Qualcomm makes the chips found in practically every Android phone, but today the company is stepping away from its usual role. With some help from Asus, Qualcomm is announcing the first phone of its own.
Officially called the Phone for Snapdragon Insiders (which really rolls off the tongue), Qualcomm’s first phone is actually less of an iPhone or Galaxy rival and more of a showcase for Qualcomm tech designed for Qualcomm’s social media audience—specifically the ones following the various Snapdragon channels across the world.
That’s a pretty small group, and while Qualcomm claims it has around 1.6 million Snapdragon Insiders across the world, those numbers don’t seem quite as impressive when you consider Apple’s Twitter account alone has 6.4 million followers, despite having never actually posting a real tweet. (All of Apple’s “tweets” are technically paid ads, so they don’t show up as tweets or replies in its Twitter timeline.) Meanwhile, the Samsung Mobile Twitter account has more than 12 million followers.
The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is also unusual because Qualcomm doesn’t really make consumer phones (aside from a handful of reference devices), so the company had to enlist the help of Asus to put this thing together. What we’re really looking at is a phone filled to the brim with assorted Qualcomm tech, but put together, sold, and supported by Asus, with some fancy Snapdragon badges scattered around its body.
What you really need to know is that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon phone is going to cost a whopping $1,500, which is more expensive than any non-foldable phone available from either Samsung or Apple. That said, Qualcomm has tossed in a handful of accessories, so let’s take a closer look at what you’re getting for that money.
The Snapdragon phone itself will come with a Snapdragon 888 processor (sadly not the newly announced Snapdragon 888+) along with a 2448 x 1080 6.78-inch AMOLED display with a 144Hz refresh rate, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a 4,000 mAh battery. There will also be a 24-MP selfie cam in front and three cameras in back: a 64-MP main cam, a 12-MP ultra-wide cam, and a 8-MP telephoto cam with a 3x optical zoom, which can be used simultaneously to record both pictures and videos.
Qualcomm is also looking to show off its Snapdragon Sound and fast wireless connectivity, which means the phone also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E along with some of the widest mobile data support available on any phone. And of course, the Snapdragon phone is compatible with all the major varieties of 5G.
Interestingly, for a handset this expensive, the Snapdragon phone doesn’t have wireless charging, though you do get Qualcomm’s second-gen 3D Sonic fingerprint sensor, though instead of being an in-screen sensor, it’s on the back of the phone, right above Qualcomm’s light-up Snapdragon logo.
Now if this doesn’t exactly sound like a $1,500 phone to you, you’re not alone. To sweeten the deal, Qualcomm is throwing a handful of extras in the package, including a braided USB-C cable, a custom rubber bumper, a Qualcomm Quick Charge 5 power brick, and, most importantly, a special edition Snapdragon-branded version of Master and Dynamic’s MW08SI wireless earbuds, which typically retail for $300 on their own.
Now those extras should take some of the the sting out of the phone’s $1,500 price tag, but a big question remains: Why make this thing at all? In a media briefing for the press, Qualcomm marketing lead Mike Roberts said Qualcomm isn’t trying to compete directly with other OEMs, as the phone really is intended for Snapdragon Insiders. And if we look at other recent fan-building efforts from Qualcomm, such as the launch of the Snapdragon Podcast, that sentiment generally rings true, as Qualcomm continues to make an effort to build an audience of mobile chip enthusiasts, possibly to mirror the (sometimes) rabid fanbases we see over in the PC market for companies like AMD, Intel, and Nvidia.
But it’s still kind of weird, because unlike desktop CPUs or GPUs, the average person can’t really pick a mobile processor off the shelf and install it in their phone. Customers are largely at the whim of device makers like Samsung, Google, or Apple to decide what kind of silicon is used in their handsets.
That makes the Snapdragon phone kind of unnecessary, and with Asus in charge of actual retail sales, user support, and future updates (the Snapdragon phones will run a relatively stock version of Android 11), it feels like Qualcomm is still far off from building something it can truly call its own. Rumor has it Qualcomm may release its own version of the Nintendo Switch next year, so the chip giant may be using the Snapdragon phone to test the waters before entering the consumer market for real.
Regardless, if for some reason the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders strikes your fancy, keep an eye out on Qualcomm’s social channels today for more info on how to buy one.