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Snapdragon vs. Hummingbird vs. OMAP - the mobile CPU war beyond 1GHz

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The future of smartphones:

Let's recap with a shaking hand what can we expect from the next generation of smartphones based on the features those upcoming 45nm SoCs support:

  • Significantly improved battery life over the current generation. Today, if you get a full day out of your phone, you should not be calling yourself a power user. Hummingbird and A4 are already giving uptimes longer than that, but the dual-core Snapdragons and OMAP4 will probably enhance unplugged time even further. Moreover, dedicated graphics, low-power audio and GPS chips will be offloading non-typical calculations from the CPU, and we should see longer battery hours when playing music, video, or using the phone's global positioning capabilities. 120 hours of music playback is a number cited for both Cortex-A9 chipsets – the TI OMAP4, and ST-Ericsson's U8500;

  • Outlandishly thin and light handsets. Being able to fit more transistors on the same space should work wonders for the design studios to make thin handsets with excellent heat dissipation, or fit new features in current form factors. Don't take our word for it, just look at the iPhone 4, the Samsung Galaxy S and the Samsung Wave. Maybe we can finally see optical zoom inside a thin handset? Here's for hoping... or at least a lighter!

  • Full 1080p HD video recording, decoding and on-handset editing. Not that 720p isn't already good enough for most general purposes, but we are positive that marketing departments will spin this feature like there's no tomorrow. This would be the biggest drag on battery life, too, with claims of not more than 4hrs of full HD video on a 1500mAh battery for the Moorestown platform, although the Cortex-A9 based chipsets promise twelve. Handsets with Texas Instruments' OMAP4 family should have a slight edge here, given its hardware codecs and image processing capabilities;

  • Improved still photography. Support for higher camera resolutions up to around 20MP, and more place inside the phone to fit a bigger sensor should produce some amazing results from a phone's camera. In addition, hardware image enhancement algorithms and stabilization will be supported in OMAP4. Coupled with the ability to fit more powerful LED or Xenon flash units for improved low-light performance, it will all come up to your phone being the only camera you'll need for casual snaps;

  • Console level gaming. Those peak 90mil triangles per second in the current generation Hummingbird are an outstanding achievement in a mobile processing system. The OMAP4 chipset demoed an amazing proof-of-concept Blaze device at this year's MWC. The demo unit had 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyro, temperature sensor, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, digital compass and pressure (barometric) sensor to top it off. When matching the graphics subsystems to this boatload of sensors, mobile gaming possibilities are only limited by the developers' imagination;


  • Desktop-like web browsing, Java Script rendering, 2D and 3D graphics performance. All the graphics enhancements should be bringing smooth and more interactive user interfaces with no discernible lag, as well as the Internet in its full glory to your small screen. TI's OMAP4 presentation hardware rendered a website for 2 sec, down from 5 sec on the previous version, so we have some idea what real-life enhancements would be. The Blaze presentation also hinted at 3D UI capabilities, and has a hardware support of Adobe Flash 10.1. Qualcomm even has a video demo of a 3D World UI for Snapdragon on its website to fill in your imagination gaps;


  • Additional video output options and multiple displays support. Besides supporting 1080p HDMI-out, the new chipsets are able to support more than one display simultaneously. TI's Blaze device had two 3.7” capacitive screens at once, while outputting content to an HDTV, or powering its 15 lumen DLP Pico projector (the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Beam has a TI 6 lumen projector, for comparison). Numerous application possibilities to take advantage of more than one screen with different content running in parallel come to mind;

     

  • Touchless gesture-based UI trough visual object recognition, and 3D-HD recording. The wildest fantasies for what a smartphone could be are visualized again courtesy of Texas Instruments with the OMAP4 platform.



The above-mentioned Blaze device was having three multi-megapixel cameras – two on the front and one on the back. According to TI, the additional camera sensors might deliver touchless gesture recognition (as in the video above), and 3D-HD (720p) video recording. Wait, what? OMAP4 allows to point and click on the projected from the phone image, or shoot stereoscopic video at 30 fps and show it on an external 3D HDTV? We like...

How far can the mobile processing industry go at that point? ARM is already exploring 28nm, and even 20nm processes, so who knows where it will all end. What is even more exciting is that smartphones with the above features are not some far-fetched possibility. Most of those mobile systems-on-a-chip are going into devices that will be announced before the year has passed. Granted, sacrifices will have to be made and not all of the possible features will be appearing in one or even a few devices at once.

We are living in a pivotal year for the smartphone industry that will shape how people access information and interact with each other wherever they are for years to come. Numerous chipset and screen technologies are revolving around even more operating systems, user interfaces and applications. Whatever the outcome of the mobile CPU war is, one thing is for sure – the consumers will win in the end.

sources: AlienBabelTech, more and Tested

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posted on 20 Oct 2010, 01:47

1. remixfa (Posts: 13903; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


finally a well thought out and written article on PA. The only thing that constantly bugs me is the abreviation of million. mln? Can ya just use M like most people.. I constantly find myself sounding it out... lol. cant wait for the next gen. If the next hummingbird has a 30% jump in battery life, that should put it inline with the A4/hummingbird, not past it. My vibrant gets almost a full day with me rarely putting the thing down. How many snapdragon handsets can do that? lol

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 06:54

2. ilia1986 (unregistered)


Indeed - as I said over and over again - and continue to say once more - smartphones are the future. In several years almost every phone will be a smartphone. And the difference between the phone and the PC - aside from the screen size - will be minuscule

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 10:20

4. Trevsx1000 (Posts: 33; Member since: 08 Dec 2009)


I agree with it all except for the screen size, especially with the 4.3 inch Droid X being about 1/3rd the size of my netbook screen. Albeit a netbook and PC are different I think smartphones will soon turn into 'Computer-Phones' with more user-friendly software for their slightly smaller size. PC's getting shrunk and smartphones going no more than 5ish inches. Just my .02

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 11:57

6. ilia1986 (unregistered)


Yes well, you still will want to have that 50" screen in your flat to view stuff from your couch. But indeed - smartphones are the future. And everyone claiming that just because most people still use simple phones today and thus it is better to focus on them - needs to understand the above this.

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 10:15

3. Trevsx1000 (Posts: 33; Member since: 08 Dec 2009)


Well written, we need more articles like this!

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 11:44

5. breal525 (Posts: 27; Member since: 24 May 2010)


I found this to be very informative.

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 14:14

7. mc delta theta (Posts: 1; Member since: 31 Jul 2010)


mmmmm.. what a beautiful article. This site would be top notch if they are not so biased towards apple's Ios in their phone reviews.Especially if it is a close contender. Well done Phone Arena. (I hope you are reading this !!)

posted on 31 Jul 2010, 18:49

8. Electrofreak (Posts: 1; Member since: 31 Jul 2010)


It's always cool to see my articles listed as sources, thanks! :) I will say this, my "Ruminations" post (your "more" source link) missed the mark on a few things (essentially, I was wrong about why the 45 nm OMAP 3630 in the Droid X was performing so well in Quadrant) but I explain my mistakes and some new findings based upon an article on AndroidAndMe here: http://sean-the-electrofreak.blogspot.com/2010/07/android-phones-benchmarked-its-official.html In addition, I encourage anyone who is interested to check out AnandTech.com's review of the Droid X's SoC, it's VERY well informed: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3826/motorola-droid-x-thoroughly-reviewed/4 (Page 4 cuts to the meat about the hardware) Also, an older article about the Nexus One covers Snapdragon pretty well: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3632/anands-google-nexus-one-review/8 (Again, this cuts to the important stuff on page 8) And I'm looking forward to their review of the Galaxy S phones and the Hummingbird SoC. A lot of new information has come out since I wrote my Hummingbird vs Snapdragon article in April and I'm sure they'll be able to uncover even more secrets that I couldn't tease out of technical whitepapers.

posted on 02 Aug 2010, 00:59

9. gridlock (Posts: 31; Member since: 10 Jun 2010)


Yes, can't wait for a Cortex A9 handset with TI's new chips to be benchmarked against the 3rd gen Snapdragons!

posted on 02 Aug 2010, 09:29

10. rtimi26 (Posts: 41; Member since: 16 Mar 2009)


Did anyone notice that galaxy s is the best on the benchmark on any phone in the world, since the htc glacier isn't out yet. Samsung has really done a good job and can't wait for see what froyo would do.

posted on 06 Aug 2010, 11:09

11. jskrenes (Posts: 209; Member since: 11 Dec 2008)


I also remember a year ago the folks at MIT were working on technology that would offer a 3-10x increase in battery life. I think people are pretty habituated to charging their phones once a day or every other day, so combining these two things we'll see larger screens, smaller or more unique form factors, and even more processor-intense features.

posted on 06 Aug 2010, 18:01

12. Mike w. (unregistered)


Really good article. Had alot well put together information. Smartphones are the future, and like someone said above the only difference in a few years between a PC and smartphone will be the screen size.

posted on 10 Aug 2010, 13:34

13. Lanced (unregistered)


Good general article. However, comparing battery hour between SoC is at best misleading. A poorly written driver can eat up all the battery no matter how good the SoC is at managing its power consumption. That is one of the reasons Apple does not support true multi-tasking + every application has to go through their inspection. Additionally, "Significantly improved battery life over the current generation" is not a guaranteed. At the transistor level, leakage power become dominant and is not easy to control. On top of that, newer generation of SoC has much more transistor than the older one. Take A9 for example, it has more transistors that the A8. Beside, compiling an A9 at 1.5GHz would nearly double the gate count compare to the same core at 1GHz. As software is not yet consolidated (various OS, graphic standards etc), SoC is still being built with many extra functions to cover all customers. As such, software role in manage these unused resource is critical in managing power consumption. Phone with the best software will win, and I think Apple proved that today.

posted on 10 Aug 2010, 21:59

14. BlackSirius16 (Posts: 84; Member since: 21 May 2010)


Apple proved that their software wont win? because that's all I say in the iPhone 4 plus i get better battery life out of my droid than my sister gets out of her iPhone 4 and im a power user

posted on 28 Aug 2010, 16:20

15. chmod421 (unregistered)


nice article like to see more of it i think in 5 years every comlicated needs will be doing by smartphones payments on shops and online shops asweel bank account attcahed to the simcards cash adwance from ATM's lot and lot mores even i can not emagine thanks for this well informative article

posted on 30 Sep 2010, 15:19

16. NYCkid (unregistered)


As a young man growing up in the Bronx, an impoverished place full of youth that rather have the most expensive sneakers and phone than a good meal or diapers for the baby, am inclined to say that yes, a phone that can eliminate high tech peripherals is awsome. But, these companies should be working on cutting cost for the consumer, not lining their pockets with the blood of the poor. There are probably more smartphones in low class urban areas than in the whole world. This article is supurb in all its facts and actually giving people the information to make an educated decision. Yet I will add that as a capitalist society, these huge companies should invest more into educating the consumer on money mannagement. The more expensive gadgets are purchased the higher the crime rate goes. Food for Thought.

posted on 09 Nov 2010, 09:40

19. mb1616 (unregistered)


Very informative article, thanks!

posted on 21 Nov 2010, 23:38

20. Knowname (unregistered)


and what of the DS, 3DS and PSP?

posted on 01 Dec 2010, 01:46

21. ian (unregistered)


Very nice article - best I've seen on the subject - thank you

The writing has been on the wall for some time - but this article provides the outline for play out over the next 12-18 months

as one poster stated - all the computing power needed by most people will be available in 'phones' with an hdmi (wireless?) to a bigger display (hdtv, monitor, pico projector, etc) - input can vary between a folding bt keyboard, kinect, etc

desktop/laptop is not dead - I still need 3d CAD (e.g Solidworks) or eagle for pcb's, etc - but 'phone'w/ exte4nal display will be fine for majority of users in coming years

posted on 03 Jan 2012, 00:32

22. AanyaSharma (Posts: 1; Member since: 03 Jan 2012)


I was researching about mobile phone processors and your article was of great help. There's not much info about mobile CPUs available on Internet, especially for a layman like me. Thank you so much.. Keep posting interesting stuff. There's one more detailed article about mobile CPUs and I would like to share the link - indian-mobilewatch.blogspot.com/2012/01/mobile-phone-processors

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