Today we’re covering a quite unusual device announcement a little unlike what we’ve seen before. ASUS and Qualcomm – well, mostly ASUS, are announcing a new device called the “Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders” – yes that’s the actual name of the phone. The phone follows Qualcomm’s social media initiative called “Snapdragon Insiders” where the company is has opened up more community channels on various social media platforms to closer interaction with Snapdragon fans, attempting to build a closer relationship with its users.

The “Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders”, or let’s just call it the SSI from here on, is a product of the collaboration between Qualcomm and ASUS – though here things become a bit complex and unintuitive, as Qualcomm strictly refers to the SSI as being a product strictly designed and made by ASUS. It’s a weird kind of relationship and marketing exercise that can maybe seen more as a Snapdragon branded phone by ASUS.

ASUS Big Phones
  ROG Phone 5

"Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders"

SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 
1x Cortex-X1 @ 2.84GHz
3x Cortex-A78 @ 2.42GHz
4x Cortex-A55 @ 1.80GHz

Adreno 660 @ 840MHz
DRAM 8/16 GB LPDDR5 16 GB LPDDR5
Storage 128/256GB UFS 3.1 512GB UFS 3.1
Display 6.78" AMOLED
2448 x 1080 (20:9)
144Hz

240Hz Touch
Size Height 173.00 mm 173.15 mm
Width 77.00 mm 77.25 mm
Depth 9.90 mm 9.55 mm
Weight 239 grams 210 grams
Battery Capacity 5770 typ (2x 2885) 22.33Wh
"6000mAh" design

65W charging (PD3.0/QC5.0)

"4000mAh"

65W charging (PD3.0/QC5.0)
Wireless Charging -
Rear Cameras
Main 64MP IMX686
0.8µm pixels (1.6µm 4:1 16MP)

f/1.8 w/OIS (SSI)

26.6mm eq.
Telephoto - 8MP
3x optical zoom


f/2.4 w/OIS

80mm eq.
Wide 12MP IMX363
1.4µm pixels Dual PDAF

f/2.2

14.3mm eq.
Extra 5MP Macro -
Front Camera 24MP
f/2.45
I/O USB-C
3.5mm headphone
USB-C
Wireless (local) 802.11ax WiFi-6E
Bluetooth 5.2 LE + NFC
Other Features In-display fingerprint sensor Rear fingerprint sensor
Dual-SIM Dual nanoSIM
Launch Price (16/256GB) 
$999 
(16/512GB)
$1499

Starting off with the internals of the phone, there’s a large sense of familiarity with the specifications, dimensions, and just overall design of the phone that comes from the juxtaposition between ASUS’s ROG Phone 5 and the SSI. Both phones have similar form-factors, similarly internal components and somewhat similar external designs, and even within Qualcomm’s presentation slides during our pre-briefing, showcasing an internal layout design that’s eerily similar to the ROG Phone 5.

Both phones are powered by the Snapdragon 888 – it’s actually a bit surprising that the newer SSI doesn’t come with the recently announced Snapdragon 888+, but this was explained to us that the SSI design was already well underway and in design before the 888+ would be available.

Given what appears to be the same chassis and thermal design between the ROG 5 and the SSI – one could assume that the general performance of both phones to be extremely similar to each other.

The SSI does more notably differentiate itself in terms of RAM and storage – well at least compared to the regular ROG 5, as it only comes with a large 16GB LPDDR5 and 512GB UFS 3.1 storage capacity option, which is more in line with the premium ROG Phone 5 Ultimate that sees lower availability.

The display of the phone is essentially identical to that of the ROG Phone 5 – a 6.78” 2448 x 1080 AMOLED panel from Samsung that is able to run up to 144Hz refresh rate. We hadn’t exactly confirmed if the touch sample rate is the same 300Hz as on the ROG 5, however given that the specification sheet on the phone we got from Qualcomm had the display section essentially copy-paste from ASUS’ own ROG 5 press release contents, I would assume this to be the case.

Design wise, the SSI is very similar to the ROG 5, however it’s ever so slightly downsized. The fundamental form is still there, but the one big change is that the SSI is 0.35mm thinner and 29g lighter. This doesn’t sound like too much, but it has a huge impact on the battery capacity which has shrunk 33% down from 6000mAh on the ROG Phone 5 to 4000mAh here on the SSI. It still features the same 65W USB-PD 3.0 (“QC 5.0”) charging capabilities.

Another large physical change is that the phone has a rear fingerprint sensor, which is a bit weird as the ROG 5 had an under-screen unit. This rear sensor is actually Qualcomm’s 2nd gen sonic sensor, but the issue is that these kinds of sensors are only able to be integrated into flexible OLED panels, and the phone here uses a solid glass substrate variant. This actually begs the question of what the point is to have a sonic sensor at all if it’s not integrated into the screen, as it diminishes the advantages over a traditional capacitive unit.

Below the fingerprint reader, we see an illuminated Snapdragon logo instead of the ROG logo. This can also be configured to light up or pulse in a rhythm, or simply turned off.

On the bottom of the phone there’s more design changes over the ROG 5 – the dual nano-SIM moves from the very bottom left side of the phone to the left bottom side, next to the USB-C connector. What’s very odd here is that the 3.5mm jack has disappeared, and the bottom speaker is no longer front-facing, but bottom facing.

Qualcomm sent us along with the press materials an extract of DXOMark Audio review of the SSI, and even though the phone is supposed to be a showcase of a “Snapdragon Sound” experience, it literally performed worse than the ROG 5 in every speaker audio playback measurement test.

The camera setup is also quite similar to ASUS’ phones. On the main unit, we find the 64MP IMX686 with an f/1.8 lens with OIS. The OIS here is different to the ROG 5, but otherwise appears to be the same camera module. The ultra-wide angle appears to be identical with an IMX363 and f/2.2 optics with 14.3mm equivalent focal length.

Instead of a 5MP macro, the SSI does feature the 3x optical zoom / 80mm equivalent 8MP telephoto module as the third camera, with f/2.4 optics and OIS.

The really large issue I have with the camera setup is that even though this would have been an opportunity for Qualcomm to showcase their own expertise with their own SoC’s camera pipeline, there was very little mention in regards to who exactly is responsible for the software. Qualcomm reiterated that this is an ASUS product, and ASUS’ representatives just noted that the phone features “stock Android” – and it’s unclear exactly what kind of ASUS features or aspects such as camera processing will be integrated into the device.

The one feature that does really distinguish the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is its network and cellular connectivity. The big advantage over the ROG Phone 5 is the fact that this is a mmWave device, with Qualcomm claiming that it is the device with the most comprehensive support for all global frequency bands, making it a truly universal phone in that regard.

This fact is actually quite unusual as it means that the phone has extensive internal RF front-end and antenna designs, and could somewhat explain where a lot of the internal device space went, given the smaller batteries compared to the ROG 5.

Finally, the accessory that comes with every SSI is a pair of Master & Dynamic Snapdragon branded wireless earbuds that in combination with the SSI, represent the first “Snapdragon Sound” experience. Snapdragon sound here in general refers to a plethora of software audio stacks and audio components that allow for higher bitrate and lower latency audio experiences for wireless audio devices. These appear to just be re-branded variants of Master & Dynamic’s MW08, which got average reviews and come at an MSRP of $299.

In the end, we come to the price. At $1499 USD, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is a pretty unattractive value proposition. Even accounting for the fact that you’re getting $299 earphones included into the package, that leaves you with a device price of $1200, and for that price, beyond the added mmWave capability and telephoto module, you get very little added value compared to a ROG Phone 5 – if anything, you’re losing out features such as a 50% larger battery, better front-facing speaker setups, 3.5mm headphone jack and the gaming accessory ecosystem that the ROG Phone 5 allows for.

Beyond that, again, ignoring the $299 value earphones in the package, the device literally is destroyed in feature-set and speculations by the likes of a Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is now available for $999 in the 256GB variant.

The phone is just a weird combination of specifications – losing out on the very features that made the ROG Phone 5 really distinguish itself from other phones, and appears to me to present itself as nothing more than just a marketing exercise to push the Snapdragon Insiders “brand”. The very few positives of the design, such as the extensive cellular compatibility of the device, don’t make up for just the rather absurd and pointless package of features the phone presents itself as.

The Smartphone for Snapdradon Insiders will be available in August in ASUS’ eShop in select countries.

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  • Wereweeb - Thursday, July 8, 2021 - link

    Someone needs to check just how much space and weight the mmWave antennas take. And I hope people keep making 5G phones without mmWave if it's too much.

    Battery tech is still progressing too slowly, so I'd rather have more space for the battery than a theoretical chance to get a theoretical connection with a theoretical station capable of theoretically (And in the best possible conditions) supporting the same speeds as the now geriatric USB 3.0 standard, when I realistically wouldn't ever need it so urgently that I couldn't wait to get home and plug a USB-C-to-Ethernet adaptor to my phone.
    Reply
  • ompq - Thursday, July 8, 2021 - link

    According to the spec sheet posted on Qualcomm's site (https://www.qualcomm.com/media/documents/files/sma... this phone supports virtually every 5G band currently in use (n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n11, n12, n13, n14, n18, n20, n21, n25, n26, n28, n30, n38, n40, n41, n42, n43, n46, n48, n66, n71, n77, n78, n79, n257, n258, n260, and n261). Considering even Apple geographically splits supported 5G bands across multiple iPhone SKUs, this phone might have strong appeal to people who travel all over the world and absolutely need to access the fastest available cellular data wherever they are although appeal to the general audience might be limited. Reply
  • brucethemoose - Saturday, July 10, 2021 - link

    But how will they know? Qualcomm isn't marketing this as a power traveler phone. Reply
  • dotjaz - Friday, July 9, 2021 - link

    Let's see who's stupid enough to buy these for actual personal use. 4000mAh and SD888 should work well. Reply
  • monglerbongler - Saturday, July 10, 2021 - link

    NOTE:

    512 gb UFS 3.1?

    Thats practically impossible to find in Samsung phones right now. They sold out their 512gb variants of both the S21 Ultra and Note 20 very quickly

    512gb variants of these devices are now extremely rare, and may very well be limited to refurbished devices.

    Did Asus buy and hoard these chips? Seems like Samsung can make a better profit on even a small quantity of 512gb variants of their phones and tablets, sold at retail prices directly or through their partners, than they can by selling reels or trays of pure wholesale ICs to Asus.
    Reply
  • austonia - Sunday, July 25, 2021 - link

    1080p screen lol. 144hz don't care, 90 is fine. Nothing interesting or unique here. Price is stupid.

    but the worst thing is the Snapdragon branding. as if Snapdragon is something to be proud of, using stock designs from ARM? as if Snapdragon is competitive with custom chips from Apple? as if anyone wants to advertise anything from Qualcomm? Ugh, No. Most people won't recognize Snapdragon anyway. Google please make some custom silicon so I don't have to give Qualcomm any more money. Please.
    Reply

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