With Mobile World Congress in full swing in Barcelona,
Spain, you’d expect the news releases to be coming fast and furious, and of
course they are. Amidst all of the other smartphone news, one interesting thread
is starting to emerge: it’s now the era of the quad-core handheld device.
Just recently I mentioned that Canonical is betting on
people’s interest in Ubuntu for their Android device, but I expressed some
doubt about the hardware capabilities of the current generation of Android
devices. This move to quad-core devices definitely has the potential to change
The first of these quads announced during MWC was the Huawei
Ascend D Quad. In short order, HTC announced the One X, LG showed off the
Optimus 4X HD, and Fujitsu allowed a closer look at a phone it initially talked
about 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 more
to come before the end of MWC.
While Huawei’s devices use their own proprietary K3
processor – something of an unknown quantity so far – others are incorporating
NVIDIA’s Tegra 3. NVIDIA’s long history in the world of graphics means that a
high-quality display is almost guaranteed – the chip is capable of 1080p
graphics, and even has 3D display capability built right in. That’s another
point in favour of these devices being used as a desktop replacement, as
But there are a few questions still to be answered.
The first is battery life. For example, the Ascend D Quad
comes with an 1800mAh battery that’s rated for “one to two days of normal
usage”, which is interesting phrasing. After all, what is “normal” in an era
with quad-core phones that are just begging to be used in fancier and more
hardware-intensive ways like, say, running Ubuntu? The other new quad phones
aren’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 2500
mAH battery, which will improve the runtime, but it will still be interesting
to see how far the actual runtime gets revised downwards when people start
using their phones like power users. That could mean a phone that dies midway
through the day if the user can’t find a way to dock them to a power source
during intensive use…not ideal if you still want to use it to make calls on the
way home from work.
The second question is really going to be thermal output of
these 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 anything
processor-intensive – add the extra two cores and the extra graphics-crunching
ability, and you’ve got to wonder how much heat these little powerhouses are
going to throw off. Somehow I doubt it’ll be like holding a hot potato, but for
anyone who’s had the displeasure of an overheated notebook in their lap when
it’s going full-tile, you’ve gotta wonder.
As many of these devices won’t be shipping for at least a
month, possibly more, it’s hard to say with any certainty right now whether this
is going to be an issue. But it might not be a bad idea for people to start
looking for protective gloves to use with their phones. Stay tuned.