Qualcomm Announces Snapdragon 700 Series Platform: Carving Out A Niche for Sub-Premium

As part of their Mobile World Congress 2018 presentation this morning, Qualcomm is ever so slightly taking the wraps off of a new tier of Snapdragon platform SoCs. Dubbed the Snapdragon 700 Mobile Platform Series, the new tier in the Snapdragon SoC family is meant to better bridge the gap between the existing 600 and 800 series, offering many of the latter’s premium features at a lower price point. However just how well it bridges that gap remains to be seen, as Qualcomm is not announcing any specific processor configurations today, just the existence of the new tier.

Currently Qualcomm’s SoC stack is split between four lines: the non-Snapdragon entry-level 200 series, and then the Snapdragon-branded 400, 600, and 800 series, encompassing the mid-range to performance markets respectively. With the addition of the 700 series, Qualcomm is essentially further sub-dividing the Snapdragon family, carving out a sub-premium brand below the flagship 800 series, but above the current 600 series.

In their short press release, the company is stating that the goal of the new Snapdragon 700 series platforms is to offer the type of premium features found in the 800 series SoCs in a cheaper part for lower-priced devices. The usual price/volume logic aside, Qualcomm’s press release specifically notes the China market as being a focus, which for Qualcomm makes quite a bit of sense given its continued rapid growth and somewhat lower purchasing power parity than the western markets where flagship 800 series-based phones dominate. As for what those features will be, Qualcomm is making special mention of their AI feature suite – the Qualcomm AI Engine – though the underlying CPU/GPU/DSP components are already part of existing 600 series SoCs as well as the 800 series. None the less, it’s clear that Qualcomm is looking to establish a tier of SoCs that are slower, cheaper, but still at or near feature parity with the 800 series.

Unfortunately as Qualcomm isn’t announcing specific SoCs at this time, hard technical details are few. Of the handful of figures included in Qualcomm’s announcement, they compare it at multiple points to the Snapdragon 660, touting 2x the “AI performance” and 30% better power efficiency than the fastest member of Qualcomm’s current 600 series stack. The announcement also notes that the company will be using new architectures for the CPU, GPU, and ISP blocks, so for the new parts we’re expecting to see versions of Qualcomm’s Kryo 385 CPU, Adreno 600 GPU, and Spectra 200 ISP respectively. On which note we’re still waiting for the first Snapdragon 845 devices to ship, but based on our early impressions, the Adreno 600 series GPU architecture in particular has proven quite capable and could turn some heads in a cheaper SoC as well.

With all of that said, while Qualcomm is pitching this as a new product offering, after chatting with our always awesome senior mobile editor Andrei Frumusanu, I suspect what we’re seeing here is not Qualcomm commissioning a fifth line of SoCs, but rather bifurcating the 600 series. Whereas the 800 series has in recent years consisted of just a single current-generation design – i.e. the newly launched Snapdragon 845 – the 600 series has typically offered 2 or 3 different chips, sometimes with widely differing specifications. Case in point, the current Snapdragon 630 is a Cortex-A53 part while the Snapdragon 660 includes a quartet of high-performance Kryo cores. Splitting these into more distinct mid-range and sub-premium tiers would likely help Qualcomm and its partners better differentiate the two and position the 700 series as a more powerful option without having its lower-performing sibling muddle things. So following today’s announcement – and especially the Snapdragon 660 comparisons – I wouldn’t be in any way surprised if the rumored Snapdragon 670 ends up being a 700 series part, while its 640 counterpart remains in the 600 series.

Anyhow, while Qualcomm isn’t talking about a shipping date at this point, they are announcing that commercial sampling for the Snapdragon 700 series will kick off in the first half of this year. So like 2017’s Snapdragon 660 and 630, I would expect that retail devices containing the new SoCs will show up before the end of the year.

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