For a few years now, we’ve seen affordable phones become competitive options that are able to satisfy the needs of more and more customers. As OEMs shifted their focus towards emergent markets, cost became a premier concern and mid-range components were put into the spotlight. Qualcomm’s 600 series best exemplifies this shift in enthusiast minds, as its chips found their way into over 1,350 designs according to Qualcomm. While the Snapdragon 400 chips have been a Qualcomm bestseller, with projects like Android Go finally taking off, the lower-end Snapdragon 400 line also becomes increasingly more relevant to both the masses and enthusiasts. Today, Qualcomm has announced the latest generation of chipsets in both brackets, with the new Snapdragon 632, Snapdragon 439 and Snapdragon 429 system-on-chips.
Now you might recall that Qualcomm has had a few important announcements in the past year on which these new chipsets build upon. The company unveiled the Snapdragon 660 and 630 in May of 2017, and while those chipsets seemingly didn’t earn as many designs as the still-relevant Snapdragon 625/626, they marked an important change of direction for the line-ups. The 660 had brought a set of semi-custom cortex-A73 cores on their performance cluster, built in 14nm LPP process over the previous-gen 28nm HPM which had gotten long in the tooth.
These semi-custom Kryo 260 cores could actually perform closer to the premium tier (Snapdragon 835 at the time) than any other mid-range chip had been able to, with the main differences residing in lower CPU frequencies, a smaller L2 cache, and a slower GPU with the Adreno 512. The Snapdragon 630 had also brought 14nm LPP in an A53 octa-core configuration, adding some important features to the mid-end like Bluetooth 5 and LPDDR4 RAM support. The “successor” to the 660 is arguably not in the 600 series, but it is rather the recently-announced Snapdragon 710, while the 632 is a clear successor to the Snapdragon 630.
This is an important distinction to make because while the 600 series had gotten such a powerful boost in CPU performance, putting it into a semi-premium category, Qualcomm opted to make such a setup its own discrete tier with the Snapdragon 710. Moreover, in the figures provided to us, Qualcomm seems to be pitching the Snapdragon 632 against the Snapdragon 626 and not the 630, which is surprising given that the 630 did find itself in a fair few devices (even if it wasn’t as popular as previous mid-range chips). This clearer delineation is sure to work in the company’s favour, in the end, and this release does show us some nice advantages over previous (proper) 600 series chips.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 builds upon previous releases by introducing the Kryo 250 semi-custom cores with four performance cores based on Cortex-A73 and clocked up to 1.8GHz, and four efficiency cores based on Cortex-A53 at the same frequency (1MB cache for gold cores, 512KB for silver cores, no system cache). These new chips are also built on FinFET 14nm process for gains in performance and power efficiency as well, a perk inherited from the 630 before it. Qualcomm states that this new release boasts 40% higher CPU performance when compared to the Snapdragon 626, though keep in mind that the Snapdragon 630 had itself brought a 20% performance uplift over the same chipset. Still, this is a healthy improvement, especially considering only a few tens of designs featured the 630, while many more customers have had experience with the Snapdragon 626 in particular.
As for the GPU, this new chipset features the Adreno 506 which is quoted to offer 10% improved graphics performance over the Adreno 506 featured in the Snapdragon 626, and the expected support for the latest APIs including Vulkan. The 630 had brought a slightly more powerful Adreno 508 GPU with a 30% uplift over the 506, but the new GPU wasn’t included in this new chip, which isn’t wholly unsurprising given the popularity of the 626 over the 630.
Other perks include a Hexagon 546 DSP and support for various ML frameworks (Caffe/2, TensorFlow/Lite, ONNX) as well as Android NN and the Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK, which should help the mid-range devices truly shine with the increasing adoption of on-device AI in apps. The 632 also offers the X9 LTE modem for cat13 speeds of 300Mbps DL and 150Mbps UL and finally, these chips can also power FHD+ displays and support 24MP single or 13+13 dual camera setups. Unlike the 660, the 632 does not bring support for Quick Charge 4.0, but it enables 4K video recording at 30 frames per second.
While enthusiasts are primarily concerned with premium tier chipsets and some stand-out mid-range offerings, there’s been a lot of buzz and progress in the lower-end as the 400 series keeps attaining feature parity with previous-year premium chips, and healthy performance boosts. This is even truer for the 439 & 429, which bring a performance uplift of 25% over the Snapdragon 430 & 425, respectively. Both chips are built on the 12nm FinFET process for better power efficiency. The 439 brings 8 Cortex A53 cores in two clusters, with the performance cores clocked at 1.95GHz and the power efficiency cores coming in at 1.45GHz. The Snapdragon 429, on the other hand, features only four A53 cores clocked at 1.95GHz. With Android Go already becoming popular with devices featuring 400 series chips, this performance boost is welcome in the growing low-range segment.
These chips also feature the Adreno 505 and 504 GPUs, with performance bumps of 20% and 50% over the Adreno 505 and Adreno 308 of the Snapdragon 430 and 425, respectively. The latter boost is the more significant of the two due to an architectural upgrade over (presumably) mere frequency adjustments, but both should perform adequately for low-end devices in this regard. The 439 supports FHD+ displays like the 632, while the 429 drives up to HD+ displays.
Both chipsets feature the X6 LTE modem (featured in the Snapdragon 430 as well) for 150Mbps DL and 75 Mbps UL (Cat 4 & 5). The 439 supports 21MP single camera or dual 8MP camera arrangements, while the 429 goes up to 16MP or dual 8MP as well. Both also pack in the Hexagon 536 DSP and, like the 632, support various ML frameworks (Caffe/2, TensorFlow/Lite, ONNX) as well as Android NN and the Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK. As expected, they offer the ability to capture video at 1080p (30 frames per second) and they also offer Quick Charge 3.0 for faster charging.
New Chips in Town
With the popularity of 600 and 400 series chips in affordable devices, seeing these marked performance improvements only spells good news for those on a budget, or those who opt for key line-ups from OEMs like Xiaomi. As we’ve seen in previous years, Qualcomm’s spectrum of chips is increasingly achieving feature parity as important improvements and technologies brought up by the premium tier make their way downstream to the more popular segments that thrive in emergent markets. It’s easy for enthusiast websites to find themselves only concerned with the 800 series chip that’s instanced in almost every flagship each year, but at the end of the day these are significant boosts to Qualcomm’s spectrum of products in key areas, which are able to make an impact on the user experience of a much larger number of people.
It’s also interesting to see how the birth of the Snapdragon 710 is shaping Qualcomm’s line-up — I wouldn’t be shocked if the surprisingly-powerful 660 might’ve not secured as many customers because of its branding, which obfuscated just how much of a step forward it offered in terms of performance relative to other chipsets in the 600 bracket. This move helps cement the 600 and 700 series as the two middle tiers, and the 632 exemplifies this product direction by being a solid successor to the 630 and a great upgrade for those coming from 625/626 smartphones. These chipsets should find their way into OEM designs in the latter half of 2018, so we’ll be keeping an eye on future releases and, if possible, go hands-on to test just how much of an impact these performance boosts and feature inclusions really make.