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Qualcomm is bringing 5G to ultra-affordable phones

It's also announcing the second-gen Snapdragon 8cx and Adaptive ANC for wireless earbuds.

Published onSeptember 3, 2020

Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 5G
  • The first 5G Snapdragon 400 series chipset will power affordable smartphones in 2021.
  • The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 promises better performance for always-connected laptops.
  • Qualcomm Adaptive ANC improves noise cancellation for poorly fitted earbuds.

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon’s opening IFA 2020 keynote lifted the lid on the company’s upcoming plans for mobile, laptops, and audio products. Product specifics are being saved for a later date, but come 2021 we can expect much more affordable 5G phones, a few more Snapdragon-powered Windows laptops, and better noise cancellation for true wireless earbuds.

The first 5G Snapdragon 400 series processor

5G capabilities have already arrived in mid-tier smartphones, thanks to the Snapdragon 765. Prices should become a little bit more affordable once Snapdragon 690 devices hit the market in the near future. But truly budget 5G handsets powered by Qualcomm will soon be possible with the first 5G-enabled Snapdragon 400 series processor. The company estimates that it could eventually bring a further 3.5 billion users into the 5G ecosystem thanks to lower product prices.

We don’t have any specifics about the first 5G Snapdragon 400 chipset yet, so we can’t make any comparisons to MediaTek’s 5G Dimensity 720 SoC, probably the cheapest 5G option currently on the market. Typically, Snapdragon 400 series chipsets have stripped-down features and with older performance parts to fit into sub-$200 markets. It’s going to be interesting to see what, if any, compromises have to be made to bring 5G to this price.

We do know that Motorola, OPPO, and Xiaomi appear poised to use the upcoming Snapdragon 400 5G chipset to power budget smartphones sometime in early 2021.

The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2

Speaking of 5G, the new Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 is the company’s latest play for the premium connected laptop market. However, the SoC tweaks and boosts the existing Snapdragon 8cx architecture rather than revamping the design. It’s based on the same 7nm process, but Qualcomm is touting bigger performance wins over Intel’s 15W and 7W TDP Core i5 chips in the PC Mark 10 benchmark. Though, we should take these with a pinch of salt.

Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 Qualcomm Benchmark

For a feature recap, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 boasts 4K HDR video support, dual 4K60 external display support over a single USB-C connector, Qualcomm Aqstic audio with echo and noise suppression, FastConnect 6800 chip with Wi-Fi 6, and 9 TOPS of AI performance. The 8cx comes with an integrated Snapdragon x24 4G modem but can be paired up with a Snapdragon X55 for 5G support too. Overall, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 is a minor but welcome upgrade rather than a major overhaul of Qualcomm’s flagship laptop chipset.

In terms of products, Acer is launching its first-ever Windows on Snapdragon PC later in the year. HP is also on board but doesn’t have anything to announce just yet. These companies follow Microsoft and Samsung, among a few others, in making the transition to Arm-based Windows laptop in addition to more familiar x86-powered products.

Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation

Finally, Qualcomm’s third announcement is Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) for wireless earbuds. The idea is to improve the quality of ANC for tiny earbuds even when they aren’t correctly fitted in the wearer’s ear. This aims to mitigate the need to spend time messing with different ear tips and other calibration methods to obtain good cancellation. Qualcomm’s technology also supports automatic environment adaptation with smooth transitions and can be customized by partners to support unique product features.

We don’t know exactly how Qualcomm makes ANC work well without a full seal, but the company boasts up to 20dB of low-frequency background attenuation with a very poor fit as a worst-case scenario. That’s pretty decent, especially for small in-ear buds. Qualcomm Adaptive ANC is supported on its 514X series of Bluetooth SoCs and will likely appear in products come 2021.

Related: Microsoft Surface Pro X review | Samsung Galaxy Book S review