With Mobile World Congress in full swing in Barcelona,Spain, you’d expect the news releases to be coming fast and furious, and ofcourse they are. Amidst all of the other smartphone news, one interesting threadis starting to emerge: it’s now the era of the quad-core handheld device.

Just recently I mentioned that Canonical is betting onpeople’s interest in Ubuntu for their Android device, but I expressed somedoubt about the hardware capabilities of the current generation of Androiddevices. This move to quad-core devices definitely has the potential to changethat.

The first of these quads announced during MWC was the HuaweiAscend D Quad. In short order, HTC announced the One X, LG showed off theOptimus 4X HD, and Fujitsu allowed a closer look at a phone it initially talkedabout at CES. On top of that, Huawei also announced a quad-core Android tablet.There are, of course, others that have been announced and almost certainly moreto come before the end of MWC.

While Huawei’s devices use their own proprietary K3processor – something of an unknown quantity so far – others are incorporatingNVIDIA’s Tegra 3. NVIDIA’s long history in the world of graphics means that ahigh-quality display is almost guaranteed – the chip is capable of 1080pgraphics, and even has 3D display capability built right in. That’s anotherpoint in favour of these devices being used as a desktop replacement, asCanonical envisions.

But there are a few questions still to be answered.

The first is battery life. For example, the Ascend D Quadcomes with an 1800mAh battery that’s rated for “one to two days of normalusage”, which is interesting phrasing. After all, what is “normal” in an erawith quad-core phones that are just begging to be used in fancier and morehardware-intensive ways like, say, running Ubuntu? The other new quad phonesaren’t likely to be much better in this regard, with similar battery specs(although the LG is slightly higher, at 2150 mAh).

The Ascend D Quad XL model comes with a higher-capacity 2500mAH battery, which will improve the runtime, but it will still be interestingto see how far the actual runtime gets revised downwards when people startusing their phones like power users. That could mean a phone that dies midwaythrough the day if the user can’t find a way to dock them to a power sourceduring intensive use…not ideal if you still want to use it to make calls on theway home from work.

The second question is really going to be thermal output ofthese quad-core chips once you start pumping cycles through them in a major way.I’ve noticed that even dual-core phones can heat up when you’re doing anythingprocessor-intensive – add the extra two cores and the extra graphics-crunchingability, and you’ve got to wonder how much heat these little powerhouses aregoing to throw off. Somehow I doubt it’ll be like holding a hot potato, but foranyone who’s had the displeasure of an overheated notebook in their lap whenit’s going full-tile, you’ve gotta wonder.

As many of these devices won’t be shipping for at least amonth, possibly more, it’s hard to say with any certainty right now whether thisis going to be an issue. But it might not be a bad idea for people to startlooking for protective gloves to use with their phones. Stay tuned.

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