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Your next Android flagship phone could be much cheaper — here's how

Snapdragon 888
(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm has a new idea that could, in theory, lower the cost of future flagship phones. You’d just need to be willing to give up 5G to make it happen.

A lot of Qualcomm’s chips already feature 5G connectivity as standard, especially with the flagship 8-series. But that might change this year, because the Snapdragon 888 may start offering a version without 5G baked in.

This is according to WinFuture’s Roland Quandt, who claims Qualcomm has a low-end version of the Snapdragon 888 chipset in the works. A chipset that does not feature the integrated 5G modem that’s present on existing Snapdragon 888 chips.

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The new SM8325 variant would still feature all the same processing power as the standard Snapdragon 888 chip, just without the 5G. It would be an odd decision for Qualcomm to make, especially given how it’s been pushing 5G adoption over the past few years. You can even get built-in 5G on the 6-series chips now, which are designed for cheaper mid-range handsets.

But by giving phone makers the option to scrap 5G, it could theoretically make some flagship devices cheaper. 

No matter how much the phone industry likes to hype up 5G, there are still a lot of areas that get zero coverage. 5G phones are useless for people living in those places, and the prospect of saving a few dollars by sticking to 4G may be rather appealing.

Of course, that’s reliant on phone companies actually taking advantage of Qualcomm’s stripped down chipset. Because some companies may not want to dedicate the time and resources to manufacturing a separate variant that’s only distinguishable by its lack of a 5G modem. After all, 5G phones still work perfectly well in 4G networks.

However, the modem-less Snapdragon 888 may have uses beyond smartphones. Slashgear points out that the chips could be used to power ARM-based laptops, even if Qualcomm already has a dedicated Compute Platform for this purpose. 

For manufacturers, there was a 5.7% drop in smartphone sales throughout 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The economic impact plus the high price of some flagship phones made it difficult for users to upgrade. It's why the latest Samsung Galaxy S21 line saw a dramatic price drop in 2021. Snapdragon is likely making a modem-less 888 processor to meet requests from manufacturers wanting to cut costs. 

Tom Pritchard

Tom covers a little bit of everything at Tom’s Guide, ranging from the latest electric cars all the way down to hot takes on why Christopher Nolan is wrong about everything. Appliances are also muscling their way into his routine, which is a pretty long way from his days as Editor at Gizmodo UK. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.