Snapdragon SoC guide: All of Qualcomm’s smartphone processors explained

Credit: Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors are the most ubiquitous SoCs in the Android smartphone space. Samsung uses Snapdragon for its Galaxy S line in the US and a few other markets, and it also powers devices from Xiaomi, OnePlus, and essentially every manufacturer making flagship phones that doesn’t also make its own silicon. There’s a very high chance that you’re reading this on a device using a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor right now.

Snapdragon chips aren’t just found in expensive flagship smartphones though. There’s a whole portfolio of processors built for handsets at various price points. Performance and features differ a fair bit between these models, so let’s break down how the company’s latest SoCs compare and what capabilities you should expect.

Snapdragon 800 series — Premium tier

Credit: Qualcomm

Looking for the very best Qualcomm smartphone processor? That will be the Snapdragon 888, which was announced in December 2020 and powers a ton of high-end phones in 2021. It’s part of the Snapdragon 800 series, which is the company’s flagship chip family.

The 5nm chipset is a major leap in power over previous Qualcomm Snapdragon silicon, featuring one brand new Cortex-X1 CPU core clocked at 2.84GHz, three new Cortex-A78 cores running at 2.4GHz, and four 1.8GHz Cortex-A55 cores. In fact, you can reportedly expect 25% better performance and power efficiency over previous generations.

Qualcomm has also upgraded the GPU here, with its industry-leading Adreno graphics tech touting a massive 35% performance boost and a 25% efficiency boost over previous chips. This makes for quite possibly the biggest leap in Adreno performance we’ve seen in years.

Another big upgrade is the move to an integrated 5G modem. Earlier Snapdragon 800 5G chips offered an external modem, which generally results in less efficient performance. So expect to see improved battery life on Snapdragon 888 phones when using 5G. Either way, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 5G processors support both mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G standards.

Otherwise, you can also expect Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and Quick Charge 5 tech. The latter supports 100W+ charging after we saw several phones support these speeds in 2020.

More Qualcomm coverage: How to understand Kryo CPU numbering in Snapdragon chips

Some of the more prominent phones with the Snapdragon 888 chipset include the Xiaomi Mi 11 series, Samsung Galaxy S21 range (in the US), Sony Xperia 1 III and 5 III, OnePlus 9 series, and Oppo Find X3 Pro. In other words, with the exception of Apple and Huawei, almost all flagship smartphones are using this processor in 2021.

The Snapdragon 888 isn’t the only new Snapdragon 800 series processor for 2021, as Qualcomm also launched the Snapdragon 870 and Snapdragon 860 this year.

Revealed earlier this year, the Snapdragon 870 is literally a tiny upgrade over 2020’s Snapdragon 865 and 865 Plus flagship processors. All three of these chipsets sport a tri-cluster CPU arrangement, featuring one powerful Cortex-A77 core, three less powerful but still very capable Cortex-A77 cores, and four low-powered but efficient Cortex-A55 cores. All three processors also offer an Adreno 650 GPU that’s still a fantastic performer and can handle a variety of advanced games and emulators.

The Snapdragon 865 Plus differed from the vanilla 865 by offering a 3.1GHz top-end CPU core (the standard 865 has a 2.84GHz clock speed), as well as a 10% graphics boost presumably via a clock speed boost. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 870 differs from the 865 Plus by upping the top-end clock speed a little more (to 3.2GHz). In simple terms, there isn’t much of a difference between these three chipsets when it comes to actual performance and capabilities.

 Snapdragon 888Snapdragon 865/865 Plus/870Snapdragon 855/ 855 Plus/860
CPU1x Cortex-X1
3x Cortex-A78
4x Cortex-A55
1x Cortex-A77
3x Cortex-A77
4x Cortex-A55
1x Cortex-A76
3x Cortex -76
4x Cortex-A55
GPUAdreno 660Adreno 650Adreno 640
DSPHexagon 780
(fused scalar, tensor, and vector)
Hexagon 698Hexagon 690
Process5nm7nm FinFET7nm FinFET
ModemX60 LTE/5G (integrated)
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
X55 LTE/5G (external)
7500 Mbps down
3000 Mbps up
X24 LTE (integrated)
2000 Mbps down
316 Mbps up
Cameras84MP single, 64MP+25MP dual, or 24MP triple
200MP snapshot
64MP single or 25MP dual
200MP snapshot
48MP single or 24MP dual
200MP snapshot
Quick Charge54+4+
Bluetooth5.25.2 (5.1 for 865)5.1 (5.0 for 855)

Qualcomm also launched the Snapdragon 860 this year, and it’s effectively 2019’s Snapdragon 855 Plus with a couple of minor tweaks. These tweaks include slightly better external display support and the ability to address more RAM. Either way, phones with the Snapdragon 860 are still powerful enough for smooth performance in advanced games and in general. But you do miss out on newer features like 5G, 8K recording and super-fast imaging capabilities, which the aforementioned chipsets all offer.

Expect to find upper mid-range to affordable flagship-type devices with the Snapdragon 870 chipset, such as the OnePlus 9R, Vivo X60 Pro, Motorola Moto G100, and Redmi K40. Otherwise, the Snapdragon 860 is a step below the 870, with the mid-range Poco X3 Pro using it.

Up until 2018’s Snapdragon 845, the Snapdragon 800 series used a cluster of powerful cores and a cluster of power-saving cores. But 2019’s Snapdragon 855 series marked the first time we saw the three-tier system of heavy/medium/light CPU cores.

Qualcomm also used to offer in-house designed CPU cores until the Snapdragon 821 back in 2016. But these days, it uses Arm’s Cortex cores and makes a few tweaks to them instead. The company recently acquired CPU company Nuvia, and has revealed that it will be using its CPU tech in laptops, flagship phones, and more. So it certainly sounds like custom CPU cores could be back on the menu in the next few years.

The San Diego company has also invested heavily in other bits of silicon for its chipsets, such as the GPUs, modems, and image signal processors for cameras. The chipmaker has been developing its machine learning silicon over the years too, boosting features like face unlock, scene/subject/object recognition, natural language processing, and more.

Qualcomm isn’t the only company making flagship processors, with rival chipsets including the Samsung Exynos 2100, Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 9000, and MediaTek’s Dimensity 1200. The Snapdragon 800 range is generally considered the top dog in terms of features, capabilities, and brand name, although other competitors generally have plenty to offer too.

Notable Snapdragon 800 series phones

Snapdragon 700 series — Bridging the gap

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 700 series isn’t quite as straightforward as its flagship 800 series. This is due to the sheer number of them, as well as the lower end chips crossing into the 600 series. The Snapdragon 700 series is essentially an upper mid-range family of processors, and the Snapdragon 780G is the most capable and recent of the lot.

Released early in 2021, the 780G has the same 5nm design as the latest flagship processors, supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz flavors of 5G, as well as a triple-tiered CPU design. You’re looking at one Cortex-A78 CPU clocked at 2.4GHz, three Cortex-A78 CPUs clocked at 2.2GHz, and four Cortex-A55 CPU cores. In other words, you’ve got enough CPU power to take it to flagship processors from rival companies like Huawei’s Kirin 9000 and MediaTek’s Dimensity 1200.

The Snapdragon 780G also delivers an Adreno 642 GPU that’s said to have performance in line with slightly older flagships. In fact, Anandtech reports that you can expect better graphical performance than Snapdragon 855 phones, although it falls behind last year’s Snapdragon 865 devices. That’s still a major leap forward for the Qualcomm’s mid-range processors, which have usually lagged far behind even the company’s older flagship chipsets in this area.

We also saw the Snapdragon 765 series, 750G, and 768G released last year, being the firm’s first mid-range 5G processors. These chipsets all sport comprehensive 5G capabilities, 7nm or 8nm designs, a 1+1+6 CPU layout, and respectable graphical grunt. The 750G actually features newer CPU cores though, which should theoretically give it a slight boost on paper over its stablemates. But this comes at the expense of graphical performance, machine learning power, and camera capabilities compared to the 765 and 768G chips.

 Snapdragon 780GSnapdragon 768G/765/765GSnapdragon 750GSnapdragon 730/730G/732G
CPU2x Kryo 670 (Cortex-A78)
6x Kryo 670 (Cortex-A55)
2x Kryo 475 (Cortex-A76)
6x Kryo 475 (Cortex-A55)
2x Kryo 475 (Cortex-A77)
6x Kryo 475 (Cortex-A55)
2x Kryo 360 (Cortex-A76)
6x Kryo 360 (Cortex-A55)
GPUAdreno 642Adreno 620Adreno 619Adreno 618
DSPHexagon 770Hexagon 696Hexagon 570Hexagon 688
ModemSnapdragon X53 5G/LTE
5G - 3300Mbps down, uplink TBC
Snapdragon X52 5G/LTE
5G - 3700Mbps down, 1600Mbps up
Snapdragon X52 5G/LTE
5G - 3700Mbps down, 1600Mbps up
Snapdragon X15 LTE
800Mbps down, 150Mbps up
Cameras84MP single, 64MP+20MP dual, 25MP+25MP+25MP triple
192MP snapshot
32MP single or 22MP dual
192MP snapshot
32MP single or 22MP dual
192MP snapshot
48MP single or 22MP dual
192MP snapshot
Quick Charge4+4+4+4+
Bluetooth5.25.0 (765, 765G)
5.2 (768G)
5.1 (732G)

We saw a trend last year for some manufacturers to use the Snapdragon 765G chipset for their flagship chipsets, such as the Google Pixel 5 and LG Velvet. This demonstrates just how capable these processors are these days. We’re not sure if we’ll see a repeat of this trend this year as Qualcomm has released cheaper Snapdragon 800-series processors as alternatives to the absolute cutting-edge silicon.

There are still a few 4G-enabled Snapdragon 700 series processors in use by manufacturers, and these are the Snapdragon 730 series, Snapdragon 732G, and Snapdragon 720G, which are next on the totem pole in terms of power and capabilities. We’ve got octa-core CPUs featuring two powerful Cortex-A76 CPUs and six Cortex-A55 cores, and powerful Spectra image signal processors for high-resolution imaging.

The Snapdragon 700 series is ideal for those wanting power and features on a budget.

The 700 series debuted with 2018’s Snapdragon 710 (with the Snapdragon 712 being a mild upgrade). These two chips still offer a 2+6 CPU core layout, but use older Cortex-A75 cores instead of the newer CPUs seen in later 700 series SoCs. They aren’t really used anymore, with manufacturers opting for the above-mentioned chipsets instead. Nevertheless, these early Snapdragon 700 series chipsets have plenty in common with the latest Snapdragon 600 family processors (more on them in a bit).

Furthermore, all of these aforementioned chipsets support 192MP snapshots, although they top out at a far lower resolution for multi-frame processing (e.g. HDR, night mode). You won’t get 8K here either, but 4K at 30fps is basically guaranteed at this tier.

Notable Snapdragon 700 series phones

Snapdragon 600 series — Value for money

Where the Snapdragon 700 series tries to bridge the gap between mid-range and flagship, the Snapdragon 600 series is mostly focused on the ~$300 and under segment. We say “mostly,” because the newly announced Snapdragon 690 actually looks like it can duke it out with some Snapdragon 700-series processors.

The 8nm Snapdragon 690 is the first 5G-enabled Snapdragon 600 series processor, although it seems to offer sub-6GHz 5G only rather than mmWave seen on Qualcomm’s more expensive 5G chips. Nevertheless, it’s using a beefy octacore CPU (2x Cortex-A77 and 6x Cortex-A55), and a solid Adreno 619L GPU. In fact, Qualcomm says you can expect a CPU and graphics boost of 20% and 60% respectively over the Snapdragon 675.

Other notable features include 4K HDR video for the first time in the Snapdragon 600 series, the firm’s Tensor Accelerator machine learning silicon, HEIF/HEVC photo and video capture for reduced file sizes, and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.

Go down a step and you’ll find the 4G-only Snapdragon 675 and the Snapdragon 670, dating back to 2018/2019 and thus not used much anymore. These two SoCs share a lot in common with the first Snapdragon 700 series processors (e.g. Snapdragon 710). The Snapdragon 670 and 675 offer powerful Cortex-A75 and A76 CPU cores respectively, paired with low-power Cortex-A55 cores. You can also expect ageing but decent GPUs (inferior to the 700 series), Bluetooth 5 support, and Quick Charge 4+ capabilities. The 670 and 675 also deliver the 700 family’s support for features like 4K recording, 192MP snapshots, and 48MP photos with multi-frame processing.

Read: The global computer chip shortage explained

Go down even further and you get the Snapdragon 665, which is a mild improvement over 2017’s Snapdragon 660. Both of these chips use much older CPU cores (four Cortex-A73 paired with four Cortex-A53 cores), and less capable GPUs on paper. So expect general performance, gaming, and camera performance to lag behind the Snapdragon 670 and 675, let alone the Snapdragon 690. In fact, the Snapdragon 665 and 660 top out at 48MP snapshot support (i.e. without multi-frame processing such as HDR), so don’t hold your breath for 64MP or 108MP cameras with these processors.

Qualcomm also launched the Snapdragon 662 in the first half of 2020, essentially being a Snapdragon 665 clone with Bluetooth 5.1 capabilities and HEIF support. The latter means better quality pictures with no file size increase over previous formats, or the same quality at half the file size.

The bread and butter of Qualcomm’s 600-series used to be the Snapdragon 636 and 632. These processors targeted a lower price point than previously mentioned 600-series silicon, and also brought big cores to the table (four Cortex-A73 and four Cortex-A53). The 636 offered a 4G modem with decent speeds and Quick Charge 4, which the Snapdragon 632 lacks. Either way, both of these chips use Adreno 500-series GPUs, making them less adept at gaming than more recent Snapdragon 600 series chips. We don’t really see many (if any) new phones using these chipsets today though.

 Snapdragon 690Snapdragon 636Snapdragon 632Snapdragon 439
CPU2x Kryo 560 (Cortex-A77)
6x Kryo 560 (Cortex-A55)
4x 1.8GHz Kryo 260 (Cortex-A73)
4x 1.6GHz Kryo 260 (Cortex-A53)
4x 1.8GHz Kryo 250 (Cortex-A73)
4x 1.8GHz Kryo 250 (Cortex-A53)
4x 1.95GHz Cortex-A53
4x 1.45GHz Cortex-A53
GPUAdreno 619LAdreno 509Adreno 506Adreno 505
DSPHexagon 692
Hexagon Tensor Accelerator
Hexagon 680Hexagon 546Hexagon 536
ModemX51 5G
2,500Mbps down
900Mbps up
600Mbps down
150Mbps up
300Mbps down
150Mbps up
150Mbps down
75Mbps up
Cameras32MP single or 16MP dual
(192MP snapshot)
25MP single or 16MP dual24MP single or 13MP dual12MP single or 8MP dual
Quick Charge4+
Process8nm FinFET14nm FinFET14nm FinFET12nm FinFET

The Snapdragon 636 and 632 chipsets really mark the cross-over point between mid-range and low-end capabilities. But they still sport those ever-important big CPU cores, which means general performance (e.g. system navigation, camera speed, launching/loading apps) shouldn’t be an issue.

Notable Snapdragon 600 series phones

Snapdragon 400 series — Entry-level

Now we come to the least capable Snapdragon series (aside from the now dormant Snapdragon 200 family), designed for entry-level smartphones. But there’s good news here, as the latest Snapdragon 400 chipset is actually a massive improvement.

The Snapdragon 480 is the first 5G-enabled processor in the Snapdragon 400 series, being announced in April 2021. This is essentially a cut-back Snapdragon 750G chipset, featuring mmWave 5G support, the same Adreno 619 GPU, the same 8nm manufacturing process, Quick Charge 4 Plus tech, and support for FHD+ 120Hz displays.

We do see a few compromises though, such as older CPU cores (2x Cortex-A76 and 6x Cortex-A55), less impressive camera capabilities (no 4K recording, 64MP snapshot support), and slower 5G speeds. Still, this is a major upgrade for the 400 series, which lacked recently released CPU tech and 5G capabilities. This processor is also theoretically superior to all but the latest Snapdragon 600 series SoCs.

The 4G-toting Snapdragon 460 was the top dog until the 480 came out, and it has a lot in common with the Snapdragon 662. This includes old but still respectable CPU cores (four Cortex-A73 and four Cortex-A53), the same GPU, HEIF support, Bluetooth 5.1, and even 48MP multi-frame capture capabilities.

 Snapdragon 480Snapdragon 460Snapdragon 450Snapdragon 439
CPU4x Kryo 460 (Cortex-A76)
4x Kryo 460 (Cortex-A55)
4x Kryo 240 (Cortex-A73)
4x Kryo 240 (Cortex-A53)
8x 1.8Ghz Cortex-A534x 1.95Ghz Cortex-A53
4x 1.45Ghz Cortex-A53
GPUAdreno 619Adreno 610Adreno 506Adreno 505
DSPHexagon 686Hexagon 683Hexagon 546Hexagon 536
ModemSnapdragon X51 5G
2500Mbps down, 660Mbps up
Snapdragon X11 LTE
390Mbps down,
150Mbps up
Snapdragon X9 LTE
300Mbps down, 150Mbps up
Snapdragon X6 LTE
150Mbps down, 75Mbps up
Cameras64MP single or 25MP dual
32MP single or 22MP dual
192MP snapshot
48MP single or 22MP dual
192MP snapshot
21MP single or 8MP dual
Quick Charge4+
Process8nm11nm FinFET14nm FinFET12nm FinFET

Nokia’s X20 and the Motorola Moto G50 are the first phones with the Snapdragon 480, while the Snapdragon 460 has found its way into phones like the OnePlus Nord N100, Moto E7 Plus, and Nokia 3.4.

Otherwise, the Snapdragon 450 and 439 were the top chipsets in this series until last year. These offered octa-core designs based on low-powered Cortex-A53 cores, very modest LTE speeds, and unspectacular Adreno 500-series GPUs. In other words, phones powered by these chips are more likely to struggle with advanced games, camera performance, and everyday system tasks. Their own major saving grace is that they’re pretty power-efficient owing to 14nm and 12nm manufacturing processes respectively.

Those wanting good gaming performance, the fastest charging, the latest Bluetooth standard, and the best cameras have traditionally had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the Snapdragon 460 and 480 are bringing big improvements to this tier. You should still look at phones with Snapdragon 700 or 800 chips if you want the latest and greatest features and the best performance, but things are stepping up in this segment.

Notable Snapdragon 400 series phones

That’s all for our Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC guide! Let us know your thoughts on the silicon giant’s portfolio in the comments. You can also check out our article charting the history of the Snapdragon 800 family over here.