The past two years have seen 5G slingshot its way into the public consciousness. 5G technology is now packed into a wide range of smartphones across increasingly broad segments of the global market. Around the world, carriers continue to improve their 5G coverage and roll out the latest 5G technologies to provide ever faster data speeds to their customers. Adoption has been unbelievably fast compared to the arrival of 3G and 4G LTE in previous years.
As with all fledgling technologies, the first generation of 5G smartphones was limited to the very premium-tier of the market. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform paired up with an optional Snapdragon X50 modem helped drive early market adoption. However, paying in excess of $1,000 for one of the few 5G flagship variants on the market was commonplace throughout 2019. There was definitely an early adopters premium that kept 5G out of the mainstream market in its first major year.
The narrative quickly changed throughout 2020. Carriers continued to widen their rollouts and coverage, as more countries flipped the switch on their first 5G networks. In just 12 months, 5G went from an expensive optional extra to a regular staple in the flagship space. The arrival of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform and X55 modem saw virtually every flagship smartphone launch with 5G capabilities, and they didn’t cost $1,000 anymore either. The mid-tier Snapdragon 765G and 690 were big game-changers, bringing 5G to handsets priced at $700 and below. In total, there were some 62.7 million 5G devices sold in Q3 2020 worldwide, a gargantuan 235% increase over 2019 shipments.
5G’s tale over the past two years has been one of falling prices and increasingly mainstream appeal. To that end, Qualcomm has unveiled its latest Snapdragon 480 5G Mobile Platform, bringing 5G connectivity for the mainstream market. Affordable phones powered by the Snapdragon 480 will enable next-generation content streaming, video conferencing, online gaming, and more, without breaking the bank.
Introducing the Snapdragon 480
The Snapdragon 480 is Qualcomm’s most affordable 5G chipset to date. As well as 5G connectivity, you’ll find improved performance and a host of features previously reserved for more expensive products.
Onboard you’ll find a Snapdragon X51 Modem-RF system, with support for global Sub-6GHz and mmWave bands. Along with FDD and TDD support, Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, and multi-SIM capabilities, it’s future proof with Standalone 5G capabilities as well. All these features can be found inside previous flagship-grade smartphone processors, so the Snapdragon 480 is plenty capable. As for speed, the Snapdragon 480 can hit 2.5Gbps downloads on 5G networks and 660Mbps uploads.
Performance is the second major upgrade in store with the Snapdragon 480. The chipset’s Kryo 460 CPU and Adreno 619 GPU components double the chip’s performance capabilities when compared to the previous generation Snapdragon 460. Followers of Qualcomm’s portfolio will recognize the Kryo 460 and Adreno 619 from Snapdragon 6-series mid-tier mobile platforms, so these are marked improvements over previous 4-series parts. The processor also boasts a 70% improvement to AI performance, helping to power cutting edge machine learning apps and features, from Snapchat filters to smart photography enhancements.
With support for 120Hz displays, Quick Charge 4+, and 13MP triple camera setups, the Snapdragon 480 doesn’t compromise on features either. It’s a major step up for the affordable product segment.
What this means for affordable smartphones
For starters, the inclusion of 5G in this affordable chipset package is a boon for media-hungry consumers (which is probably all of us!). Faster download speeds and more reliable 5G connections on the move are great for those who stream music and video, and those who prefer video over voice calls. Lower latency with 5G is equally useful for competitive online mobile or cloud gamers. Snapdragon 480 handsets will also be future-proofed and ready for the arrival of Standalone 5G networks in the coming years.
The 100% performance improvements to the chip’s CPU is also a game-changer for day-to-day performance. Apps will load faster and more demanding applications won’t stutter, thanks to the inclusion of newer, bigger, more powerful CPU cores. For gamers, the Kryo 460 CPU offers a major boost to performance, in conjunction with the more powerful Adreno 619 GPU. Gaming on a budget will be much more viable with the Snapdragon 480.
Finally, the platform supports a full suite of media technologies for both content capture and playback. Triple camera features including 120fps slow-motion video capture, zero shutter lag, and HEIF photo formats are useful tools for everyday content creation. Meanwhile, hardware-supported HEVC and VP9 playback ensure phones play nicely when streaming back the latest video formats.
5G data is an important feature for next-gen affordable phones, but the broader chipset also needs to be powerful enough to support more demanding content and use cases. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 480 makes the necessary improvements, resulting in a well-rounded package. Smartphones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 480 are expected to launch starting in January. The new processor has already received support from OEMs including HMD Global, OnePlus, OPPO, and Vivo, so we won’t have long to wait to feel the benefits of this affordable chipset.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 deep dive
If you’re after a deeper look at what’s inside the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480, look no further. Let’s start by zooming in on the 8nm processor’s CPU setup.
The Kryo 460 CPU cluster brings with it two modern and powerful Cortex-A76 cores clocked at 2GHz, replacing the four older Cortex-A73 cores in 2020’s Snapdragon 460. This newer core and a slight boost to clock speeds lead to a 100% boost in single-core throughput, resulting in snappier apps and gaming.
Likewise, the newer Adreno 619 GPU offers another doubling to performance this time for graphics. Paired up with faster LPDDR4X memory than the previous generation, games will run at higher frame rates even in more demanding titles. The display processor package supports FHD+ displays at up to 120Hz refresh rates. A more powerful GPU will help hit those high refresh rate targets more consistently.
|Snapdragon 480||Snapdragon 460|
|CPU||2x Cortex-A76 @ 2.0GHz
6x Cortex-A55 @ 1.8GHz
|4x Cortex-A73 @ 1.8GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.8GHz
|GPU||Adreno 619||Adreno 610|
|RAM||LPDDR4X @ 2133MHz||LPDDR4x @ 1866MHz
LPDDR3 @ 933MHz
|Storage||eMMC, UFS 2.2||eMMC, UFS 2.1|
|DSP (AI)||Hexagon 686 with Vector and Scalar units||Hexagon 683 with Vector and Scalar units|
|Cameras||Triple 12-bit ISPs
• 25MP (single) or
• 25+13MP (dual) or
• 13+13+13MP (triple)
|Dual 12-bit ISPs
• 25MP (single) or
• 13+13MP (dual)
|Modem||Snapdragon X51 5G (sub-6 and mmWave) & 4G
2.5 Gbps 5G / 800 Mbps 4G download
660 Mbps 5G / 210 Mbps 4G upload
|Snapdragon X11 4G LTE
390 Mbps download
150 Mbps upload
Wi-Fi 6 Ready (2×2)
Wi-Fi 6 Ready (1×1)
|Charging||Quick Charge 4+||Quick Charge 3.0|
Turning to other capabilities, the camera capabilities also bridges the gap between previous affordable processors and Qualcomm’s mid-tier options. With up to three cameras supported, complete with zero shutter lag, multi-frame noise reduction, and 1080p30 dual video capture features, Snapdragon 480 phones will be better placed to offer previously high-end camera features at more affordable price points. Camera lens and sensor hardware permitting, of course.
Qualcomm also kits out the chipset with its familiar assortment of connectivity features. The chip’s FastConnect 6200 system sports Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s also Wi-Fi 6 ready (2×2 MIMO), works with NFC, and supports Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive Bluetooth audio codec and TrueWireless earbud capabilities. There’s a full suite of connectivity features onboard here — not forgetting Quick Charge 4+ for faster battery charging and wide-reaching power accessory support (another first for Snapdragon 4-series chipsets). It also has a range of security features ranging from Secure Book to Trusted Execution Environments to keep your sensitive data secure.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 480: Making 5G affordable
5G is leaps and bounds ahead of 4G adoption at the same point in its release schedule due in no small part to the swift adoption of high-end features into more affordable products. Mobile application processors are the key that makes all smartphones possible and Qualcomm has been quickly driving down the costs of 5G chipsets to help make next-gen networking mainstream. From the first 800 series 5G product in 2018, to 2019’s 700 series announcement, to 5G in the 600 series come mid-2020, and now the Snapdragon 480 in early 2021, 5G is increasingly accessible.
Smartphones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 480 are expected to launch in January. Be sure to stay tuned for partner announcements.