Snapdragon insiders PhoneSource: Qualcomm

Qualcomm has told the world about a really cool product, and no, it's not another Snapdragon chip. It's called the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders. Yes, that's its actual name, and it's an actual phone that you can buy — once you become an "insider." The big question is whether or not you should.

We all know Qualcomm as the company that builds the parts that power the best Android phones. Look at the phone in your hand; it probably has a Qualcomm processor, a Qualcomm graphics adapter, a Qualcomm modem, and a slew of ancillary bits and bobs to make things like AI and computational photography work better inside of it.

Your phone is filled with Qualcomm parts. But can Qualcomm pull off making its own phone?

We usually don't think about Qualcomm making actual devices that people can buy and use. The company previously sold reference devices and platform-based motherboards for specialists, but now Qualcomm has its sights set on consumers. Qualcomm has partnered with ASUS to build a commercial device that will sell in the U.S., China, Germany, the U.K., Japan, Korea, and India.

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It's expensive at $1,500, but it features the very latest and best hardware Qualcomm has to offer. And that's the key — ASUS is making this phone, but it's built as a showcase for Qualcomm's new technology. In short, think of this as the ultimate Qualcomm developer's phone.

Snapdragon Insiders PhoneSource: Qualcomm

The actual spec sheet isn't that different from most other flagship phones like the Galaxy S21. You have the Snapdragon 888 chip powering things, 16GB of DDR5 RAM, and 512GB of USF 3.1 storage. It's definitely top-notch under the hood, and the 6.78-inch 144 Hz Samsung AMOLED display will make the outside equally spectacular. But this isn't what makes it a Snapdragon showcase.

It's not the parts inside that make it special — it's how they are used.

What matters is that Qualcomm is operating its chipset at full capacity. It will support all the 5G bands, Snapdragon Sound, and HDR10+ certification, for starters. The camera has no third-party processing to slow it down, using Qualcomm's ISP and AI for processing. It even uses Quick Charge 5.0 to juice up its 4,000 mAh battery.

Jerry Slack CaptureSource: Jerry Hildenbrand

If your first thought is, "Wow, I want one of these," you're not alone; that was my immediate reaction. But your second thought should be about why you want it, because this is a $1,500 phone that isn't worth it for regular consumers like you and me.

Neil Shah, vice-president of research at Counterpoint Research had this to say when Android Central reached out for his thoughts:

This phone is a showcase for all the Qualcomm technologies and is designed to be sold only to millions of Qualcomm Snapdragon Insiders. Asus is a long-time partner and acting as an ODM to develop this phone.

OK, so what does designed for Snapdragon Insiders mean? Who is a Qualcomm insider? Why put out a phone like this? Asked those questions, Shah laid things out succinctly.

So Qualcomm has built a community of techies geeks who love Snapdragon-powered experiences. This device is a testament to Snapdragon fans to experience the best of Qualcomm tech. It's a way of Google developing a phone for developers and will drive positive brand equity for Qualcomm and its technologies.

It will be like a loyal cult status for Qualcomm. So through word of mouth Snapdragon Insiders will be like MVP or brand ambassadors for Qualcomm and possibly help attain the power of branding such as "Intel Inside."

Qualcomm and ASUS made the ultimate Snapdragon developer and geek phone for the Snapdragon developers and geeks of the world. That's 100% awesome, and if Shah's analysis of the potential brand advertising is correct, it's purely a win-win scenario for Qualcomm.

Developer models aren't unheard of, but they never end up on any best-of lists.

This isn't the first "developer" phone from an OEM. We've seen almost every company do something similar, either on its own or through a partnership with Google. People still want to buy a Galaxy S Google Play edition phone and that ship sailed years ago. What's different here, though, is the asking price.

$1,500 is a lot of money for almost everyone, and if you're spending that much you probably should look instead at a generic-looking ASUS phone with Qualcomm optimization. Most of us should want more than what the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders offers. The exceptions will be Snapdragon developers and Snapdragon superfans — and there are plenty of both.

Companies that make phones don't need this product, but companies that develop solutions for phone OEMs do need one. For example, pretend you are a developer working on a better way to do portrait photography through the front-facing camera. Rather than buy multiple phones with the same Qualcomm hardware to ensure your software works on different OEMs, you can optimize your app for Qualcomm's hardware in isolation, ensuring it should work on every OEM by default.

Just buy the ROG 5 phone or an S21 Ultra. You'll be glad you did.

I can't speak for the Snapdragon geek or superfan, though I am sure those people exist. But I'm certain that the Snapdragon superfan would be better off buying a Galaxy S21 Ultra or a more standard but equally exciting ASUS ROG 5 phone instead of the ASUS-Qualcomm Snapdragon Insiders superphone. You'll have a better experience, probably get better support, and it isn't going to cost you as much.

Still, if the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders speaks to you, it's totally natural that you really want to play with one. I'm right there with you on that.