Qualcomm designed a new limited-edition smartphone made specifically for its Snapdragon Insider Community. Qualcomm is a company that I am very familiar with because of its involvement in various technologies, most notably its involvement in the 5G mobile ecosystem and expanding into automotive, PC and the IoT space. I also recently wrote a piece on its new CEO change that you can read about here.
Its SoCs are in just about every Android device, including the very first 5G smartphones. Qualcomm is not a smartphone manufacturer or an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) but rather makes smartphone parts and platforms for companies like Samsung, Asus, Google Pixel, and not-so-long-ago LG. All Apple’s 5G iPhones have Qualcomm’s 5G modems in them.
To digress, Qualcomm is not a smartphone manufacturer, yet it, with the help of Asus, designed a new smartphone. So far, Qualcomm received a lot more criticism that I would have expected for the $1,500 price tag, the device’s extraordinary-ness, but mostly for the $1,500 price tag. I see it a bit differently, and fundamentally we have to understand that Qualcomm is not trying to compete with Samsung or Apple or any of Qualcomm’s business partners. It is simply making a smartphone for the Snapdragon enthusiast in its Insider community and showcasing many of the game-changing technologies that go into many smartphone devices.
Is the price justifiable?
The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders does not have a name. Qualcomm calls it Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders. It makes me laugh because I see two kinds of people pouring over their opinions of the price. The former says, “why would I ever pay $1,500 for a smartphone without a name” and the latter saying back, “because it is for Snapdragon Insiders.” The device is made to have all the best components that Qualcomm offers because that is what its community of insiders finds most appealing. It is a limited-edition device with limited-edition components to curate a collection of Snapdragon-specific experiences for the Insider community.
Qualcomm Insiders is a mechanism to gather feedback from its community, and I want to commend them for doing this, even though it is not the first to do so. Samsung’s first foldable device had an outrageous price tag, and even though it wasn’t for an Insider community, it was priced for a niche of smartphone enthusiasts. The same is true for the nostalgic foldable Moto Razr, and even the Surface Duo as a business productivity device. Predating all of those niche smartphone releases, the Nexus line of devices was for Google to give a pure Android experience to help guide the smartphone community in Android’s direction. The Nexus line of devices was rebranded as the Pixel once Google decided to step out of the niche. Although the Pixels never had controversial prices, it also never had flagship-level specs.
Flagship specs for the flagship price
The Snapdragon Insider smartphone does have flagship specs and flagship specs that easily rival today’s flagship devices. I would say it rivals many laptops in the $1,500 range, but that is an unfair comparison on both ends. The Snapdragon Insider smartphone includes Qualcomm’s best with a Snapdragon 888-based SoC and 3rd generation Snapdragon X60 5G modem-RF System. Qualcomm says it has the most comprehensive support for all key 5G sub-6 and mmWave bands and combinations in a single device for unprecedented 5G speeds and coverage worldwide. It has a 7.5Gbps download speed, making its flagship storage size of 512 GB and its desktop-level memory size of 16GB look remarkably small. The battery is smaller in size compared to flagship rivals with a 4,000 mAh battery. However, Qualcomm says it still gets all-day battery life and then some support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 5.0. Seeing how this device is decked out with everything Qualcomm, I doubt the battery life will take a hit since all of it is made to work together. I don’t have unit yet but hopeful I can test it out. It also uses Qualcomm’s second-generation 3D Sonic Sensor that works for wet or dry fingerprints. I would have preferred its under the glass reader but I don’t think it matched up with the display.
The only three components of this phone that are not Qualcomm or Asus are the Corning Gorilla Glass, Samsung’s 6.78″ 144Hz 2448 x 1080 resolution AMOLED display, and Sony’s flagship image sensors for the 12MP Ultrawide and 64MP Main camera. Everything else rightfully screams Qualcomm. It also has a third camera, an 8MP Telephoto camera, and all three cameras use Qualcomm’s Spectra 580 Image Signal Processor (ISP) with Triple 14-bit Computer Vision-ISP for 2.7 Gigapixels per second. This ISP means that a user can shoot a video in 4k with all three cameras simultaneously. The device uses Qualcomm Signal Boost, and Qualcomm Smart Transmit technology. It also has a Qualcomm FastConnect 6900 connectivity system for speeds up to 3.6 Gbps on Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E connections.
Qualcomm collaborated with ASUS, who designed, manufactured, and is selling this product. Qualcomm and ASUS have had a close partnership for 13 years, and this device brings something very special to the Snapdragon Insider Community.
It is also the first device to have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound technology. It provides the original audio quality of a track at 24-bit 96kHz studio-quality audio. This quality is noticeably better than standard compressed audio for Bluetooth A2DP using SBC audio codec that delivers quality at 16-bit 44.1kHz. Seeing as Qualcomm’s $1,500 smartphone is bundled with a pair of Master & Dynamic wireless earbuds that support 24-bit 96kHz audio quality priced at $299, Qualcomm Insiders will get to experience this difference. The Master & Dynamic wireless earbuds also support Qualcomm active noise Cancellation, Qualcomm cVc echo cancellation, and noise suppression and are powered by the Qualcomm QCC5141 low power Bluetooth Audio SoC, as though it is made for Qualcomm enthusiasts. The audio quality of the Snapdragon Insider Smartphone also got a DXOMark audio test with a score for Playback of 75 and Recording 81. These scores rank the device as #4 globally and # 1 in the Ultra-Premium Ranking, with its Recording score of 81 being the highest ranked. There will be a DXOMark Score for the camera later this month.
The Snapdragon Insider smartphone uses Qualcomm’s Adreno 660 GPU and Variable Rate Shielding that Qualcomm says delivers 35% faster rendering and improves performance by up to 30%. It uses Qualcomm’s Game Quick Touch that increases responsiveness by 20%, which makes a difference when paired with the 144Hz display. These gaming specs, paired with its connectivity capabilities, make this device one of the best gaming phones on the market.
I also have to say, one of the coolest features of this phone is that the Snapdragon fireball icon illuminates.
I’ve often been at times frustrated that few of the smartphone OEMs that used Qualcomm’s SoCs didn’t leverage all its potential features. I’ve run product groups before and understand it’s sometimes difficult to be on the same schedules as your chip vendor and you want to do things differently. Differently wasn’t always delivering abetter experience and I’m happy to see the “best of Qualcomm”.
The Snapdragon Insider smartphone was made for the 1.6 million Snapdragon Insiders. For its purpose and its audience, I think Qualcomm did a good job of creating a smartphone that embodies all of Qualcomm’s mobile technology. From its Snapdragon SoC to its insane 5G connectivity, this device truly is a flagship with its $1,500 bundle price. I don’t think it is a device for everybody. For those who like to stay on the bleeding edge of the smartphone world and aren’t feeling the folding display trend, this device is on the bleeding edge in everything Qualcomm. I would be hard-pressed to find someone in the Qualcomm community who doesn’t respect the Snapdragon Insider Smartphone.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.