Quad-Core Smartphones Captivate Mobile World Congress

By John Gaudiosi ( - Tue, Mar 6, 2012

The mobile world converged in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2012. One of the key highlights of the show was new NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 quad-core processors in tablets and smartphones. South Korean electronics firm LG recently introduced the world’s first smartphone based on a quad-core processor, sounding the starting gun for a new wave of portable devices.

LG’s quad-core smartphone, the LG Optimus 4X HD, is powered by a 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and also features a large, high-definition 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1280x720. The smartphone also includes Android 4.0, the most recent iteration of Google's mobile OS known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The phone will start shipping in the second quarter of 2012.

Last year LG was also first with dual-core smartphones via its Optimus 2x, but an early launch did not help the firm in its handset sales, as LG's shipment volumes dropped nearly 25 percent in 2011, according to Daniel Gleeson, research analyst, mobile media for IHS.

Like the LG Optimus 4X, many of the other quad-core smartphones to be shown at the Mobile World Congress likewise will feature the latest version of Android, high-end cameras, an HD screen, and the same NVIDIA Tegra3 chipset.

“Quad-core processors will make the smartphone a more compelling consumer experience—in LG's words delivering ‘PC-like performance,’” said Gleeson. “It also will increase the disruption that high-end smartphones will cause to adjacent products, such as handheld games consoles. But unlike Sony, Apple and Microsoft, LG lacks a strong games content portfolio that would help LG to differentiate its premium smartphones.”

The quad-core chipset in the LG and other smartphones is broadly similar to the chipset in Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld gaming system. Both use a quad-core ARM processor—and the screen is also of a similar size while boasting higher resolution. As such, content providers should expect LG's smartphone to deliver excellent visuals.

However, the HD video or high-end gaming graphics performance is realistic only as an option for downloaded content. Streaming HD video, on the other hand, would require the mobile network to provide content at a constant rate of greater than 2Mbit/sec. Such a rate would be considered very optimistic for most of today's 3G networks, or it would result in a battery drain—already a sensitive issue with quad-core smartphones—if used in 4G LTE networks.

All told, IHS expects revenues from Android smartphone games will rise by 218 percent in 2012. This strong growth will be driven by the arrival of quad-core smartphones, such as the Optimus 4X and the vast increase in the installed base of Android mobile handsets.

“The increased power consumption of such devices is a typical downside from very high-performance hardware,” said Gleeson. “LG, however, has tackled this by including a very large 2150mAh battery as well as having a ‘companion’ fifth core to handle mundane tasks, so that the quad-core doesn't unnecessarily drain the battery.”