At some point in the not too distant past, mid-range devices became enough smartphone for many customers. Some customers will always desire a flagship device, but flagship pricing is not for everybody: as headline price tags climb towards the $1,000 point, there is a vibrant and growing market for mid-range devices. These mid-range devices offer a watered down experience compared with the flagship smartphone, often having a smaller or lower resolution display, a lesser System-on-Chip powering the show, perhaps less internal storage and a lesser camera. However, for a customer upgrading from a two year old flagship device, a current generation mid-range smartphone is often a better product than their outgoing model. One of the main advantages of going for a mid-range smartphone is that it often costs considerably less to buy, and as carriers and networks are moving to a different way of selling handsets to customers – whereby the price of the device is disclosed and any savings are passed on to the customer – these devices are becoming more appealing.
When it comes to the underlying components in a mid-range device, some manufacturers have opted to use previous generation flagship components; the obvious manufacturer to have done this is OnePlus, where the OnePlus X uses a previous Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset (the 801) to power the device. The Snapdragon 801 was originally used in the 2014 OnePlus flagship device, the One. Although the Snapdragon 801 uses an older architecture, being 32-bit, for today’s Android scene there is very little practical difference between a 32-bit or a 64-bit processor. And comparing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with Qualcomm’s late 2015 and early 2016 mid-range chipsets, there are only a few advantages in going for the more modern chipset (notably in the GPU and modem areas, which are not relevant to customers). However, going forwards, the chipset manufacturers have been scrambling to improve their mid-range offerings. There are several ways that this can be done, typically in terms of supported LTE and 3G frequencies, reducing the process size (and so increasing the efficiency of the entire chip) and using a more modern, powerful and efficient GPU.
Against this backdrop, Samsung decided to announce the arrival of a new mid-range chipset from their semiconductor division: the Exynos 7 Octa 7870. Unfortunately, Samsung’s Flickr announcement was light on details. The briefing explained that the new System-on-Chip will be using their 14nm FinFET process technology, which is a way of shrinking the processor component size down. Smaller chips require less voltage to work, which is important because power consumption and heat production is proportional to the square of the voltage applied. Unfortunately, the Samsung announcement did not allude to the GPU or modem functionality that’s presumably embedded into the Exynos 7870. We might suppose that it uses a big.LITTLE configuration, with two tiers of application processors making up the octa core nature of the unit: but we have no other details at this juncture. However, clearly Samsung wish to use a modern, power efficient processor in their mid-range smartphones and tablets so as to better compete with the rest of the market.