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Business | February 27, 2012

Quad-Core smartphones highlight Mobile World Congress 2012

South Korean electronics firm LG recently introduced the world’s first smartphone based on a quad-core processor, sounding the starting gun for the expected rollout of a slew of similar products at the Mobile World Congress 2012 this week.
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.

LG may be the first to announce a quad-core smartphone with the LG Optimus 4X, but it will not be alone for very long. Several other manufacturers will make similar quad-core announcements over the course of Mobile World Congress 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.

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.

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 even the same Nvidia Tegra3 chipset.

“Quad-core processors offer much-faster performance for graphics-intensive activities such as high-definition video playback and high-end gaming, as well as enabling the phone to handle multitasking with less effect on the user experience,” said Daniel Gleeson, research analyst, mobile media for IHS.

“This will make the smartphone a more compelling consumer experience—in LG's words delivering ‘PC-like performance.’ 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, 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. 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.

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