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Rumor: Galaxy S4 to be powered by Qualcomm chip, no Exynos version. But is that possible?

According to Korean media, Samsung will sell a single version of the Galaxy S4, powered by a Qualcomm chip. We look at the pro and con arguments of this rumor.
February 20, 2013

Still not confused by all the conflicting Samsung Galaxy S4 rumors? You surely will be, as the supposed March 14 launch draws near. The latest batch of fodder for the rumor mill originates from a Korean site that claims the Galaxy S4 will be powered by a Qualcomm chip, instead of Samsung’s in-house Exynos chip.

Some background – traditionally, Samsung equipped phones in the Galaxy S line with its own Exynos processors. However, in certain markets the Korean giant released variants powered by chips from rivals Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. Last year, for instance, the North American and Japanese Galaxy S3 models were powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chips, while versions sold in non-LTE markets came with the quad-core Exynos 4412 processor.

If a report from the Korean site Digital Times is accurate, 2013 will be the first year when Samsung will not release an Exynos-powered Galaxy S. Why is that? According to DT, Samsung was forced to scrap the plans of using an Exynos 5 Octa chip in the Galaxy S4 due to issues with excessive heat generation and power consumption. Essentially, Samsung’s engineers weren’t able to tame the powerful octo-core processor enough to make it usable in a consumer device.

Is this rumor realistic?

Very importantly, Digital Times says Samsung will release the Galaxy S4 in a single version for all markets, LTE and non-LTE. Made possible by the integrated LTE modems on Snapdragon chips, such a strategy would make sense from a logistic and marketing point of view.

The Korean site does not cite its sources, and even if it did, this report shouldn’t be treated as more than a rumor, at least for now. However, there are some clues that indicate there is at least one version of the Galaxy S4 in the pipeline that is powered by Qualcomm silicon.

On the flip side, I find it hard to believe that Samsung would not use its own chip for its highest profile product, one that is expected to sell a record-smashing 100 million units. Moreover, it has been rumored that Apple (Samsung’s main silicon client) is taking its business to TSMC. Losing both Apple and the Galaxy S4 would be a major blow for Samsung’s fledgling processor business. But this is speculation on my side, especially since any change in the relationship with Apple would be negotiated months or even years in advance.

Finally, if the Exynos 5 Octa is not yet ready for primetime, why not use an Exynos 5 Dual chip? Is Qualcomm so far ahead of the game with its Snapdragon 600 processor?

It’s hard to offer a clear answer for now, but we’ll keep you posted as we learn more.