Qualcomm announced a “Snapdragon Insiders” community program for chip enthusiasts back in March. In a rather surprising turn of events, Qualcomm is now releasing a device called the “Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders” in partnership with Asus.

At a high level, the “Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders” is basically an Asus ROG Phone 5, though it’s ever so slightly taller/wider and .35mm thinner. Other than that, the body shape is more or less identical. The back has a raised red trim around the camera bump, while there’s a square logo that lights up with “snapdragon” underneath. “Designed by ASUS” at the very bottom is the only other rear marking. 

Inside, you get a Snapdragon 888 — not the just-announced Plus variant from MWC — with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. There’s a 6.78-inch 2448×1080 AMOLED (Samsung) panel, while the main camera is Sony’s IMX686 64MP sensor. It’s complemented by an ultra-wide (IMX363) and telephoto, while a 24MP lens is up front. One downgrade from ROG Phone 5 is the 4,000mAh battery, which is down from 6,000mAh. Full specifications are available here.

Qualcomm says the phone offers a “first-of-its-kind curated collection one Snapdragon experiences.” It supports both mmWave and sub-6 for what Qualcomm advertises as “unmatched global coverage.” Other tentpoles being highlighted are “Elite Gaming,” photography, and audio. There are dual Bluetooth 5.2 antennas paired with “Snapdragon Sound,” as well as a pair of truly wireless earbuds that are included in the box.

For $1,499, you also get a 65W Quick Charge 5 brick, rubber bumper, and “Enhanced Braided Cables” (USB-C to C and C to A).

In all, this is a very curious outing for Qualcomm, a brand that otherwise does not have a direct consumer relationship. There are real shades of the Google Nexus program that started in 2010 and ended five years later. Namely, just like in the beginning for Google and its OEM partners, this device clearly maps to an existing model rather than being something entirely new. For reference, Asus did work with Google on both Nexus 7 generations and the Nexus Player. 

Qualcomm clearly had some input on the design flourishes, while the decreased battery size seems notable. However, like with the Nexus program, the familiar design is not the point. 

The one aspect Qualcomm is in control of and wishes to emphasize is not the UI, but rather the internal components and presumably worked to optimize it in a way that improves performance. Going forward, this line of Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders devices could be how Qualcomm showcases its latest technologies as it strives to be more than just a component supplier. It, of course, comes as Google is spinning up its own Whitechapel chip and companies move for end-to-end experiences. Meanwhile, there was a rumor that Qualcomm is making a Nintendo Switch-style console that runs Android 12.

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