Qualcom's New Snapdragon 210 Brings LTE-A To Sub-$100 Smartphones

Today, Qualcomm is announcing a new low-end SoC called Snapdragon 210 that's meant to become the successor of the older Snapdragon 200 for sub-$100 smartphones, with one key feature: LTE-A support.

Selling chips with integrated LTE modems has been one of the major factors in Qualcomm's success over the past few years. By integrating 3G/LTE modems into processors, Qualcomm has made 3G/LTE connectivity more efficient, and it has also made it cheaper and faster to adopt for OEMs. Many other chip makers still haven't built chips with integrated modems -- or if they've done it, it's been on a much smaller scale (think Nvidia's Tegra 4i). It's no wonder that Qualcomm continues to be aggressive about integrating LTE modems into its whole chip lineup, from the lowest-end chip to the highest-end.

“We are committed to delivering high-performance connected mobile experiences across all tiers of our product portfolio," said Jeff Lorbeck, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Qualcomm Technologies, China. "These announcements further cement our commitment in broadly driving LTE and LTE Advanced to enable our customers the flexibility to deliver high-speed connectivity and an advanced mobile experience at affordable prices."

Before we start looking at Snapdragon 210, consider what it's replacing. Snapdragon 200 has been sold in both Cortex A5 and Cortex A7 variants, but it's the Cortex A5 version that's been the most popular with ultra-low-end devices so far, most likely due to its lower cost and earlier appearance on the market.

Snapdragon 200 started out at 45nm with a dual-core 1.4 GHz Cortex A5 CPU and an Adreno 203 GPU, with support for WXGA resolutions, 720p video playback and 8MP cameras. Then it moved to the 28nm process and received a dual-core Cortex A7 CPU, an Adreno 302 GPU with support for OpenGL ES 3.0, and much of the same features as before.

The new Snapdragon 210 improves in almost all areas. The Cortex A7 CPU clock speed is lowered to 1.1 GHz, but it's now a quad-core chip instead of a dual-core. It uses the new Adreno 304 GPU and supports 1080p recording and video playback. It also comes with support for 8MP cameras with features such as Zero Shutter Lag, high dynamic range (HDR), autofocus, auto white balance and auto exposure. Finally, it brings Cat-4 LTE-Advanced integration, which should be one of the chip's biggest selling points when compared to the competition.

The Snapdragon 210 looks a lot like a Snapdragon 400 that has LTE-A support. It seems that Qualcomm is pushing the performance of a Snapdragon 400 at the lower end of the market. At the same time, Qualcomm is preparing to replace Snapdragon 400 with the more powerful Cortex A53-based Snapdragon 410 at the mid-range, which is also getting integrated LTE support.

The new Snapdragon 210 should be in devices in the first half of 2015, and it looks like a great match for Google's Android One program.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.