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Have mid-range chips become good enough for flagship phones?

Snapdragon 730
Snapdragon 730 (Image credit: Android Central)

Phone hardware has come a long way in the past couple of years. If you step into the Wayback machine, you can remember that it wasn't so long ago that we were all wowed by a mobile chip that ran at 1GHz or had multiple cores, and it all pales in comparison to the bare minimum in phone hardware that we see in 2020.

But have the things we want to do changed enough that we really need the most high-end chip Qualcomm has to offer in our phones? Especially when the company has moved the "mid-range" mark so high that it provides a fast, stable, and satisfying experience that includes great cameras, the latest wireless connectivity and even great gaming?

More: Qualcomm brings flagship features to the mid-range category

Qualcomm unveiled new CPUs that offer advanced features typically reserved for high-end phones, like AI processing and gaming enhancements. The Snapdragon 730, 730G and 665 are supposed to show up in (presumably cheaper-than-flagship) devices in 2020, meaning we may have a slate of budget-friendly handsets.

Qualcomm's 730 has a G series built for gaming, just like the 855 models did.

Qualcomm launched a gaming-specific version of a chipset alongside the regular one. The Snapdragon 730G, which has an enhanced Adreno 618 GPU to make it 15 percent faster than the one in the regular 730. This sounds a lot like the 855 versus the 855+.

We don't really see a big difference between the 855 and the 855+ in mobile gaming yet. There have been a growing number of gaming smartphones powered by the Snapdragon 855+, though, which at least shows that people want it and phone makers want to use it.

Qualcomm 730

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm also launched the "regular" Snapdragon 730 which features a fourth-generation AI processor and a new image signal processor.

What that means is the Snapdragon 730 is capable of running AI processes twice as fast as the Snapdragon 710 did. It'll also use less power when doing it, so your phone will last longer. Qualcomm claims the Snapdragon 730 offers "up to four times the power savings in computer vision tasks" over the Snapdragon 710. Plus, the new ISP can apply portrait mode effects in real-time to 4K HDR video — typically a power-draining task reserved for flagship phones.

More: What you need to know about the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+

The Snapdragon 730 series will also support features like triple-camera systems, high-resolution depth sensors, and saving photos and videos in the efficient HEIF format.

As long as you love how your phone works, do you really care about the specs?

These are the features people buying new phones are looking for. There will always be folks who want the very best in hardware, but most of us want things that work well and don't really care about what's beneath the glass as long as it works. That doesn't mean the companies selling us our phones want it, though. Margins are higher in the best flagship phones and that means the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world want to sell them. Don't expect to see very many Snapdragon 730-powered phones at the carrier store.

The new chips from Qualcomm can offer performance we could only find in the very best phone hardware just a few years ago, and now it's classified as "mid-range". Maybe our needs and wants aren't changing as fast as mobile hardware is, or maybe the new best hardware will bring along a new set of wants and needs.

No matter what the case, Qualcomm's 700 series chips rival the "best" hardware of just a few years ago, which we all praise and love. Don't snub a phone just because you see it being used because it looks to be more than capable. I'll take battery savings over higher model numbers every time as long as it works well.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

18 Comments
  • By their very nature, midrange SOCs should not be considered "good enough" for "flagship" top-tier phones. Are they good enough for most people? Yes. Should most people use phones with midrange SOCs? Yes. But they're not high end chips and they don't belong in high end devices. Especially given it won't lower the cost lol.
  • Basically my thoughts exactly.
  • The only people who really care about high end specs are PHONE REVIEWERS. OEM's don't listen to customers. If they did, we would still have headphone jacks, SD card slots, no glass backs, no super skinny phones and maximum of only three cameras.
  • Sorry, that's a small vocal group of consumers. Glass backs = wireless charging = win. Apple sentenced the headphone jack to death. It was only a matter of time before Android OEMs followed. You forgot the vocal "removable battery" crowd.
  • Motorola killed the headphone jack first, Apple followed their "courage".
  • Glass isn't the only material that phones can have to have wireless charging. Glasses backs make no sense on a phone they can't survive day to day wear and year. Don't even think about a drop higher than 6 inches that glass will shatter
  • Wireless charging...whoopdidoo
    And thanks...Removable batteries please, glass phones suck.
    How the masses get duped into this marking gizmo gimmick baloney never ceases to amaze me.
  • And a physical keyboard. What. Ever happened to variety and innovation? I swear we will all end up with an SLR camera disguised as a phone one day at this rate that does SLO-MO selfies.
  • I'm interested in the Pixel 4a this year, if it has one of those 700 series chips. But I'm afraid of the lower ram and storage.
  • A lack of RAM can kill even a high end phone. OEMs need to wake up to that fact. That includes the all knowing 🤣 Apple who puts just enough RAM in their high end phones to run the camera app and kill almost all other apps.
  • Mid range chips will never be good enough for flagship phones, a flagship phone deserves a flagship chip.
  • For the price Apple and Samsung are charging for their flagship phones these days I expect nothing less than the best of the best. I agree that mid-level processors are starting to provide a solid experience though.
  • Maybe for everyday tasks, mid range chips are "good enough" but for gaming, flagship chips will always be superior.
  • Maybe read a book instead of wasting time on a game....
  • My last 3 wintel laptops have been powered by I-5 processors and have been more than adequate for me. Give me a Qualcomm 700 chip, a headphone jack, 128GB storage (or 64GB and a SD card) and a decent camera and I am good to go!
  • Mid-range devices have been nipping at the heels of flagship devices for some time. Moto with their G series makes a really good mid-range device that'd be able to satisfy most users. As much as there's been an increase in the performance of hardware and software, users have also taken stock of just what they want / how they use their devices which has been going on more and more since phones have started coming close to and topped the thousand dollar mark. Fit and finish as well as capabilities are always important, but users also aren't buying into bells and whistles such as 3D and AI emojis and are keeping their devices longer than ever because of their increasing expensiveness. I'm still quite happily rocking my Moto G5 Plus from 2017!
  • You can't call it a flagship, because a flagship by definition has the best of everything. That being said, I'd take a flagship quality phone with a SD730. A 1080p screen is fine with me. I don't need 5+ camera's either. Think Oneplus 6t with a SD730.
  • Midrange chips run just fine, and I'm sure they would satisfy the needs of everyone except for true power-users. The thing is, OEMs like to use 2- to 3-year old chips and/or newer low-end chips. Look around and you'll mostly see SD 63x all over the place. Or even SD 4xx. Pixel 3a is the only phone I've ever seen with the 670, and I've *never* seen a phone with a 7xx. (Referring to the USA market here.)