We’re going to see cheaper 5G phones soon, and more Windows-on-Snapdragon laptops with better app compatibility, Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon said at a virtual keynote for the IFA trade show in Berlin today.
IFA, Europe’s major electronics trade show, was broken up this year into several small group events, but as Americans have been banned from going to Germany, much of the show is happening online in general.
Amon started by announcing that 5G is coming to Qualcomm’s 4-series processors—lower-end chips that should go into $150-$250 phones.
Amon announces the 5G 4-series.
“The Snapdragon 4-series 5G Mobile Platform is designed to exceed expectations for the mass-market segment by bringing an assortment of predominately high- and mid-tier features to a broader audience. It will deliver on the promise of making 5G accessible to all smartphone users,” he said in a press release.
Qualcomm has five main tiers of smartphone chips. The 8-series and 7-series already have 5G phones on sale in the US. There is a 6-series chip with 5G, the 690, although it’s not in any US phones. Then there’s the 4-series and 2-series.
Oppo and Xiaomi committed to using the 4-series for low-cost 5G phones. Amon also said Motorola would be on board, and it’s the most likely vendor to use the 4-series in the US. While Moto’s current G-series phones, such as the Moto G Power, use the 6-series, Motorola so far hasn’t taken up the 5G-enabled 690 processor and may drop to the 4-series to maintain a $200 price point while including 5G.
4-series 5G phones will appear in the first quarter of 2021, Amon said.
Making Millimeter Wave a Thing
Amon heavily pushed millimeter-wave 5G, which has so far been launched only in the US and has received a lot of criticism for Verizon’s short range and poor perceived coverage. While there are several competing vendors for lower-band 5G hardware, Qualcomm is far ahead of its competition on millimeter-wave.
“Millimeter-wave performance is amazing,” Amon said, adding that he expects millimeter-wave networks to launch in Italy, Finland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore this year or next.
“Millimeter wave is going to go to mass market, but it takes time to deploy,” Amon said. “China is talking about millimeter-wave for the 2022 winter Olympics, which means we have to have this up and running in the second half of 2021. When China brings millimeter-wave, the scale of China, and the device ecosystem of China … that’s going to enable millimeter-wave to go mass market.”
Committed to Windows
The 8cx Gen 2 chipset will bring 5G to more laptops.
Qualcomm also showed its commitment to its continued, rocky Windows-on-Snapdragon program with the announcement of the 8cx Gen 2, a faster version of Qualcomm’s 8cx laptop chipset.
According to Qualcomm, the 8cx Gen 2 running at 7 watts is 18 percent faster than Intel’s 10th-generation Core i5 running at 15 watts. At 7 watts of power, it has 50 percent greater total system performance and 50 percent better battery life than “competing solutions.” It’s also designed for our newly Zoom-heavy lifestyle, with better camera and audio capabilities than Intel’s laptop chipsets—32-megapixel camera support and audio noise cancellation are built in. The 8cx Gen 2 laptops will have 25 hours of battery life, according to Qualcomm.
The basic CPU in an 8cx Gen 2 is a 7nm Kryo 495, with LPDDR4x RAM and SSD support. The chipset supports a 4K Ultra HD main display with two external 4K displays over DisplayPort.
The Acer Spin 7 will be the first 8cx Gen 2 notebook.
Acer’s Jerry Kao showed off the first 8cx Gen 2 notebook, the Acer Spin 7, which he said has an “always-on, always-connected, very beautiful design and a battery life [which] can support multi days of use.” The Spin 7 is Acer’s first laptop with 5G. Kao didn’t announce a price or street date during the Qualcomm event, but Qualcomm’s press release said the first 8cx Gen 2 laptop is coming in 2020.
The Spin 7 has an active stylus.
HP will also make an 8cx Gen 2 computer, which the company said is “no ordinary laptop … designed for businesses to unleash the speed and productivity of their teams.” HP didn’t give any more details except to say more information would come out later this year.
But all of these hardware advantages fade because of the struggles Qualcomm chips have had running many Windows apps. Because Windows apps and especially device drivers are generally coded for Intel processors, they have compatibility problems with Qualcomm chips. Most notably, Snapdragon processors can’t natively run 64-bit “x64” applications, which include many more recent, higher-end apps.
We rated the Surface Pro X, the most prominent Qualcomm Windows laptop so far, only three stars because of the compatibility issues.
“We’re committed now more than we’ve ever been to these platforms coming together,” Microsoft’s Panos Panay said. “We’re moving the App Assure program to all our customers using Snapdragon … [so] we’re now going to see apps come across this ecosystem with Snapdragon and Windows.”
App Assure is an existing Microsoft program for enterprises and developers to help them rebuild their apps for Windows 10, which also now includes Windows on Snapdragon support.
“64-bit is coming, and I think that’s going to change a lot of the current perception,” Amon said. “We will support 64-bit applications in the platform, and we also announced with Microsoft, the App Assurance program. I think that’s going to solve all of the remaining issues.”