No quad-core smartphones from Sony until 2013 – a mistake, or a stroke of genius?

ARM Cortex A15 ProcessorAlthough many expected one or two to arrive during CES 2012, we’ve had to wait until Mobile World Congress for our first look at the next-generation of smartphone — those with quad-core processors hidden inside. Anticipation has been building for months, following several tantalizing demos of the Nvidia Tegra 3, and judging by what we’ve seen so far, the hardware has been worth the wait.

LG was first out of the blocks with the Optimus 4X HD, then came the HTC One X, the ZTE Era and Huawei’s Ascend D Quad, and it’s almost certain Samsung is waiting in the wings with the quad-core Samsung Galaxy S III. There are two other major manufacturers who unveiled new phones at the show, but are missing from the above list. Nokia is the first (CEO Stephen Elop has made his thoughts about quad-core power quite clear in the past) and the newly formed Sony Mobile.

During CES in January, Sony outed the Xperia S and Xperia Ion, two Android phones with very powerful 1.5GHz Snapdragon processors — both dual-core. At MWC this week, the Xperia P and Xperia U appeared, which are lower-range devices featuring 1GHz NovaThor chips.

So why did Sony not introduce a quad-core flagship?

No quad-cores until 2013

In a conversation with CNET Asia, Sony’s product manager made it quite clear it wouldn’t be releasing a quad-core smartphone until 2013 at the earliest. The reason is simple: The company doesn’t feel “that the performance matches the battery efficiency.”

It isn’t discounting the idea of a quad-core phone entirely, adding that when it makes sense to switch — i.e. both quality and performance are equally high and there is a range of apps which take advantage of such a chip — it will do so.

Marketing nonsense

Because Quad-core phones are very new and few real-world tests have been carried out, nobody really knows how well batteries will handle their powerful processors and, in most cases, massive screens. After all, many current devices struggle to last a day without a charge, and none of those have more than two cores.

Will Nokia’s Stephen Elop be proved correct? Are quad-core phones “hand-warmers” with little benefit over fast single or dual-core processors? Sony Mobile certainly seems to share this opinion.

The trouble is, the word ‘quad-core’ sounds better than ‘dual-core’ regardless of which is actually superior, and bigger means better when it comes to selling new hardware. It’s the same story throughout consumer electronics; just try comparing contrast levels on HDTVs.

For a company needing to assert itself in an incredibly competitive market, it’s a brave move for Sony to decide not to grab some cheap publicity with a quad-core phone.

ARM Cortex A15

Sony could be the smart one here. Instead of adopting a quad-core chip, it plans to use the Cortex A15 architecture during the second half of 2012. Why? “We feel [it] outperforms the current quad-core architecture.”

The first devices to use the ARM Cortex A15 design will appear toward the end of the year, and Samsung has announced it has also built the 2GHz dual-core Exynos 5250 around it.

Texas Instruments has also adopted it for its OMAP 5 processor, and has released a video showing the performance differences between it running at 800MHz and a 1.3GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3.

Just when the dual-core phone appeared to be starting its march toward the grave, it looks like it could make a very exciting comeback indeed.