Snapdragon-Powered Chromebooks Confirmed For H2 2019

Chrome OS devices driven by Qualcomm's Snapdragon series processors are expected to begin hitting the consumer market in the second half of 2019, according to recently reported statements from Senior Director of Product Management, Miguel Nunes. The executive elaborated that Qualcomm's work on the initial Snapdragon Chromebooks is all nearly finalized. Initially, Chromebooks built on the company's platforms will be based on 2018's flagship mobile chipset, the Snapdragon 845, instead of the newly announced Snapdragon 855. For clarity that's a 10nm process system-on-chip (SoC) that features eight Kryo 385 cores clocked at up to 2.8GHz and backed by the company's Adreno 630 GPU. A Snapdragon X20 LTE modem is built directly into that chip as well. While not as powerful as Qualcomm's newest chip, that should be plenty deliver a very capable Chromebook. According to Mr. Nunes, that decision will help keep the cost down compared to top-tier devices on the Chrome OS platform.

Background: Qualcomm has been speculated to be working on a Chromebook platform, as evidenced by commits in the Chromium Gerrit, since early this year. That appeared under the codename 'Cheza' and looked for all intents and purposes to be an upcoming consumer-ready device. Testing of Cheza was conducted using an "always on" design not dissimilar to Microsoft's "Always Connected PC" platform for LTE-connected laptops.  A 2560 x 1440 resolution display panel and two USB Type-C ports were referenced at various points too. The most recent development reported on Cheza involved commit comments that indicated the 'device' had entered prototyping phases of development. That would seem to imply that mass production is forthcoming and that the specifications would be on par with some of the best devices currently on the market. However, based on the statements made by Mr. Nunes at this year's Snapdragon Summit, it seems more likely that Cheza refers to a reference board, instead. If that's the case, it makes sense that the Snapdragon-powered Chromebooks won't arrive for a further half-year at least since remaining work on the code would fall to the Chrome OS manufacturers looking to build off of Qualcomm's components and efforts.

Statements made by the company amidst sightings of Cheza may also give an indication about the prices Snapdragon Chromebooks will carry to market. In February, the company's Director of Product Management for Mobile Computing, Monte Giles, suggested that the company had no interest in putting Snapdragon SoCs in Chromebooks until the average cost rose over the $500 mark. At the time, the devices were still selling at well below $400 on average but the number of Chrome OS devices on the market at or above between $500 now is much higher than at the start of the year. Mr. Giles statement doesn't necessarily mean that the Chromebooks in question will be more expensive since Qualcomm could just as easily have been waiting until prices were high enough to conveniently undercut. But since not many LTE-enabled Chromebooks are available and that the hardware will be comparable in performance to many top-end devices, it seems more likely that the prices will be higher.

Impact: Qualcomm's decision to use the Snapdragon 845 for its Chrome OS build should mean that Android apps and other software will run as smoothly as modern flagships. That doesn't mean they'll be well-optimized for the format since Chrome hasn't quite hit that point yet but there shouldn't be an abundance of software problems or system-breaking bugs. At the same time, the chipset's modem should be able to provide speeds of up to 1.2Gbps over LTE wherever the mobile network environment allows it.

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