a maximum of 600 Mbps download speeds for LTE connections and will support Bluetooth 5.0. Improved RF technology will help improve reception and battery consumption levels, too.
Of course, there are plenty of features being left off here that are on the premium 835. These new 600-series chipsets won’t be able to run a lot of augmented reality or virtual reality apps, and the 835 has a much more advanced modem that can handle up to 1 Gbps download speeds. The 835 also uses the new 10 nm manufacturing process with the CPU, which provides a big power boost compared to the 14 nm process used on the 600-series CPUs. One additional note about augmented reality — last year, the Snapdragon 652 could support Google’s Tango augmented reality technology, but there are currently no plans for the 660 to do so.
It’s also up to individual smartphone makers as to whether or not they want to implement all of these features. Camera quality will vary wildly by the sensors and lenses used, and features like Quick Charge 4.0 shouldn’t be taken as a given — for example, the Galaxy S8 runs on an 835, but Samsung has only enabled Quick Charge 2.0 (possibly for concern over long-term battery damage).
Qualcomm says to expect phones running on the 660 to appear starting this quarter, with 630 devices coming next quarter.