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Apple's iPhone 12 range uses Qualcomm's superseded Snapdragon X55 5G modems

Apple's new iPhone 12 range uses last year's Snapdragon X55 modem. (Image: Apple)
Apple's new iPhone 12 range uses last year's Snapdragon X55 modem. (Image: Apple)
We now have one potential explanation for why the new iPhone 12 models drain battery more quickly than they otherwise might. Although Apple is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 5G modem, it is the older X55 component from last year, rather than the newer X60 modem released earlier this year.

Although Apple has purchased Intel’s modem business (which will eventually yield custom modems from the company), it is currently relying on Qualcomm as a stop gap. A new teardown has revealed that Apple has fitted its shiny new iPhone 12 range with a Qualcomm-sourced second-gen Snapdragon X55 5G-capable modem. Interestingly, however, this part was superseded earlier this year with the launch of the third-gen Snapdragon X60 modem.

Early testing of the impact a 5G cellular connection has on the battery life of the new iPhone 12 range has shown in a reduction in battery life of two hours when compared to a 4G connection. In fact, the iPhone fares worse than the Samsung Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus in this regard, even though these models use the very same Snapdragon X55 modem. The explanation for this is unclear at this stage, although clearly there may be some scope for Apple to further optimize the implementation through driver updates.

What is less clear is why Apple didn’t opt for the more advanced Snapdragon X60 modem, which was released in enough time for Apple to include in the iPhone 12 line. For starters, where the X55 is fabricated on a 7 nm node, the X60 is fabricated on a 5 nm node. It is the first modem to aggregate mmWave and sub-6 for improved performance and battery life – given the iPhone 12 range includes smaller batteries and reduced battery life compared to the iPhone 11 range, the Snapdragon X60 would have been the ideal choice.

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Sanjiv Sathiah, 2020-10-22 (Update: 2020-10-22)
Sanjiv Sathiah
I have been tech-obsessed from the time my father introduced me to my first computer, an Apple ][. Since then, I have grown to enjoy exploring and experimenting with any computing platform that I can get my hands on – I am the definitive early adopter! I have always been interested in how we can use technology to shape and improve our lives, most recently using it to record, mix and master my debut record, Acuity – Nature | Nurture out now on Spotify.