Samsung Galaxy S4 launch confirms Qualcomm’s hegemony on top-of-the-range SoCs

There is something telling about the clout of US-based semiconductor giant Qualcomm when Samsung Mobile became the sixth major smartphone manufacturer after Asus, Sony, HTC, ZTE and LG to launch a superphone with a system-on-chip from the company’s Snapdragon family.

It is an even bigger feat bearing in mind that the Samsung chose the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 despite its own subsidiary, Samsung Semiconductors, having a superior chipset pair at least on paper, the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa and Samsung CM221S baseband modem.

Samsung will launch the S4 with Octa inside in non-US territories and it will be interesting to see whether like the Galaxy S3 LTE, Samsung will use its own baseband modem with it. Note that it used the Qualcomm MDM9215 in the Galaxy Note 2.

So it will be a very interesting exercise to compare the two versions of the S4 and see whether the gap between the two models has widened since the launch of the S3. The Samsung Galaxy S3 (Exynos model) reached 16,301 on Aututu’s popular benchmark while the S4 should add at least another 50 per cent to that. We haven’t been able to get hold of the Antutu figures for a Qualcomm-based S3.

So why did Samsung go for Qualcomm rather than using its own silicon? Well, we could mention the 3Ps: price, performance and power consumption. It's worth mentioning that the followup of the 600, the Snapdragon 800 due at the end of Q2 2013, will be a single-chipset solution, which will mean more free space for something else (bigger battery etc).

As for the competition, we will have to wait till the middle of the year to see the first products with Nvidia’s Tegra 4 SoC and even that will come with in as two-chip solution. 2014 is likely to be the year where competition will build up for Qualcomm with the launch of Tegra 4i and what we expect to be Samsung’s first integrated SoC.

The dark horse in the competition though remains the Taiwan-based chip maker Mediatek which is rumoured to be readying an octo-core SoC with an integrated LTE modem for 2013.