Dual-core is so last year.
It's all about multi-core now, and this year's magic number is four as manufacturers gear up their latest offerings for the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona next week.
South Korea-based LG is the first out of the gate with its Optimus 4X HD smartphone, the natural progression of last year's dual-core Optimus 2X.
The smartphone's Nvidia Tegra 3 1.5-GHz processor actually has five cores for extreme multitasking, with one known as the companion core in a process Nvidia calls 4-PLUS-1.
The Tegra 3 delegates responsibility by shifting lowly tasks like music play, browsing and voice calls to the companion core while reserving its powerful quartet for gaming, high-definition video playback and other memory-heavy tasks. This process is intended to extend battery life.
The 8.9-mm thick Optimus 4X, with a larger-than-average 4.7-inch 1280x720-pixels touchscreen, ships with the latest version of Google's Android operating system, 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and has an 8-megapixel, auto-focus camera with LED Flash and a 1.3 megapixel secondary camera. It has 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of space.
No long-term evolution speed for this baby, though. It's equipped for 3G, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HDMI via MHL, and capable of near-field communication for payments. It can also connect to other home devices via the Digital Living Network Alliance standard.
LG has yet to announce price, U.S. availability or carrier partners. The device is expected to begin shipping in Europe in the second quarter, according to reports. Setting the price-tag right is crucial, said analyst Kirk Parsons of J.D. Power and Associates. "I'm sure cost will be a factor in consumer acceptance as it must show some sort of performance gain vs. current smartphone performance," he said.
Tegra Is Integral
Quad-core is likely to be one of the big stories coming out of Mobile World Conference as well as the coming CTIA Wireless Conference beginning May 12 in New Orleans, and Nvidia will be a star player.
"We expect many more devices to use the Tegra 3 processor," said Peter Han, a consumer devices analyst for Current Analysis. "Nvidia's Tegra 2 was very popular in both smartphones and tablets, and we expect the Tegra 3 to be the same."
He noted that while the Optimus 4X HD is the first quad-core processor smartphone officially announced, the Android 4.0-powered Asus Transformer Prime tablet was released in December with a 1.3-GHz Tegra 3 processor.
That adds another item to the speculation for Apple's next iPhone: Will the fifth-generation model bump up from a dual-core A5 processor to quad-core?
Not necessarily, says Han. "The current iPhone 4S was a disappointment in terms of specs compared to Android smartphones," kept the same display size, kept the same form factor, and no LTE," he said. "However, it is still the most popular smartphone."