Qualcomm's new chip brings ultra-wide screens to mid-range phones

The Snapdragon 636 is a speed bump, but an important one.

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Ultra-wide screens are hot stuff on smartphones these days, but there still isn't a whole lot of choice: you tend to either spring for the high end or make do with budget models. Where are the in-between options? Qualcomm might just help. It's introducing the Snapdragon 636 processor, an upgrade to the mid-tier 630 whose centerpiece is support for extra-tall FHD+ resolution (roughly 2,160 x 1,080) screens. You should get a reasonably speedy, dramatic-looking phone without making your bank account cry for mercy. It supports Assertive Display, too, so you can expect better visibility in less-than-ideal lighting.

Logically, there's some added power under the hood to back this up. The Adreno 509 graphics are only about 10 percent faster when you stack them up against the 630, but the Kryo 260 CPU is about 40 percent faster -- you're probably going to notice the difference with intensive tasks. Don't expect a complete revolution when the 630 was still brand new half a year ago, though. You're still getting the familiar 600Mbps LTE support, and the Spectra 160 image signal processor delivers the same photo-taking quality. This is is ultimately a speed bump, it's just one that will have a very visible effect on mid-range Android phone designs.

Qualcomm isn't naming customers, but it's shipping the 636 to phone makers in November. And importantly, companies can use it on boards that were originally intended for the 630 or 660. If your favorite brand wants to make an ultra-wide phone at a modest price, it can reuse the innards from an existing design and put the new device in your hands that much sooner.