Fulfilling its promise to bring the latest 5G cellular technologies to mass market consumers in 2020, Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon 690 — a more affordable mobile platform with integrated global 5G connectivity, plus a variety of higher-tier features that premiered in 8- and 7-series devices. Chief among them is support for cameras with up to 192-megapixel photos and 30-frame-per-second 4K HDR videos, including the necessary AI chip improvements to process such high-bitrate photos and videos.
Snapdragon 690 will continue 5G’s evolution from a rare, ultra-premium feature into table stakes for modern smartphones, a process that began with Qualcomm’s release of premium Snapdragon X50 modems and continued with its X55 successor. The Snapdragon 690 incorporates a new modem, the X51, which promises global 5G band and global multi-SIM support, but is notably only capable of connecting to sub-6GHz 5G networks — not millimeter wave towers. This means that the 690 is initially likely to appear in devices targeted at non-U.S. markets.
For businesses, the impact of mainstream 5G smartphones will be a critical raising of the floor for cellular network performance, enabling content creators and service providers to confidently deliver to a much larger audience offerings that depend upon greater bandwidth and responsiveness than 4G’s bare minimums. Qualcomm says that the Snapdragon 690 will enable 5G to come to smartphones priced to be affordable to over 2 billion users across the world. Video, AR, or gaming streams that might have been unreliable on 4G will be assuredly solid on 5G, enabling both the rollout of new cellular-based services and superior versions of past services for users of even entry-level devices.
Compared with Qualcomm’s predecessor 6-series platform Snapdragon 675, the 690’s Kryo 560 CPU also promises up to 20% better performance, graphics rendering that’s as much as 60% faster, and support for 120Hz displays. Snapdragon 690 also includes Qualcomm’s 5th-gen AI Engine, which promises a 70% improvement in AI tasks compared with the 675, enabling camera improvements such as smooth transitions between ultrawide, regular, and telephoto lenses. Qualcomm is also bringing its Hexagon Tensor Accelerator to the 6-series for the first time, enabling high-speed, artifact-free real-time AR photo filters.
It will be up to OEMs to decide whether to make full use of the 690’s camera capabilities by incorporating third-party imaging sensors and lenses, but the pipeline for ultra-high-resolution imagery is there. Six months ago, there was novelty in the very idea of a roughly 200-megapixel camera in any smartphone, let alone an affordable one, and 4K HDR video capture wasn’t exactly a budget feature. Now both of these features can come to Snapdragon-based phones priced in the $300-$400 range.
Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Qualcomm says that Snapdragon 690-based phones will be announced and released by OEMs in the second half of 2020, fueled by operators that are excited to get 5G into every device at every price point. The initial list of brands will likely include LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sharp, TCL, and Wingtech. Additionally, devices based on the company’s latest 7-series (765/765G) Snapdragon chips were delayed somewhat by the coronavirus pandemic, Qualcomm notes, but are now “imminent,” and will help fulfill the company’s ambitions for mid-market devices that straddle the line between premium and entry-level performance.