Today Qualcomm announced that a bunch of phones
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Wins Highlight Lack of Phone Choice in the US
The US phone market is mostly Apple and Samsung; this we know. But outside our borders, a thousand innovations bloom. This isn’t just about choice for the sake of choice —we’ve been seeing innovations like super-zoom, pop-up cameras, and inexpensive 5G phones arrive overseas before they come to the US, because our market is just so choked down.
Today Qualcomm announced that a bunch of phones will get its flagship Snapdragon 865 chipset this year, part of a list of 70 designs Qualcomm says are on tap. From Qualcomm’s perspective, this is a show of strength against MediaTek and Huawei. From ours, it’s really a show of how weak the US is on device diversity.
The most prominent 865-based phones will be the Samsung Galaxy S20 series. We benchmarked the Galaxy S20 Ultra last week, and the 865’s improvements aren’t only about speed: the new chipset enables key features like 8K recording and the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 108-megapixel camera.
Qualcomm cites more than a dozen other phones in its release, most of which will never come to our shores. Here’s a quick tour.
Asus ROG Phone 3 and ZenFone 7
Asus’ approach to phones in the US is confusing at best. Occasionally, the PC maker breaks into a carrier lineup, but most of its phones are sold online through Asus’ website or B&H Photo. That hasn’t been a successful strategy; Asus hasn’t had meaningful market share here, ever. But the idea of the ROG Phone 3, a gaming phone with Google Stadia preloaded, is pretty intriguing, and I hope it gets better visibility than most Asus phones have had here.
Xiaomi Mi 10, Mi 10 Pro, Redmi K30 Pro and Black Shark 3
These are all from Xiaomi, a major Chinese brand that sells powerful, popular phones for lower prices than many competitors. Black Shark is Xiaomi’s gaming brand. The Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro costs under $800 for a Snapdragon 865-based phone with 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, a 90Hz screen, and a 108-megapixel camera. Samsung is charging $1,400 for that sort of functionality. Xiaomi has said it would enter the US for years, but keeps putting it off.
Fujitsu Arrows 5G and Sharp Aquos R5G
Japan has its own whole weird ecosystem of local phone brands that don’t make it off the islands much. They don’t try very hard to be global (although Sharp had a few phones here.)
iQOO 3, OPPO Find X2, Realme X50 Pro and Vivo APEX 2020
Chinese powerhouse BBK owns a bunch of phone brands, from low to high. It has left the US market to its scion OnePlus. Maybe that’s a good strategic move, but it means we don’t get to see iQOO’s and Realme’s low-cost, high-spec phones, Oppo’s superzoom prowess, or Vivo’s buttonless concept.
Legion Gaming Phone and Nubia Red Magic 5G
Gaming phones are big in Asia, where fewer people have PCs with landline connections and more people game on their handheld devices or go to PC cafes (even still!). Lenovo’s Legion gaming phone and the Nubia Red Magic serve that market.
Sony Xperia 1 II
This one is being released in the US, with 5G no less, but Sony’s complete incompetence at marketing in the US means that it’s unlikely that many people who didn’t read this article will know about it.
ZTE Axon 10s Pro
ZTE was once a power in the US, selling “affordable premium” phablets with decent quality at relatively low prices. Its Axon 7 phone undercut flagship phone prices with flagship specs. But the company got trapped in the US-China trade war and spent a year out of our market being punished for complicated deals involving Iran. Now it’s slowly trying to rebuild, but working against prejudice that the company is “Huawei-lite.”
This Damages Choice, Not Market Share
Qualcomm is going to do just fine in the US market. It powers nearly every phone sold here except Apple’s devices, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 lineup will inevitably be best-sellers. Future flagships from LG, OnePlus, and Motorola, none of which appeared in Qualcomm’s press release, will also all inevitably use the Snapdragon 865 and go on sale at US carriers.