The benefits of buying a smartphone with a dual-core processor

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: April 20, 2011

Last year was the year of the Snapdragon. Qualcomm's 1GHz processor swept the market off its feet and introduced us all to speeds we weren't used to seeing on Android phones. This year – though we're only a few months in – is shaping up to be the year of the Tegra 2, a dual-core chipset made by NVIDIA.

More and more frequently, we're hearing of phones coming to market with dual-core processors. What does this mean to the average end user? Should you buy a phone with a dual-core processor over a single-core? Will it really make that much of a difference? Here are just a few things you should know about dual-core phones:

Future-proofing

Far too often, Android phones hit a state of obsolescence by the time they make it to shelves. Take the ThunderBolt for instance. It took the number one spot on all three top five Android phones lists made by Aaron, Sydney, and myself. But its days are already numbered and it has only been available for about a month. There are other LTE phones coming to Verizon's shelves and at least one is packing twice the processing power. The Droid Bionic is equipped with a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor. Though it is said it will ship with Android 2.2 – which doesn't accommodate for the second core – it will likely leave its predecessors in the dust (speed-wise) when it gets the Gingerbread update.

More importantly, these dual-core phones are built with future updates in mind. Sure, Gingerbread is optimized for use with a dual-core processor, but what about Ice Cream Sandwich or versions of Android beyond that? There was fear that Honeycomb and Gingerbread would require dual-core processors. This was quickly debunked, but at some point – after Android has advanced so far and has become graphically intensive – there will be minimal processor requirements. At that point, single-core processors will begin to slip into the history books. For now though, and for any foreseeable future, single-core phones are fine and will suffice as daily drivers for both light and heavy users alike.

Graphics, applications, and media consumption

Where the dual-core was meant to excel was in the consumption of media, or in use with graphically intensive applications and games. Right now we have very simplistic games with medium quality graphics. Mobile gaming is on the rise and mobile platforms are looking to get their piece of the pie.

When dual-core and quad-core phones become the standard, much like 1GHz single-core did in 2010, we will begin to see an increase in the quality of graphics and in the overall functionality of these games. There have already been some games created to show off dual-core processors, many of which can be found in Tegra Zone. But gaming isn't the only thing a dual-core is good for. Watching high definition movies can also bog a system down sometimes. As processing power increases, tablets will also gain the ability to play videos at higher resolutions (Blu-ray quality is said to be supported by the Tegra 3, a 1.5GHz quad-core chipset expected by the end of this year).

Improvements in battery life

Long and loud have been the woes of Android users experiencing pitiful battery life. With the introduction of a dual-core processor, there should be some improvements in the stamina of the device. The theory is that rather than maxing the single core out and burning right through your battery life, the two cores will work together and ideally take half of the load each.

That said, I take this with a grain of salt and would advise you to do the same. I'm far from being an expert on either battery or processor technology. But I have taken a lot of physics classes and to me it just doesn't make sense or add up. I have done a good bit of research and can't find a scientific explanation as to why it would actually save power. Also, I wouldn't expect a substantial increase in battery life. Even if dual-core processors do save on battery life, I suspect it to be equivalent or similar to how much using one display technology over another can save battery. It's slight but noticeable.

Bragging rights and quadrant scores

Current single-core processors are plenty fast in terms of daily use. I'm a very heavy user at times and I know how to lock a phone up with style. However, I've been using the ThunderBolt with its second-gen 1GHz Snapdragon for a month now. I have experienced minimal lag and hangs, even with intensive usage.

The big frill with dual- and quad-core processors is performance. Think of it as the enthusiasts' way of getting that extra kick out of their smartphone. You could relate it to a computer nerd packing their desktop with 16GB of RAM and a hexa-core processor. It could also be paralleled with a muscle car enthusiast fitting their Mustang with a supercharger. Will they ever truly need all of it? No. It's overkill. Bragging rights. But hey, it's still cool to have, right?

The market isn't quite ready for dual-core smartphones

I'm not as resistant to new technology as I may come off. In fact, I embrace it and am typically an early adopter of all things new. But I'm always wary and skeptical of something that sounds gimmicky, like 3D (don't get me started). As it stands, smartphones with dual-cores are slightly ahead of their time. Gingerbread isn't widespread and Froyo doesn't support a dual-core chipset. Tablets, on the other hand, are in need to the extra processing power as they have much higher display resolutions and need the extra power to provide a more fluid experience.

Image via G for Games