Qualcomm's latest chips will bring better cameras, AI to cheaper phones

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Much of Qualcomm's high-profile efforts these days are devoted to producing mobile chipset for the phones that will connect to 5G networks being built out by global carriers. But 4G, also known as LTE, isn't going away anytime soon — in some parts of the world, it will remain the fastest way to connect. And so Qualcomm is still producing chipsets that deliver a lot of the features found on its other processors, only without 5G connectivity.

To that end, the chip maker has unveiled a trio of new mobile processors that should bolster the performance of phones that aren't built to work with 5G networks. The Snapdragon 720G, Snapdragon 662 and Snapdragon 460 promise to bring a new artificial intelligence engine, support for improved camera features, faster performance and support for Wi-Fi 6 connectivity to midrange and budget phones coming out this year.

This is bigger news in other parts of the world, where LTE will continue to be how people connect with cellular networks for some time. (There's a reason Qualcomm announced these new chipsets at a Jan. 21 event in India.) But Qualcomm executives told us the mobile processors announced today could also find their way into U.S.-bound phones, so if you tend to shop for lower-priced smartphones instead of high-priced flagship handsets, it's worth knowing what the Snapdragon 720G, 662 and 460 are expected to deliver.

With all three processing platforms, Qualcomm says it focused on connectivity, artificial intelligence and entertainment. If you followed last month's unveiling of the Snapdragon 865 for 5G-ready flagship phones, you'll recognize many of those same guiding principles. All three chipsets work with Wi-Fi 6, the wireless networking standard that promises faster speeds as well as more efficient handling of multiple devices clamoring for bandwidth. Each system-on-chip features a Hexagon digital signal processor — the first time that's been included with one of the chip maker's 4 series chipsets for budget phones — which should mean better AI-powered experiences across a range of phones.

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Here's a closer look at what each new Snapdragon processor promises:

Snapdragon 720G: Like the Snapdragon 765G introduced in December, the Snapdragon 720G is geared toward gaming. (Unlike the 765G, though, there's no integrated 5G modem on this system-on-chip.) That means Snapdragon Elite Gaming hardware and software optimizations normally found on higher-end phones will be a part of Snapdragon 720G-powered handsets.

Other features in the Snapdragon 720G include Qualcomm's 5th generation AI Engine, the ability to capture 4K video or 192-megapixel photos with the chipset's Spectra 350L ISP and a Snapdragon X15 LTE modem that supports download speeds of up to 800 Mbps. The chip's Kryo 465 CPU promises a 60% performance boost over Qualcomm's previous generation while the Adreno 618 GPU touts a 75% performance improvement — again, a nice boost for gaming-focused handsets.

Snapdragon 662: Phones running on the Snapdragon 662 platform will be able to support camera arrays with three lenses, thanks to the Spectra 340T, which is also supports the HEIF file format. (You'll be able to store photos at half the file size as before.) You'll also get a 3rd generation AI engine and an X11 modem capable of 390 Mbps download speeds.

Snapdragon 460: As with the Snapdragon 662, the Snapdragon 460 will be able to support triple camera setups, thanks to a Spectra 340 ISP. And this will be the first Series-4 chipset to feature a Hexagon DSP, adding the 3rd-gen Qualcomm AI engine.

The story here, though, sounds like it will be performance boosts. The Kryo 240 CPU should get a 70% performance boost over the pervious generation while the Adreno 610 GPU is aiming for a 60% improvement in graphics performance.

Snapdragon 720G, 626 and 460: When they're coming

Qualcomm says that the Snapdragon 720G is already available and will show up in phones during the first three months of 2020. Expect phones featuring the Snapdragon 662 and 460 to appear by the end of the year.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.