Speed promise at mobile sneak peek

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am

Technology-obsessed Hongkongers can expect to see much speedier smartphones and gadgets in the year to come, but the price of power may be shorter battery life.

Barcelona's Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest mobile show which ended last week, offered a sneak peek at what consumers can expect in the mobile phone market over the next few months.

'Quad-core' emerged as the industry buzzword, as manufacturers tried to wow visiting crowds with the newest ultra-fast processors that control their smartphones.

Veterans were also guessing whether Apple's iPad 3, set to be unveiled in the US on Wednesday, would be backed by similar quad-core hardware.

The fastest phones available to shoppers, including the latest versions of the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy, LG's Optimus and the Droid from Motorola of the United States, run on dual-core processors. The quad-core phones shown at the congress could be more than twice as fast as the dual standard.

Asian brands seem to be leading the charge. LG of South Korea was the first to announce a quad-core phone - the Optimus 4X HD - which is expected to arrive in Europe around June. It was followed by HTC's One X, to be introduced worldwide from next month.

Chinese companies, desperate for more market share, are not far behind. The world's No 4 phone maker, ZTE, released its PF112 HD last week though its full specification is not yet known, while Huawei says it has made the world's fastest phone to date: the Ascend D Quad, running its own processor.

William Cheung Sing-wai, associate professor of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong, said more powerful hardware ensured better computing for users, especially multi-taskers.

'It would definitely help improve performance if you are downloading something, watching a movie and using other apps at the same time,' he said.

Greater processing power also allowed the use of more complex applications on mobile phones such as interactive internet games which were previously limited to notebooks, he said.

However, greater use of applications - especially data-hungry complex games - spells greater demand for data and that could be bad news for mobile subscribers who have a monthly data limit. SmarTone, CSL and 3HK are continuing their unlimited mobile data services for now, but CSL said it would stop offering such plans to new users at the end of this year.

There could be an even bigger concern for users who do not want to carry phone chargers around: the faster phones may suffer from battery drain. Quad-core processors demand more power than dual-core ones with identical clock rates, a measure of how fast a processor executes instructions.

Clock rate frequencies are noted in gigahertz per second, or GHz. Taiwanese company HTC's dual-core Sensation XE, for example, has a clock rate of 1.5GHz. The quad-core One X has the same clock rate, meaning the battery will suffer.

Some manufacturers might have sacrificed speed to conserve battery life. 'It all depends on what you want: a Ferrari or an energy-conserving green car,' Cheung said.

But consumers will have more than greater speeds to look forward to. Samsung of South Korea is going back to nostalgic basics. Its Galaxy Note comes with a stylus for doodling or jotting down notes, and its 10.1 version comes with a digital eraser, says Francis Fong Po-kiu, president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation.

The product would be in Hong Kong in about four months, he said.

Finland's Nokia will offer its 808 Pure View phone, which boasts a lens capable of taking 41-megapixel pictures, a resolution that exceeds some digital SLR cameras. Strangely, the phone does not run on platforms like Windows or Android, but on Symbian Belle, an operating system that Nokia will phase out by 2016.


The market share held by HTC for smartphone sales in the United States in the third quarter last year, according to Canalys