A report from Forbes, corroborated by The Verge today, has revealed that Samsung is grabbing the lion’s share of the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors, and in the process forcing its competitors to use the older Snapdragon 821 chipset. Forbes indicates an April 14th release date for Samsung’s next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, and says that no Android flagship phones released before then will feature the 835 chip. The report specifically calls out the LG G6 as being based on the Snapdragon 821, and we already know that the HTC U Ultra will use the 2016 silicon.
It’s hard to know exactly how much better the new 2017 chip will be, especially in light of the strong and proven performance of the Snapdragon 821 in devices like the Google Pixel and OnePlus 3T. But it’s obviously going to be disappointing to Android enthusiasts who might have been looking forward to a choice of Snapdragon 835 phones in March. One Android manufacturer informed The Verge that it feels confident working with the 821 processor, while another argued that the 835 was always going to be too late for the annual early-spring refresh among flagship Android smartphones.
"Samsung has first dibs."
Samsung’s position with respect to Qualcomm’s chips has transformed very rapidly. Two years ago, the Korean giant avoided using the Snapdragon 810 in its Galaxy S flagship (due to overheating concerns), but by this time last year it had struck a deal with Qualcomm to manufacture Snapdragon 820 processors. The Snapdragon 835 extends that relationship between the two companies, and even though Samsung usually maintains a clear separation between its consumer and component manufacturing businesses, Forbes speculates that its production deal with Qualcomm has helped it soak up the earliest supply of the 835. "Samsung has first dibs," according to the report.
Reports out of Korea agree with Forbes’ release date for the Galaxy S8, with ETNews indicating availability on April 15th. Samsung typically relies on a mix of its own Exynos processors and Snapdragon silicon, the latter being used primarily in Western markets like the US — so even though the Galaxy S8 might launch in Korea in mid-April, its Snapdragon variants and US availability could be substantially later.
What all of this means with respect to what we can expect of Android flagship phone specs for the rest of the year is that the summer might be a surprisingly busy time for the launch of smartphones with the latest and greatest (and finally widely available) Qualcomm silicon. Perhaps that’s why HTC has been talking of the U Ultra as just "part of a new flagship family."