Qualcomm’s New CPUs Will Bring Better Cameras, AI and Gaming to Cheap Phones

Editors' Note: Updated at 5:13 p.m. ET with additional information from Qualcomm demos.

Premium features inevitably find their way into lower-priced phones, saving you from having to pay up for the latest flagship device. And the latest mobile processing platforms announced by Qualcomm today (April 9) figure to speed that process up for features such as triple-lens cameras and high-performance mobile gaming.

Credit: Qualcomm

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm has taken the wraps off the Snapdragon 665, a chipset designed with midrange phones in mind. In addition, the chip maker is making two additions to its 7 series platform in the form of the Snapdragon 730 and 730G.

Aimed at phones just a step or two behind devices powered by the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855, the Snapdragon 730 promises improved AI, camera enhancements and better gaming. The Snapdragon 730G looks to further capitalize on the growth of mobile gaming with features specifically designed to bolster graphic performance and power consumption.

Here's a closer look at what to expect from Qualcomm's latest chipsets and when you'll see them in future smartphones.

Snapdragon 665

In announcing its new chips, Qualcomm is emphasizing AI, camera and gaming capabilities for all three platforms. But it's the camera features in the Snapdragon 665 that should really stand out for consumers.

Qualcomm's new midrange processor includes the Spectra 165 image signal processor, which can support telephoto, wide and ultra-wide lenses for triple cameras. That's the kind of feature limited to high-end phones such as the Galaxy S10 and LG V40 at the moment, so that kind of support on a mid-level chipset should bring triple-lens setups to less expensive phones.

That's just one of the camera highlights for the Snapdragon 665. The ISP also can capture super resolution snapshots at up to 48 megapixels as well as 720p slow-motion video at  240 frames per second. Qualcomm is also promising noise reduction technology for its ISP, and cameras powered by the Snapdragon 665 will be able to offer 3D face unlocking as well — another feature currently confined to high-end phones.

During a presentation on the company's AI efforts in San Francisco today, Qualcomm demoed several camera features that rely heavily on artificial intelligence, such as removing the noise from optical zoom by filling in image data collected from other shots or creating a 3D avatar of your face using a phone's front camera. The demos were on a device powered by Qualcomm's top-of-the-line Snapdragon 855, but company reps said the features could also be supported on the new Snapdragon 655 (and the Snapdragon 730 as well.)

The emphasis on camera features is no accident. Kedar Kondap, a vice president of product management for the chip maker says that 80 percent of smartphone buyers think of the phone's camera as the primary driver behind their purchase. It's eclipsed the phone's battery life as one of the big reasons why people buy a particular device.

The Snapdragon 665 also features Qualcomm’s 3rd-generation AI engine. Not only is that responsible for the added support for face unlock, the improved AI should deliver object detection to mid-tier phones while supporting other camera features include portrait mode and low-light imaging.

While the Snapdragon 665 doesn't offer a modem capable of connecting with the high-speed 5G networks coming on line this year, it should deliver fast data speeds over LTE. The Snapdragon X12 modem included on the 665 chipset can support download speeds up to 600 Mbps.

Devices running on the Snapdragon 665 are expected to arrive mid-year, Qualcomm says.

Snapdragon 730 and Snapdragon 730G

Last year saw the debut of two gaming-focused phones — the ROG Phone and the Razer Phone 2 — that debuted with the then pace-setting Snapdragon 845 processors and rather high price tags. The latest additions to the Snapdragon 700 series could lead to some lower cost gaming phones that can also deliver performance gains, especially in the case of the gaming-centric Snapdragon 730G.

With the Snapdragon 730G — three guesses as to what the G stands for — Qualcomm is promising a 25 percent boost in graphics rendering over the Snapdragon 710, thanks to the Adreno 618 GPU in the 730G. The Kryo 470 CPU in this year's chipset should boost performance by 35 percent.

Qualcomm's gaming-focused chipset also offers True HDR mobile gaming, offering 10-bit color depth, support for the Rec 2020 color gamut and 64 times the shades of color available without HDR. Other features include a wi-fi latency manager and jank reducer, which both aim to optimize performance.

The regular Snapdragon 730 boasts gaming improvements in its own right — it supports True HDR, too, and it uses the same Adreno 618 GPU (though it's not overclocked as it is on the 730G). But the Snapdragon 730 is also highlighted by AI improvements driven by the inclusion of Qualcomm's 4th-generation AI engine and Hexagon 688 DSP.

The Snapdragon 730 will be the first system-on-chip in Qualcomm's 7 series to include a tensor accelerator. It's also the first 700 series chip to include a Computer Vision ISP, bringing support for 4K HDR video capture as well as greater power efficiency. You'll be able to capture photos using the HEIF format, too, meaning smaller file sizes.

We haven't really seen any phones in the U.S. that use Snapdragon 7 series chipsets, with phone makers either opting for the flagship Snapdragon 8 series or midrange 6 series platforms. That's likely to change with the Snapdragon 730, as Kondap said that one 7 series-powered device would be coming to North America.

Like the Snapdragon 665, the Snapdragon 730 and 730G should appear in devices around mid-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.