Inside story

twitter-logoNidhi Singal | Print Edition: May 2012

With their dual core processors, the big boys of last year were called the 'super smartphones'. This year, when the phones got quad cores, doubling their powers and capabilities, there was strangely no term available to christen these devices. Last year's big displays and dual-core processors pale in comparison to the quadcore processors and five-inch-plus display sizes that are becoming popular this year. The recent months have witnessed numerous smartphones being announced with the snazzy new quad-core processors, but only a handful of models will actually sport the chip. While initially the 5.2-inch display size of the Samsung Galaxy Note was called awkward, it has by now sold five million units globally. To compete against the camera lens quality of Apple's iPhone 4S, other manufacturers have come up with 41MP sensors and other top-range specs. But how do all these specs actually translate to user experience? Or do they just add to the cost?

High-definition world
After the iPhone came into existence, the mobile space has turned upside down. Displays that can play Full HD content captured at 1080p resolution have since become the norm. What is more impressive is the ability to capture Full HD video with the phone's camera.

There is more. Imagine you have a presentation or a Full HD video on your phone which you need to show to your boss. You can always show it on the phone or transfer it to a PC. Now, you can also use the phone's HDMI connectivity option to beam content straight to an HD TV.

The miniHDMI ports are slowly being replaced by the new industry standard, MHL. The Mobile High-Definition Link specification looks similar to a microUSB port. The specification is backward compatible and the same port can be used for charging the phone as well as connecting it to a computer. The Samsung Galaxy SII had the MHL port, so does the HTC One X. Another benefit is that the phone can get charged while connected to the TV, though not all cables support this feature. However, neither the MHL connector or cable are included in the sales box as it is slightly expensive at the moment. A local MHL connector might cost close to ` 600 and an MHL cable could come for Rs 750 and go up to a few thousands.

Hoping to the satisfy the needs of customers, brands such as Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung introduced specialised music phones a few years ago. While the Walkman-Series was more popular, Nokia's Xpress Music also did a good job. Nokia and Samsung later decided to do away with the music branding, but Sony Ericsson tried to regain its market share by using the name for a few Xperia smartphones.

Companies are adopting a new approach now. Instead of feature phones, they are now trying to look at software that can elevate the overall music experience. The perfect examples comes from players like Nokia and HTC. Nokia's N8 had Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound when it was launched in 2010. Now, the company is looking at having Dolby Digital Plus along with Dolby Headphones in the upcoming Nokia 808 PureView. Where Dolby Digital Plus enables cinematic Dolby surround sound, the Dolby Headphone is a technology that provides a personal 5.1 surround experience over any headphones you plug into the phone.

Viral Oza, Director Marketing, Nokia India, explains, "Today consumers want everything, so it doesn't make sense to name a particular phone as Xpress Music. Instead, we are adding Dolby software to some of our existing phones." Apart from Nokia 808PureView, the Nokia 700, 701 and 603 will have the Dolby Headphone with the Symbian Belle firmware upgrade expected in India in a couple of months. We wondered why only a handful of phones had this feature, so Razmi Haidamus, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marekting, Dolby, clarified, "This isn't a one-day process. The handset model first goes to the Dolby office and it takes close to a year to customise and upload it on a particular handset. And hence It cannot be just added to any piece of hardware."

It is not just Dolby. Even Beats Audio is getting big in the smartphone domain. The new handsets announced by HTC come with this technology onboard. Sony Mobile has put in Clear Audio and xLoud audio technology by Sony in its Xperia S.

There has been a sudden rush towards having additional cores in smartphone processors. Till early last year, we were content with a 1GHz processor present in almost every high-end phone. But CES 2011 saw phones with dual-core processors and at that time itself the chip makers shared their vision of bringing in quad-core processors soon.

Ever since, things have been happening so fast that everyone is bound to be confused. So, let's start with first understanding what these cores are all about. Says Dr Sandeep Sibal, Country Manager and Vice-President, business development, Qualcomm India and South Asia: "When we talk about cores we need to clarify what we are discussing. In most cases, when people talk about a quad-core processor, they are referring to the number of CPUs in the processor. But on a pure CPU level, clearly, with more CPU cores comes increased mobile processing performance. This additional CPU performance coupled with other system components such as the GPU, video and audio components means you'll see improvements such as crisper graphics, more vivid mobile gaming, faster Web browsing and overall multitasking."

Adds Vishal Dhupar, Managing Director-South Asia, nVIDIA: "Designing processors for mobile devices requires much more than simply replicating computer processor architecture and fitting it into a smaller form factor. The resulting processor might physically fit into a mobile device but its power consumption would result in a device with a battery life of minutes." As a result, both chip makers have introduced chips with quad-cores that are being used by all big brands. The Tegra 3 from nVIDIA is used in most of the top-end smartphones announced so far. As a multi-core CPU is able to allocate workload across its cores, each processor core runs at a lower frequency and voltage. This means, each core consumes significantly lower power and offers much higher performance per watt compared to a single-core processor.

The nVIDIA Tegra 3 comes with a fifth core in a quadcore architecture to handle less intensive tasks like updating Twitter and Facebook, accessing emails, making calls, sending text messages and more. These activities do not require significant CPU processing power. When more demanding chores are carried out, such as streaming videos, playing HD-quality games or audio playback, the other four cores are automatically called upon to make their capabilities show. On the other hand, Qualcomm's Snapdragon APQ8064 is a system on chip that includes four Krait CPUs in addition to a GPU, video and audio hardware and host of other advanced technology components. The company has integrated all the advanced technology components into one fully integrated system on chip that results in better overall performance at lower power.

However, at the moment, we don't have any smartphone on Snapdragon's quad-core chipset. While the increasing number of cores in the processors will enhance the overall performance of the device, there aren't many apps around that can fully utilise the horsepower provided by these. To somewhat remedy the situation, nVIDIA has developed a Tegra Zone, exclusive for Tegra devices, with optimised apps and games.

There is no denying the fact that the increasing megapixel count in the sensor and better optics in camera phones have resulted in more people using phones instead of point-and-shoot cameras. While we agree that people enjoy capturing images using the VGA, 2 MP and 3.15 MP camera phones, the results are not at a par to what digital cameras produce. Indeed most of the 5MP, 8 MP and even 12 MP phones produce images that are good for uploading on social networking sites, but they are not good enough for large printing. But now things are changing. Nokia's N8 had a 12MP camera with a big sensor that captured good images. Now the company has introduced a true successor to the N8, the Nokia 808 PureView.

This 41MP monster has been in the news since the day it was announced by Nokia. No, the phone won't capture images at 41MP resolution. Instead, the pictures will be captured at the regular 5 MP resolution, but using a large 1/1.2-inch sensor. In other words, using oversampling, every pixel in the finished image corresponds to about eight pixels on the sensor that help in reducing the noise while increasing sharpness and colour.

And, Nokia is not alone. The new smart candidate from Sony Mobile, the Xperia S, will have a 12 MP camera with Sony's Exmor R for mobile CMOS sensor that lightens up any gloomy day. It has f/2.4 aperture and can even capture Full HD videos at 1080p resolution. While the two upcoming smartphones are expected to do a good job, Apple's iPhone 4S already enjoys the title of the best camera phone around. The iPhone 4S has got 8 MP resolution and a custom lens with a larger f/2.4 aperture.

You have got data on your PC that you back up on a regular basis. But what about your smartphones that carry much more important data like contacts, images and messages which will be lost if you lose your phone? There are ways to back up this data, though very few use it.

Considering users are looking at automatic and effortless means of data backup, manufacturers and OS developers have now started offering cloud backup.

With the iOS 5, Apple introduced cloud backup service for all its iDevices that created backup and offered seamless sharing between them. The iCloud stores music, movies, apps, documents and images and also keeps emails, contacts and calendar up to date on across all idevices. iCloud gives 5GB of free storage to every user and more can be purchased.

Similarly, Microsoft has SkyDrive for Windows Phone users where they can store images, videos and even files that one can edit on the move. This is available in the form of a free app that can be downloaded from Windows MarketPlace.

But before the launch of iCloud for iPhone, many users used to reply on third-party applications like Dropbox. And now some of the Android phones are offering free storage on such apps. For instance, HTC has integrated Dropbox into HTC Sense that can be used for saving videos and images. The company offers 25GB free storage for two years on all its new One series devices.

Courtesy:Gadgets and Gizmos

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