Qualcomm is tackling high-end gaming with a new trio of mid-range mobile chips announced just moments ago – the Snapdragon 665, Snapdragon 730, and the Snapdragon 730G.
Two-thirds of the latest additions to the company's portfolio mark an experiment with an 8nm process node, a technology comparable to the one Samsung uses for its latest flagship silicon, the Exynos 9820. The Snapdragon 855, still Qualcomm's most advanced chip to date, is based on a 7nm process node, hence being able to fit more transistors on a given die size.
Snapdragon 730: the golden middle
It's perhaps slightly unfair to call the Snapdragon 730 the new ultimate mid-tier platform of the mid-range chip market since its computationally not that far behind the 730G but that's likely how Qualcomm will price the two chips.
The 730-series SoC should be the one embraced by the largest number of gaming handsets priced at under $700 that will be released over the course of the next year or so.
It comes packed with the Adreno 618 GPU, and Kryo 470 CPU, an octa-core affair running at a maximum frequency of up to 2.2GHz. Combined with (presumably TSMC-developed) 8nm process node, the Snapdragon 730 is Qualcomm's most efficient chipset to date, bar the aforementioned Snapdragon 855. Its overall specs put it not far behind last year's Snapdragon 845 and Qualcomm is hence unsurprisingly advertising it as a stellar solution for even the most demanding types of mobile gaming, i.e. graphics-intensive multiplayer titles such as PUBG Mobile.
Beyond mobile gaming, the Snapdragon 730 is a highly capable system-on-chip which should prove itself as a worthy heart of any modern Android mid-ranger. The X15 4G LTE modem soldered on the chip supports download and upload speeds of up to 800Mbps and 150Mbps, respectively, with the device being able to read memory configurations using as much as 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM running at a maximum frequency of 1,866Mhz.
Ultra-efficient HEIF photography is part of the package, together with support for virtually any kind of triple-camera system out there, largely thanks to the addition of Qualcomm's Spectra 350 ISP.
Snapdragon 730G: the one that signals you should have probably gone for an 855 device at this point
The Snapdragon 730G is the most powerful silicon from Qualcomm outside of the company's 800 range, with the "G" part of its moniker being meant to imply an even stronger focus on gaming. While that shouldn't imply much in terms of sustained performance seeing how both the Snapdragon 730 and 730G will be more or less equally capable in that regard. What the 730G should be better at is long-term viability seeing how the SoC promises up to 15-percent higher performance compared to its G-less counterpart, primarily stemming from an overclocked Adreno 618 GPU.
While largely identical to the aforementioned chipset from a hardware perspective, other optimizations aim to set the Snapdragon 730G apart, with the module's flagship functionality being what Qualcomm calls the Jank Reducer. Behind that straightforward name is a set of algorithms seeking to combat stuttering and keeping games running at 30 frames per second, i.e. not dipping below that threshold.
Some kind of anti-cheating extensions are also on board of the Snapdragon 730G, though Qualcomm has yet to detail how those will work in practice, or better said: how much troubles will game developers have to go through in order to take advantage of them in their titles, especially those which haven't been built from the ground up with the said service in mind.
Then there are Wi-Fi latency optimizations for multiplayer gaming and a small subset of extra features not geared toward mobile games but media capture – slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second (720p) and low-power voice activation.
Ultimately, the Snapdragon 730G seems slightly out of place next to other contemporary mid-range chips, including those from Qualcomm. While that may as well be the whole point of the module, it does beg the question of how much value it can truly offer compared to the very best from the firm's portfolio. In other words, if you're looking at chips with such niche features in order to enhance your mobile gaming experience, you might as well be going the traditional flagship route. That's assuming the Snapdragon 730G will be sitting about halfway between the 730 and 855's price tag despite being much closer to the former in terms of actual capabilities and while that may not end up being the case, it's hard to imagine Qualcomm bothering with extra research and development costs otherwise.
Snapdragon 665: not as hot but you shouldn't be complaining
Unlike the other two SoCs, the Snapdragon 665 is an 11nm affair, hence being significantly less energy-efficient than its counterparts unveiled alongside it earlier today, though it still delivers an upgrade over its 14nm predecessor.
Much like its name implies, this is a successor to the Snapdragon 660, by far the most popular silicon from the previous smartphone generation's upper mid-range bracket. Originally released in 2017, the Snapdragon 660 found its way to dozens of devices, many of which delivered critically acclaimed value and battery life. After nearly two years, Qualcomm believes it's time for a sequel that it hopes will be just as successful.
Compared to the module that preceded it, the new platform offers up to two times as fast on-device artificial intelligence computing, largely due to the inclusion fo the third-gen Qualcomm AI Engine and its support for the company's neural processing SDK allowing for contemporary machine learning applications.
Then there's the Spectra 165 ISP which enables automatic HDR enhancements, with the chip itself being capable of managing triple-camera setups including telephoto, wide, and ultra-wide lenses, arguably the most popular combination of three-sensor imaging systems used by contemporary handsets across all price segments. Even when it comes to pure resolution, the Snapdragon 665 doesn't disappoint, offering support for producing 48-megapixel images.
It uses a combination of the Adreno 610 GPU and the octa-core Kryo 260 CPU clocked at up to 2.0GHz, in addition to supporting up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM (LPDDR3 is fair game as well).
On the networking side of the equation, the Snapdragon 665 uses the Snapdragon X12, a 4G LTE modem capable of achieving 600Mbps download speeds and 150Mbps upload rates.
Much like its two higher-specced siblings Qualcomm also unveiled today, the Snapdragon 655 offers support for 21:9 aspect ratios and FHD+ resolutions of up to 2,520 by 1,080 pixels.
Despite being considerably less capable than the new 700-series chips, not to mention the ultra-premium Snapdragon 855, at least in terms of raw processing power, the Snapdragon 655 is advertised as an SoC for modern mobile gamers that's supposedly able to handle virtually any game you can find on the Google Play Store at fast frame rates while still delivering a rich level of detail.
A new vote of confidence for the mobile gaming industry
While the mobile gaming industry appeared to have lost some momentum in recent months, primarily due to the newfound reluctance of Razer to continue investing in the segment. While the likes of Honor, Nubia, and Xiaomi's Black Shark are picking up the mantle, it's ASUS that's now arguably making the most waves among Android gamers, even though the original ROG Phone received mixed reviews and was scarcely available.
The upcoming OnePlus 7 is likely to continue the Chinese firm's strong focus on mobile gamers as well, though what Qualcomm now did is provided the industry with an avenue they weren't really able to fully explore before – a high-powered SoC package that won't be priced as one. Well, exactly as one, at least.
Still, some interest among handset makers definitely exists because Qualcomm says it's expecting the first Android devices powered by its latest trio of chips to hit the market in mid-2019. As we're basically in mid-2019 already, that "prediction" essentially means Qualcomm already shipped its first units to certain partners and knows for a fact they're currently in the process of implementing them.
As always, Qualcomm's prices depend on who's buying and how much; well, there's no way you'll ever get that confirmation from the company in any official capacity but that's just the nature of the B2B beast. As a result, it's difficult to estimate how attractive the Snapdragon 730G truly is; on the one hand, this is the first silicon Qualcomm is literally advertising as a gaming SoC but on the other, its likely to be priced similarly to the objectively better 855 which may not be a gamer's chipset but it can certainly be used as one.
Coupled with the aforementioned point about quantity discounts, it appears the two manufacturers that would find the Snapdragon 730G to be the most common-sense option for a mainstream product lineup are those that either have little intention of doing gaming handsets or doing them with Qualcomm's chips – Samsung and Huawei. Everyone else will probably stick with the Snapdragon 730 or even go the 665 route seeing how Qualcomm is still providing them with plenty of punch with those options but presumably at a significantly lower cost.
In other words, don't expect the selection of Android gaming hardware to undergo a drastic change overnight but some value-oriented models should certainly be hitting the store shelves in the coming months.