Qualcomm’s $1,500 smartphone is for its biggest fans with more money than sense

Qualcomm — the company behind the Snapdragon processors and modems that power almost every major Android smartphone — is making its own phone. Or rather, the company is partnering with Asus on a custom device officially called the “Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders,” a $1,500 phone that’s designed to showcase the chip company’s technology. And, as the name suggests, Qualcomm will be selling the phone directly to members of its Snapdragon Insider fan community, which Qualcomm launched earlier this year.

It’s an interesting idea, but unfortunately, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders doesn’t look like it does anything different, when it comes to actually taking advantage of Qualcomm’s technology, than any other Android flagship — which is particularly disappointing given the $1,500 price tag.

The spec sheet here follows with what you’d expect from a flagship Android phone in 2021: the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders runs Android 11, has 512GB of storage, 16GB of RAM, a 6.78-inch, 144Hz Samsung OLED panel with Gorilla Glass Victus, and a rear fingerprint scanner (using Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2 technology, of course.) If any of that sounds familiar, it’s likely because the new Qualcomm-branded device seems to share a lot in common with Asus’ ROG Phone 5 Ultimate from earlier this year.

The processor, naturally, is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, which feels like a curious choice given that the company has already announced a more powerful 888 Plus model. Given the mammoth price tag and the promise of being an ultimate Qualcomm phone, it’s an odd miss for the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders.

The battery offers 4,000 mAh of power, and isn’t the biggest we’ve seen in a smartphone, but it does support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 5 standard, although not at its full potential, maxing out at 65W for charging, not the 100W-plus speeds the spec is theoretically capable of.

The back of the phone features a triple camera setup, with familiar parts from other Asus phones. The main camera features a Sony IMX686 64-megapixel image sensor — the same found in last year’s Zenfone 7 Pro — while the ultrawide sensor uses an older 12-megapixel Sony IMX363 sensor (also used in previous Asus phones, as well as multiple Google Pixel phones.) Lastly, there’s an 8-megapixel telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom to round out the camera setup, and a 24-megapixel front-facing camera.

Qualcomm is promising that the triple camera array will offer a “professional-quality camera” experience, but it won’t push the Spectra 580’s triple ISP to its limit, either. While the phone can shoot 8K at 30 frames per second, and 4K at 30 or 60FPS, it can’t manage shooting three simultaneous 4K HDR video streams or shoot three 28-megapixel photos at once — two of the biggest claims Qualcomm made when it introduced the Snapdragon 888 last December.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders will be one of the first phones to offer Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Sound classification, which promises hi-fi music playback at up to 24-bit 96kHz. Qualcomm is also including some Master & Dynamic earbuds in the box to help take advantage of that; what appears to be a pair of MW08 earbuds with a Snapdragon logo on them. (Those headphones sell for $299 usually, which may help ease the sting of the $1,499 price tag here.)

Another area that the Snapdragon-branded phone might stand out is with 5G support. Qualcomm boasts that the phone will offer “the most comprehensive support for all key 5G sub-6 and mmWavebands and combinations in a single device.” There’s also support for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.2.

In addition to the phone and headphones, Qualcomm is also including a 65W Quick Charge 5.0 charge, USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cables, and a rubber bumper for the phone. But even with all that, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders looks like a tough sell — there are plenty of top-tier Android phones that offer the same (or better) specs for far less money, like the OnePlus 9 Pro or Galaxy S21 Ultra.

It’s not even particularly successful at its main job as a Qualcomm showcase: the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders doesn’t feature the company’s latest and greatest processor, and doesn’t push Qualcomm’s technology further than any other major Android phone. Sure, it does have a glowing Snapdragon logo on the back, but that hardly seems worth the premium Qualcomm is asking its most enthusiastic fans to pay here.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders will be available this August in the US, China, UK, and Germany to start, with launches for more regions in the works.

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