Qualcomm Rewards Snapdragon Fandom

Asus-made smartphone demonstrates the art of the possible

Qualcomm made a surprise product announcement on 8 July, introducing a limited-edition, Snapdragon-branded smartphone exclusively for members of its newly formed Snapdragon Insider community. This high-end, gaming-orientated smartphone is designed to showcase the many leading features of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors.

In a press release issued in June to announce the Snapdragon Insider community, Qualcomm highlighted that “Our vision was to have one place where like-minded enthusiasts could learn, interact with each other and discuss all things Snapdragon”. As the brainchild of the newly minted Qualcomm CEO, Cristiano Amon, the Snapdragon Insider community builds on the brand value of Snapdragon, which has been cultivated over the past decade. And now with dedicated physical hardware, Snapdragon fans have a “hero” product to rally behind.

Qualcomm has a history of making mobile phones that harks back to the 3G era. That hardware business unit was eventually sold off to Kyocera in 2000 as Qualcomm refocussed its efforts on mobile chipset and foundational cellular technologies. So, the news of a Snapdragon-branded smartphone came as a surprise, as it hinted at the company’s renewed interest in returning to the mobile hardware business — but that’s not what’s happening here.

The Snapdragon Insider smartphone is a limited-run reference hardware, not a mass-market gaming smartphone. It will be made by Taiwanese manufacturer Asus and emblazoned with the Snapdragon logo. Qualcomm is relying on a proven manufacturer of advanced gaming smartphones, although the smaller production scale of the device will also have narrowed the field of hardware partners. Asus has a long history in making PCs and laptops and has extended that expertise to high-end smartphones.

The Asus-made smartphone is targeted at a very specific audience of tech enthusiasts keen to lay claim to the fastest global 5G smartphones or best mobile gaming platforms. With a reported retail price of $1,499, the new smartphone raises eyebrows for its premium pricing. But given its specifications — especially the 16 GB of LPDDR5 DRAM and 512 GB of USF memory it offers — as well as the quality of accessories supplied with the phone, like wireless earbuds and a 65 W charger, many technology enthusiasts are gushing over the news of a new smartphone geared toward them.

The Snapdragon Insider smartphone sports a 6.8-inch AMOLED screen made by Samsung, with 1,200 nits of brightness and a 144 Hz refresh rate. The emphasis on brightness and refresh rate speaks to the importance of mobile gaming as the primary application for the device. It runs on a Snapdragon 888 platform with an Adreno 660 GPU that showcases Qualcomm’s technologies and provides an enhanced mobile gaming experience thanks to the high level of hardware optimization.

The triple camera system isn’t as noteworthy, but by using the triple image signal processor and artificial intelligence cores in the Snapdragon 888, the phone can capture images and videos at up to 2.7 gigapixels per second and provide automatic zoom and cropping. Although Qualcomm has recently announced an upgraded Snapdragon 888+ system-on-chip, its smartphone remains on the standard 888 design.

The Snapdragon-branded device is designed to support global 5G, with support for 33 different 5G New Radio bands including millimetre-wave 5G. As the provider of the only commercially available mobile millimetre-wave 5G solution, Qualcomm had to also include one of the most capable 5G radio frequency (RF) front-ends on the market. Additionally, the Snapdragon Insider edition phone offers Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. The latest 6E standard taps into the less congested 6 GHz frequency band for additional bandwidth and capacity. With additional frequency support comes additional complications in RF interoperations. Here, Qualcomm is again able to flex its 5G muscle, showing how to incorporate a large set of cellular and local area connectivity in one design.

But the Snapdragon Insider phone is less about showing off the latest and greatest components and more about the overall user experience. It’s intended to act as a showcase for Qualcomm’s technologies and functionality, and to engage Snapdragon fans, allowing the company to garner feedback for improvements in future platforms.

Excitement in smartphones has waned as the market matures. Manufacturers have attempted to stir the interest of loyal customers with interesting designs, as Samsung has done with its Galaxy Fan Edition phones. With the Snapdragon Insider smartphone, Qualcomm is also tapping into that small but very vocal and influential crowd of fans. A phone design from a component supplier is, by definition, not a mainstream product, but the excitement it creates suggests it was worth the effort. Ultimately, the Snapdragon Insider device is a means to an end, and that purpose is to draw attention to the market differentiation of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets.