Flashback: the Snapdragon 625 efficiently conquered the mid-field in 2016
Some chipsets are remembered more fondly than others – the Snapdragon 810 has quite a story to tell, but today we’re feeling in a positive mood, so let’s look at the Snapdragon 625.
The Snapdragon 625 was unveiled in February 2016 and became the first 600-series chip made using the power-efficient 14nm node. Its predecessor, the Snapdragon 617, was fabricated on a 28nm node, and it showed.
The new 625 used 35% less power than its predecessor in typical daily use. To put that into perspective, if a phone with the old chip had just enough battery to last from 06:00 to 18:00, the same phone would have lasted well into the evening if it was powered by the new chip instead.
Long battery life became one of the Snapdragon 625’s calling cards. It was very efficient and just fast enough to power a wide range of mid-rangers – today we’ll look at some of the more interesting units that used the 625.
But first, let’s introduce the hardware. The CPU had eight Cortex-A53 cores, not the fastest cores in the world, but the 14nm node allowed them to reach clock speeds of up to 2.0GHz. In comparison, the previous chip also had A53s, but they were split into a 4x 1.5GHz + 4x 1.2GHz configuration.
The Snapdragon 625 had two ISPs that could handle cameras up to 24MP and even 4K video recording (using both AVC and HEVC). This was usually left to high-end chips like the Snapdragon 650/652.
The chip also enabled a solid (for the mid-range) connectivity suite. It had an X9 LTE modem – up to 300 Mbps downlink, 150 Mbps uplink – and a Wi-Fi 5 (ac) modem for speeds up to 433 Mbps. There was also Bluetooth 4.1 on board, as well as support for GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou.
The Snapdragon 625 had everything a phone in the lower heights of the mid-range segment needed. Performance was solid but not groundbreaking, and the limit to FHD-class displays prevented more premium applications (you needed at least a Snapdragon 650 if you wanted a QHD display).
Asus was an early adopter with the Zenfone 3 series. The ZE552KL was equipped with a 5.5″ 1080p display and managed to squeeze 74 hours of endurance rating out of a 3,000mAh battery (the phone was quite slim at 7.7mm).
The Zenfone 3 Deluxe 5.5 ZS550KL was an interesting device – its name was dangerously similar to the ZS5570 Deluxe, which featured the Snapdragon 820 and 821. However, the ZS550KL got the Snapdragon 625 instead. Also, a different screen, different cameras, etc.
Asus Zenfone 3 ZE520KL • Zenfone 3 ZE552KL • Zenfone 3 Deluxe 5.5 ZS550KL • Zenfone 3 Zoom ZE553KL
Was the 625 really fast enough to match the 820? Well, yes and no, mostly no. The A53 cores were individually slow, although the eight together managed to narrowly outperform a Snapdragon 820-powered OnePlus 3 in the Geekbench 4 multi-core test. However, the GPU was nowhere near.
Another phone that could have caused confusion and disappointment with its name was the Zenfone 3 Zoom ZE553KL. The “zoom” here was just a 2.3x lens fixed at 59mm, nothing like the variable focal length periscope of the original Zenfone Zoom (ZX550).
Xiaomi also used the Snapdragon 625 in several devices, including the Mi A1, its first Android One phone. At the time, it was met with excitement. Several botched updates dampened that enthusiasm, though it wasn’t the 625’s fault. The chip was also reused for the Mi A2 Lite from the following year.
Xiaomi Mi A1 (Mi 5X) • Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite (Redmi 6 Pro) • Xiaomi Mi Max 2 • Xiaomi Redmi Note 4
Another notable Xiaomi from that era is the Mi Max 2, a behemoth with a 6.44” display – remember, this was back in the 16:9 era, so this device was 174.1mm tall and 88.7mm wide. It packed a large 5,300 mAh battery which stretched to 126 hours of endurance rating thanks to the efficient chipset.
The 625 was also used in the fan-favorite Redmi Note 4. With a good-quality 5.5″ 1080p display, an aluminum frame, decent camera and impressive battery life – 119 hours of endurance, even though the battery was only 4,100 mAh – this made one of the best bang for the buck phones of all time.
Samsung also used the chip, for example on the Galaxy C7. This fairly affordable phone was equipped with a large 5.7″ Super AMOLED with 1080p resolution, an aluminum frame and a rather small 3,300mAh battery that still scored 100h on our endurance test. That’s the magic of the Snapdragon 625.
The 625 was also used in some regional devices such as the Galaxy On7 (2016) launched in China and South Korea and the very similar Galaxy J7 V for US carriers.
Samsung Galaxy C7 • Samsung Galaxy On7 (2016) • Samsung Galaxy J7 V
Motorola and Lenovo also had some fun devices. The Moto Z Play was the affordable Z phone, but retained compatibility with the innovative (if ill-fated) Moto Mod module system. There were also the much more standard phones like the Moto G5 Plus and G5S Plus.
Several Lenovo tablets used the 625, for example the Yoga Tab 3 Plus with its unusual “folded magazine” style bottom that held a thick speaker and a stand. There were also slimmer devices like the 7mm Lenovo Tab 4 10 Plus.
Motorola Moto Z Play • Motorola Moto G5S Plus • Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Plus • Lenovo Tab 4 10 Plus
After the failure of the premium Passport and Priv, BlackBerry tried something more affordable. The BlackBerry Keyone was a portrait device with a 4.5″ screen and a hardware QWERTY keyboard – and of course a Snapdragon 625. This was post BlackBerry OS, so it ran Android 7.1 Nougat at launch.
A few months later, the full touchscreen BlackBerry Motion came with a 5.5″ 1080p screen. This too launched with Nougat, which felt more suited to the hardware – BB OS had smart keyboard-related shortcuts, while Android had lost its keyboard dependency very early on .
BlackBerry Keyone • BlackBerry Motion
A rather unique device with the Snapdragon 625 was the YotaPhone 3. This dual-screen phone had a 5.5″ AMOLED panel (1080p) on one side and a 5.2″ e-Ink display on the other (720p). The E-Ink screen had capacitive touch and was always on, constantly displaying informative widgets.
Yota YotaPhone 3
We end our trip down memory lane with the ZTE Spro Plus, a curious smart projector. It was a tablet of sorts with an 8.4″ AMOLED screen (2,560 x 1,600 px) and ran Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The main feature was of course the 500 lumen laser projector (1,366 x 768 px) that could create an 80″ image on 2 ,4m distance. With a massive 12,100mAh battery, 4W Harman speakers and a built-in LTE modem, this can create a personal cinema anywhere.
ZTE Spro Plus Android Powered Projector/Tablet
We skipped quite a few Snapdragon 625-powered devices – there are 48 devices in our database, and that’s not counting oddball gadgets like the Spro. For example, the very first Huawei nova used 625, as did a large number of ZTE phones.
The last phones with the 625 came out in 2018, two years after the first ones were launched – this was a testament to the capabilities and popularity of the chipset.
Qualcomm also released the Snapdragon 626 in 2016, a slightly overclocked version that ran its eight Cortex-A53 cores at 2.2GHz (up from 2.0GHz). This version was used in several phones, the last of which was released in 2019.
These days, the Snapdragon 680 continues the work started by the 625, a popular chipset that meets the requirements of being cheap, efficient, decently powerful and with a built-in 4G modem.