Qualcomm's Snapdragon 480 brings 5G to even cheaper phones

The chipset's headline feature is its X51 5G and LTE modem.


Despite the efforts of companies like Samsung and Xiaomi, 5G support is still mostly limited to more expensive phones. But starting this year, you’re likely to see the feature make its way to a greater number of budget phones thanks to the introduction of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 480 chipset and its built-in X51 modem.

The X51 supports mmWave and Sub-6GHz bands, as well as both standalone and non-standalone deployments, meaning it’s compatible with almost any 5G network in use today. In testing, Qualcomm says the X51 put up download speeds in the ballpark of 2.5 Gbps over a 5G connection. Uploads, meanwhile, maxed out at 660 Mbps. The modem is no slouch when it comes to LTE either, with it delivering theoretical downloading speeds of about 800 Mbps. Obviously you won’t get those kinds of numbers in daily use, but provided you live in an area with 5G coverage, Snapdragon 480 devices should feel plenty fast.

The story of the Snapdragon 480 is 5G support, but a new, more capable modem isn’t the only meaningful update Qualcomm has built into its latest chip. If you’ve ever used a phone with a 400-series processor, you know they can be on the sluggish side. Thanks to an 8nm manufacturing process and new CPU and GPU components, Qualcomm claims the 480 delivers up to 100 percent better performance than its previous generation Snapdragon 460. We’ll have to see how those claims translate into real-world performance, but with support for high refresh rate displays built into the chip, there’s the potential there for a responsive experience.

Other notable enhancements include support for Bluetooth 5.1, some WiFi 6 technologies and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+ standard, which should translate into faster charging speeds — provided you have a compatible power adapter, of course. There’s also a new image signal processor built into the chip that Qualcomm says can capture stills and videos from three cameras simultaneously. That’s one of those capabilities that’s cool in theory, but phone manufacturers typically have trouble translating into a practical feature.

The Snapdragon 460 ended up mostly appearing in entry-level phones from Chinese manufacturers like Oppo and OnePlus. And it looks like that’ll be the case again with the Snapdragon 480. That’s not to say we won’t see it makes its way to North America. OnePlus recently announced the Nord N100, which features the 460 and is on its way to the US and Canada. In any case, Qualcomm says the first slate of Snapdragon 480-equipped phones will be announced over the next couple of months.