With the Snapdragon 690, Qualcomm brings 5G to affordable phones

Snapdragon 690 official
Snapdragon 690 official (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm's efforts in 2020 have revolved around 5G, with the company backing the standard on its flagship Snapdragon 865 and the mid-range Snapdragon 765 chipsets. Now, Qualcomm is making 5G available to the budget segment with the introduction of the Snapdragon 690, its latest chipset built on the 8nm node.

The industry is steadily progressing toward 5G, with Qualcomm noting that over 40 brands have launched 5G-enabled devices. There are over 375 models with 5G connectivity around the world, and over 60 carriers in 30 countries are making the communications standard available to customers.

So with the high-end and mid-range segments well catered to with its Snapdragon 865 and 765 designs, Qualcomm is now turning its attention to the budget category with the Snapdragon 690. The marquee addition is obviously 5G connectivity, with the chipset featuring a Snapdragon X51 5G modem with global 5G connectivity over SA and NSA and a 2.5Gbps downlink. And in markets where there's no 5G yet — like India — the Snapdragon 690 has an LTE Category 18 modem with 1.2Gbps downlink.

The Snapdragon 690 has 20% faster cores, and supports 192MP camera modules.

With connectivity sorted out, let's take a look at what else the Snapdragon 690 has to offer. The chipset has eight cores in a 2 + 6 configuration, with the two performance cores based on the Cortex A77 and clocked up to 2.20GHz. The six energy-efficient cores are based on the A55, and go up to 1.70GHz. Qualcomm is touting a 20% increase in performance over the Snapdragon 675, and that's easy to see because of the newer A77 cores.

The chipset is also packing an Adreno 619L GPU, which sits between the Adreno 618 on the Snapdragon 730 and the Adreno 620 on the Snapdragon 765. Clearly, it has much more power to offer versus the Adreno 612 on the Snapdragon 675, and Qualcomm is touting a massive 60% performance increase in this area.

Qualcomm has also mentioned that the chipset comes with select Elite Gaming features, location services including GPS, Glonass, BeiDou, Galileo, QZSS, NavIC, and SBAS, and support for 120Hz displays at FHD+. We're seeing 90Hz and 120Hz panels make their way to the budget segment, so it is good to see the Snapdragon 690 support the latest display tech.

The chipset supports camera modules up to 192MP (pixel-binned to 48MP), Qualcomm's fifth-gen AI engine, and the Hexagon Tensor Accelerator — for the first time in a 6xx series. It has the Spectra 355L ISP, enabling 4K video, HEIC and HEVC formats, and 720p slow-motion video at 240fps. You're also getting Quick Charge 4+, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5.1.

Snapdragon 690 official

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

So where does the Snapdragon 690 fit into Qualcomm's increasingly crowded portfolio? Well, the performance on offer puts it just one rung below the Snapdragon 765 and above the Snapdragon 730. It is interesting to see that Qualcomm is positioning this chipset in the 6xx series, but the fact that it has the latest Cortex A77 cores should make it a standout option in this category.

Snapdragon 690-powered phones will make their debut in China and India.

Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 690 will debut on phones in the $300 to $500 segment, but that is just an estimate. We've seen a lot of the 6xx designs in the sub-$200 category in India, so it is possible that will be the case for the Snapdragon 690 as well. Qualcomm has confirmed that the Snapdragon 690 will make its way to consumers later in the year, with the likes of HMD, LG, Sharp, Motorola, TCL, and Wingtech working on phones powered by the chipset.

Recent designs in the Snapdragon 6xx and 7xx series haven't made their way to the U.S., so I asked Kedar Kondap, vice president, product management, at Qualcomm, about the availability of the Snapdragon 690. He revealed that Snapdragon 690-powered phones will debut in China first — as has been the case with Qualcomm's mid-range designs in recent years — but there will be a decent number of devices featuring the 690 in the U.S.

Kondap mentioned that the U.S. is a mature market and that customers are looking for phones with the 8xx series, but with the 5G rollout becoming more mainstream, phones powered by the Snapdragon 690 will be available in the country later this year. On that note, Kondap also said that the current pandemic caused a delay in Qualcomm's launch plans for the 7xx series in the U.S., and that phones powered by the Snapdragon 765 will be rolling out in the country shortly.

As for the Snapdragon 690, the chipset is slated to be one of the most exciting mid-range options Qualcomm has rolled out in the last two years.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.