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Quad-core phones look speedy, but there’s a catch

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It’s now almost a given that the first quad-core smartphone will be shown off at the Mobile World Congress event later this month. Android enthusiast site MoDaCo has benchmark results of such a beast and, as expected, the handset tests twice as fast as recent smartphones, such as the Galaxy Nexus.

The tested phone appears to be LG’s X3, which is rumored to be running Nvidia’s Tegra 3(s nvda) chip on a 4.7-inch high-definition touchscreen with Android 4.0.3(s goog). Those specifications are certainly viable, given that the next crop of flagship handsets will likely run the Ice Cream Sandwich-build of Android on either dual- or quad-core chips.

Even if these specifications are accurate, don’t fall into the trap of relying solely on benchmarks for a phone purchase. My own use of the Asus Transformer Prime — an Android 4.0 tablet that also runs on Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip — does show a powerful device that benchmarks well, but not one that’s twice as fast as its peers on dual-core chips.

Why? Because very few mobile apps are optimized to take advantage of four processing cores. When optimized, I would expect to see a big performance gain, but that’s a future that may be a long time in coming. Many current Android apps aren’t even optimized for the large screen of a tablet, let alone the specific processor inside of a device.

For apps that are optimized, there are positive noticeable differences. Games optimized for the dozen graphics cores in the Tegra 3, for example, look stellar and provide a console gaming-like experience. You can see for yourself here.

When browsing or using a range of mobile apps, however, there’s little to no difference just yet. Quad-core mobile computing is a very positive step forward, for sure. At the moment, however, we’re waiting for software to catch up to the hardware advances. And that’s completely up to the developers, who, up to this point — at least for Android apps — haven’t been too quick to optimize their code.

18 Responses to “Quad-core phones look speedy, but there’s a catch”

  1. With the dual-core from Samsung (probably for S III)with 2.0 which is going to be better (!) than the quads we see today … this is just going to stay am issue. The speed the tech moves, apps will not get optimized soon for quad.

  2. “When browsing or using a range of mobile apps, however, there’s little to no difference just yet”

    this is not true.

    have a look at demonstrations between the difference from a single-core to dual-core:

    and then what a quad-core can do for browsing:

    even just *launching* an app can benefit from the extra bandwidth and processing of multi-core, let alone *running* the app itself.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the whole point of Tegra3 is that applications didn’t HAVE to be optimized to take advantage of the extra cores. Doesn’t the hardware on the SOC decide when to offload threads and where to send them, and the OS only sees the hardware as a single proc?

    GPU tasks still require optimization, but I thought CPU threading didn’t.

  4. Wow..Water is wet. This is classic tech advancement. Hardware has to push the limit first. Developers need the hardware to exist…so they can test their apps. Nothing new here. Wouldn’t and shouldn’t prevent a buyer from purchasing the best hardware technology available. Or you can just buy Apple…which is always last years technology.

    • Actually Apple, at least when referring to iphone, isn’t “last years technology” it’s technology from over 2 years ago! Considering, other than the processor chip, the iphone 4s has LESS desirable hardware than my OLD original motorola droid!

      • In response to jbrandonf’s reply: i ABSOLUTELY would take the original motorola droid over the iphone 4s! Why is that so hard for you to beleive, considering the droid has more significant advantages?: iphone 4s- front cam, 8meg cam, better processor, higher res display. Driod- expandable memory, swappable battery, bigger display, slide-out keypad, MUCH more durable build quality! Still hard for you to beleive?! And as far as software, ios 5 has WAY too many limitations, as far as functionality, than even earlier versions of Android!