Don't expect to find the Snapdragon 865 in many value flagships in 2022

Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 reference design
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 reference design (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

The Snapdragon 865 is here, and it offers a host of exciting new features. The CPU design is based on the latest Cortex A77 cores, the Adreno 650 GPU offers sizable gains in performance and has updatable drivers, and the AI engine is twice as fast.

One of the more interesting changes is that there's no internal modem anymore. Qualcomm is instead offering the Snapdragon 865 with the Snapdragon X55 5G modem, and the chipset is sold as a package deal — device makers won't get the Snapdragon 865 unless they also opt for the X55 modem.

That means that if you're picking up a phone powered by the Snapdragon 865 in 2020, it will have a 5G modem with global bands. There's no 4G-only option available this time around, and that has a few consequences, particularly in the value flagship segment.

Value players will be turning to the Snapdragon 765 to power their devices in 2020.

The fact that device manufacturers will have to pay for a separate modem will inevitably drive prices up. Therefore, it's unlikely we'll see the same value-focused options powered by the Snapdragon 865 next year. For context, the Redmi K20 Pro with the Snapdragon 855 launched at the equivalent of $390, and the Realme X2 Pro powered by the Snapdragon 855+ debuted at $420. With the Snapdragon 865, that just won't be possible.

We're already seeing the effects of this change, with Xiaomi announcing that its Redmi K30 series will be powered by the Snapdragon 765 instead. The Snapdragon 765 is a mid-range chipset that debuted alongside the Snapdragon 865, but the main difference is that it has an integrated — but less capable — 5G modem. It's possible that most phones in the value category next year will feature the Snapdragon 765 in liue of the Snapdragon 865.

OnePlus may have to release a mid-range device to keep up in the value segment.

But the manufacturer that will be affected the most is OnePlus. Xiaomi and Realme primarily cater to buyers in the budget category, so they can offset any losses in the mid-tier space by pushing out more models in the $100 to $200 segment. But OnePlus has built its entire brand around delivering the latest hardware, and not being able to do that will put it at a significant disadvantage. Who would buy a OnePlus 8 that has the Snapdragon 765 when the $600 7T is powered by the Snapdragon 855?

OnePlus doesn't have an exhaustive portfolio of devices to fall back on, and its success is defined by its performance in the value space. It is in a tough spot, because even if it were to justify hiking the price of its devices by touting the 5G benefits of the Snapdragon 865, the feature is largely wasted in its largest market, India. 5G will not be commercially available in India for at least two to three years, putting OnePlus in a bind.

As such, it is entirely possible we'll see OnePlus roll out a mid-range phone in 2020 that's powered by the Snapdragon 765. The company already pivoted to a dual flagship cadence this year with the introduction of the OnePlus 7 Pro, and it is likely that next year's Pro variant will see a price hike that puts it closer to the likes of Samsung and Huawei's flagships.

2020 will be the year when 5G finally becomes viable in most markets, and for better or worse Qualcomm is going all-in on the next generation of cellular connectivity. It will be interesting to see how that affects the value segment.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

  • Wouldn't the SD 855+ still be preferable to the SD 765? I don't think 5G coverage, even the major markets, will be significant until 2021. Unless the tech improves in the next 12 months.
  • I would have to agree with that. And an 855+ in the hands of a company good at speed optimization would be faster than the 865 anyways.
  • 5G is an urban phenomenon. I will be very surprised to see it at all in my lifetime. That won't stop me from buying a flagship phone, if that is what I want to buy, but 5G will be another one of the features I really don't need. I don't always get 4G now, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy using it when I can.
  • Not even sure if I should look forward to upgrading or holding tight to my current phone. My 1+6T works great and I will happily keep it for another year if it means avoiding exorbitant price hikes.
  • what makes you think prices will come back down?
  • The prices won't come back down, but he IS saving 1k by not replacing a phone that works fine!
  • So definitely not coming go Pixel 5 :)
  • This, right here, is the anticompetitive behavior that Qualcomm has gotten in trouble for, and it seems, is asking to continue getting in trouble for. If they were smart, they would offer the 5G version and then an LTE version, because the will continue to make money hand over fist but not invite regulator scrutiny.
  • yup, time to put them on that Summer Jam Screen
  • Fine by me! the SD 765 is more than I need anyways. I am more concerned that phones with the 765 include a headphone jack. I currently have a Galaxy S8 and I would be more than happy with a Galaxy S11e with a headphone jack and SD 765.
  • Qualcomm only offers the SD 865 with the X55 modem but they didn't just integrate it in the chip like the SD765? Are Qualcomm execs high?
  • A true flagship has a headphone jack.