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Quad-core Android phones: why Nokia's Elop is wide of the mark

Quad-core Android phones: why Nokia's Elop is wide of the mark

If Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is to be believed, phones with powerful quad-core processors are only good if you need something “to keep your hands warm in your pocket”.

It’s a damning – and in fairness to Nokia's bullish boss, wryly amusing - assessment of the brawny Android smartphones purportedly coming your way in the next few months. But is it a fair one? We don’t think so. And here’s why….

1 It’s about the updates, Stupid

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

These days, phone-makers need to think ahead more than ever when tricking out their phone with specs. And the primary reason for that is customers’ growing expectations that they’ll get swizzy platform bumps for their handsets as a matter of course.

Come to market with a phone that’s underpowered and manufacturers risk not being able to lavish new versions of phones’ operating systems on their customer base.

The result of that, as the storm that followed HTC’s aborted Ice Cream Sandwich update proved, can be a PR debacle of Gerard Ratner proportions.

Go with quad-core now, though, and smartphone-manufacturers are effectively future-proofing a handset for a couple of years, at least. And ensuring they keep customers onside too.

2 Reeled and skinned

htc sense 3.5

Custom skins/user interfaces, such as Sense for HTC phones and MotoBlur for Motorola efforts overlaid on the Android OS that powers them, can be very resource-hungry.

But they’re also a brilliant way for Android handset-makers to distinguish their products from rivals’ handsets running the same OS, through introducing a whole new look and feel to the vanilla software they’re based on.

Because they’re such a drain on battery, memory and processing power, however, they demand phones that can handle them. And as skins get better and more packed with functions, it’s going to be even more imperative that they’re packing that kind of heat.

Quad core processors clear the way for manufacturers to customise with impunity and go on improving and adding new features to their skins. All of which, in the long run, means better user experiences for you and me.

3 Multi-tasking will be transformed

tegra 3

This is perhaps quad-core processors’ raison d’etre, allowing us to skip and flip between open apps and functions much faster than you can with a dual-core handset.

In an era when phones are now many people’s primary computer and get used for everything from working on spreadsheets, handling work mails on the go and are expected to store and access gigabytes of files, you can’t underestimate the potential of quad-core chips to better enable us to make the most of our time.

4 And the same goes for mobile gaming

Infinity Blade 2 screenshot

Just because the most popular mobile games right now are the simplest, doesn’t mean it’ll always be that way.

Next-gen mobile games are more likely to resemble the likes of the jaw-dropping Infinity Blade 2 than the charming but resolutely one-dimensional Angry Birds. And the very best gaming experiences to be had when that happens will be on quad-core phones.

That’s because quad-core processors are better able to run applications that are multi-threaded, such as games. The upshot of that they deliver gaming with a sense of real snap for, say, more satisfying first person shooter action. And they’re able to serve up better quality graphics too.

5 Life’s too short

battery life

There are some, and you can bet Elop is among them, who’ll insist that quad-cores will tear through batteries that they’re not worth having. They’ve reckoned without the fact that because NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 chip spreads power over multiple cores it actually lengthens battery life. By a factor of four, to be exact.

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