The cheapest 5G phone chips — Snapdragon 480 and Dimensity 700 — fight it out

If you buy a reasonably priced 5G smartphone in the near future, it will probably be powered by either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 or the MediaTek Dimensity 700 processor. Should you be choosing your new phone based on which chip it uses, or simply not worry and just get the phone that takes your fancy?

To find out if there is any real difference between a 5G phone with the Dimensity 700 or Snapdragon 480 inside, we’ve put two of the latest phones with each chip against each other. In MediaTek’s corner is the Realme 8 5G, and fighting for Qualcomm is the Oppo A54 5G. Is this going to be a draw, or is one going to deliver a surprise knockout blow?

The phones and the chips

While the U.S. waits for more truly low-cost 5G phones, the trend is well underway in the U.K., where the Realme 8 5G costs 200 pounds/$278, and the Oppo A54 5G costs 220 pounds/$306. Both were announced in April this year, and are extremely similar to each other technically, aside from the chip and part of the camera.

Oppo A54 5G and Realme 8 5G seen from the back
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Realme 8 5G has a 6.5-inch, 90Hz refresh rate LCD screen, a fingerprint sensor in the power key, a microSD card slot, a 5,000mAh battery, and the basic version has 4GB of RAM. The Oppo A54 5G is the same. The Realme 8 5G’s triple camera has a 48-megapixel main camera and a pair of 2MP cameras, while the Oppo phone has the same but adds an 8MP wide-angle camera to the mix.

MediaTek’s Dimensity 700 in the Realme 8 5G is a 2.2GHz octa-core chip with ARM Cortex A76 and Cortex A55 cores, plus an ARM Mali G57 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), built using a 7nm process. It uses MediaTek’s Image Signal Processor (ISP) for the camera, along with plenty of artificial intelligence inside. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 480 is a 2.0GHz octa-core chip built around Qualcomm’s Kryo 460 and the Adreno 619 GPU, using an 8nm process. The Qualcomm Spectra 345 ISP takes care of the camera.

Both chips are designed to be used in low-cost smartphones and have 5G modems inside, suitable for connecting to 5G networks around the world. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 uses the Snapdragon X51 modem which connects to both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G networks, while the Dimensity 700 only connects to Sub-6 5G networks. Sub-6 5G is the most common 5G signal found at the moment, with only Verizon offering limited mmWave connections in the U.S., and no carriers offering the service in the U.K. or Europe yet.

Which one is best for gaming?

Gaming is one of the reasons many will choose a smartphone with a powerful processor, but does this mean lower-cost phones are terrible for gaming? I tested both phones playing Genshin Impact and Asphalt 9: Legends. Genshin Impact is one of the most hardware-intensive mobile games available at the moment, and Asphalt games are fast-paced with some great graphics

Realme 8 5G playing Asphalt 9: Legends
Realme 8 5G Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Because both phones share basically the same software (Realme’s interface is Oppo’s ColorOS with a different name), the game mode, called Game Space, can boost performance by selecting Pro Gamer mode. I left Genshin Impact alone when it started up and didn’t change any of the default settings, but for Asphalt 9: Legends I changed the visual effects to “High Quality.”

Regardless of the game played here, both phones did get warm to the touch and definitely made my hands a little sweaty during play. Neither overheated, but it does make playing more uncomfortable than playing on a phone that stays nice and cool. But this aside, both phones did extraordinarily well.

Oppo A54 5G playing Asphalt 9: Legends
Oppo A54 5G Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Genshin Impact is playable on both phones, but it’s not that enjoyable. Framerate can be low in intensive battles where it’s hard to see what’s going on and move accordingly, which results in unexpectedly losing energy very quickly against tough enemies. I simply didn’t want to play for very long. Asphalt is excellent. It’s fast, fluid, and with the graphics turned up it looks great too.

The general takeaway here won’t come as much of a surprise, in that these phones are best suited to casual gameplay, rather than extended sessions on hardcore games like Genshin Impact. Is there any difference between the two chips here? Perhaps the MediaTek Dimensity 700 was slightly faster with fewer slowdowns when the game first starts, but you may only notice when the two are put side-by-side.

Winner: Draw

Which one takes the best photos?

The Realme 8 5G and Oppo A54 5G have almost identical cameras and software, so any differences in the photos taken with them will likely come down to tuning, the ISP, artificial intelligence for scene recognition, and the processor. While playing games on the two phones didn’t show any significant differences, the camera certainly does.

In general daytime shots in sunny conditions, the MediaTek-powered Realme 8 5G has a slightly more natural exposure, and shadowy areas reveal more detail than in photos taken with the Qualcomm-powered Oppo A54 5G. Colors are a little more saturated, but not so much that it makes the photo unrealistic. The Oppo A54 also over-processes shots in difficult lighting, resulting in an unnatural fuzziness when examined closely, while the Realme 8 produces some beautiful colors, a natural tone, and impressive detail.

Using Night mode on both phones revealed the Realme 8 5G’s considerably superior processing, although the Oppo’s photo is technically brighter until you examine it closely. Texture and detail are evident on the pillars in the Realme’s photo, but almost completely absent in the one taken by the Oppo phone. The sky in the Realme 8’s photo is smooth, but while more noise is introduced in the Oppo’s photo, the white balance is slightly better.

The Oppo phone disappoints when using Portrait mode, as it found it much hard to recognize different subjects than the Realme phone, and the results were often really poor because of its dimwittedness. It was better at recognizing people in a portrait shot. The selfie was taken with the rear camera, and the Oppo has a very strong, rather unnatural bokeh effect compared to the Realme.

The Realme phone took great portrait shots, regardless of whether it was a person or object in front of it, far more detailed lowlight photos with Night mode, and attractive pictures during the day. Exactly how much is down to the MediaTek chip, the A.I., and the ISP is impossible to say, but because it consistently outclasses the Oppo phone, it suggests way more than just a simple software tuning difference is at work.

Winner: Realme 8 5G

Which one performs the best?

Is there any difference in real-world, everyday performance? From startup to opening apps, and scrolling through social networks, these are the actions that need to be sharp, fluid, and responsive. If they’re not, the phone can quickly become frustrating to use. The Realme 8 5G is faster to start up than the Oppo A54 5G by about five seconds, but after that point, there is nothing to choose between them.

Realme 8 5G rear panel
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Side-by-side going from Twitter to YouTube multiple times, force closing and re-opening the apps, scrolling, starting videos before pausing and choosing another, then searching for tweets in the Twitter app reveals absolutely identical response times and speed. During my time playing games and using the camera, I did notice some small differences though.

The Qualcomm-powered Oppo phone stuttered more when opening apps, but it was only for a few seconds and didn’t affect my enjoyment of games or irritate in apps like Instagram, and in the camera, it was slower to recognize scenes and use A.I. modes too. Again, it was marginal, and really only noticeable when comparing the two phones directly. However, all this adds up to some evidence the Realme 8 5G with the Dimensity 700 provides an ever-so-slightly smoother experience throughout the operating system.

Winner: Realme 8 5G

Which one has the best 5G?

One of the main selling points of these two phones is the ability to connect to a 5G network, which may not be that helpful today, given 5G isn’t everywhere yet, but it does help future proof your purchase. To see if there was any difference in 5G on the two phones, I took them both to a 5G area (as it’s not available where I live), and tried them out. I swapped a 5G SIM connected to the EE network in the U.K. between both, tried some apps, and ran speed tests too.

Oppo A54 5G rear panel
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I didn’t notice any difference between them when downloading the speed test apps or browsing the web using 5G, but the speed tests did reveal one to be faster than the other. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 480-powered Oppo A54 5G recorded a 57Mbps download speed and a 32Mbps upload speed, while the Realme 8 5G and its Dimensity 700 recorded 24Mbps download and 46Mbps upload.

This behavior was repeated when using another speed test app, with the Realme 8 5G showing a slower download speed than its upload speed. The Oppo’s performance was broadly similar and faster than the Realme phone in the alternative app too. I also ran the same test on a phone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, and the speed results mostly matched the Oppo A54 5G. Multiple tests, using different test servers where possible, didn’t drastically alter the results.

These tests were done on the same day, at the same spot, within minutes of each other, using the same apps each time. Results from speed tests shouldn’t be treated as hard evidence — there are many variables often out of your control that may affect results, including location and provider — but it does indicate the Qualcomm modem provides a faster connection than the MediaTek modem. However, when using the phones, I really didn’t see any difference.

Winner: Oppo A54 5G

Is one better than the other?

In my non-scientific tests, the Realme 8 5G and the MediaTek Dimensity 700 won two out of the four sections, with the most decisive being the camera test. However, the Oppo A54 5G won the 5G test, which given the feature is a big selling point of these phones, is a crucial victory.

Given we’re looking at which chip is the best for low-cost 5G fun, then based on the speed tests here the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 is the better bet, and seeking it out inside your future cheap phone may be wise if you plan to use 5G very soon. Although this isn’t really a phone-versus-phone situation, if faced with a choice between the two phones, the Realme 8 5G would be the recommended purchase if you’re interested in the camera and overall performance, and place less emphasis on the 5G connection.

MediaTek processors have come a long way since the problematic early days when the company struggled to compete with 4G Qualcomm chips. The Dimensity 700’s general performance is exciting as it shows we will have a decent, wide choice of low-cost smartphones over the coming months. However the speed tests do show the Dimensity 700’s modem may not be as capable as the Qualcomm modem for 5G, and this is concerning. We have contacted MediaTek for comment.

The Realme 8 5G is available to buy now for 200 British pounds, and the Oppo A54 5G for 220 pounds. Neither is officially available in the U.S. but could be imported. However, look out for other official U.S. phones using these processors coming soon.

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