Over the last two years, smartphones have greatly changed. The technology inside our pocket computers has undergone some major improvements; displays have increased in size and clarity, cameras are quickly catching up with dedicated point-and-shoot cameras, and radios can now access networks with speeds that exceed those of home Internet connections. But the piece of tech that has undoubtedly gained the most attention from both manufacturers and fanatics alike is that of processor speeds.
The Android boom started back with Motorola and Verizon's introduction of the original Droid. Its processor clocked in at 600MHz. At the time, that was touted as the fastest processor on the market and the Droid blew its predecessors and competition out of the water. Not long after, we were introduced to Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon processor in the Google Nexus One.
Since then we have experienced even more advancement in mobile processing power. There are now phones and tablets heading to market with processors clocking in at 1.2GHz or more with both one and two cores. Not only do they offer a serious bump in processing power, they offer more efficient power consumption that supposedly yields better battery life – an undeniable Achilles' heel of today's smartphones.
With most cell phone manufacturers no longer making their own processors, the technology can now move at breakneck speeds. This morning there was a rumor spreading around about a Samsung phone that will be released in 2012 with a 2GHz dual-core processor. It has also been confirmed by NVIDIA that they would be readying their Tegra 3 processors by August of this year. The Tegra 3 is a quad-core processor clocking in at 1.5GHz.
Of all the stories I've seen this year, these few about processors have left me scratching my head. Why are processors getting so much attention? Is anything above and beyond what we have available now (or already on its way) necessary? It just seems like overkill, bragging rights, and a gimmick to make your current phone seem aged.
Don't get me wrong, I love fast phones and I love multitasking without bogging my phone down. But I have spent quite some time with both tablets and phones with dual-core processors. They're already fast enough. In fact, I'm using the HTC ThunderBolt – which I initially thought was a disappointment with its single-core Snapdragon – as my daily driver. I'm a pretty heavy user, especially when at home, and I haven't had a single issue with speed in my month of use.
As the smartphone market gains more and more attention, there will be a noticeable increase in the use of gimmicks. Take the Motorola Atrix 4G for instance; it comes with a biometric scanner, dual-core processor (which it doesn't even take advantage of on Froyo), and countless docks that can turn your phone into a laptop-like workstation.
Processor speeds are turning into the "megapixel" of the smartphone race, a gimmick. Just because a company slaps a "20-megapixel" sticker on a point-and-shoot digital camera doesn't mean it's better than its 14-megapixel counterpart. There is much more that comes into play than just the megapixel rating. The vast majority of buyers will never know the difference. The same goes for mobile phones and over the top processors.
To be honest, I'd rather have a phone with a display that I can view in direct sunlight and doesn't eat batteries for breakfast, or one that will last two or three days on a charge. I would be more prone to buy something like that than a phone with a 12GHz hexa-core processor. Unfortunately, the majority of buyers don't feel the same way and we all will have to sit through this (hopefully short-lived) super-processor fad.