First, the good news: most 2013 phones and tablets not running Snapdragon chips will be powered by chipsets based on the ARM-15 architecture, promising faster speeds and longer battery life. Additionally, Intel is making a determined effort to grab a share of the mobile device market with its new dual-core Medfield and Clover Trail chips coming soon to an LTE device near you. Now, the bad news: Since Texas Instruments announced its intentions to shift its focus away from smartphones and tablets, the Android chipset market will have one less player, and a rather developer-friendly one at that. This is the first of a series of articles in which I will analyze the newest offerings of four manufacturers who will be vying to power your next Android phone and/or tablet: Qualcomm, Samsung, NVIDIA, and to a lesser extent, Intel.
difficulty NVIDIA is having in getting its new Tegra 4 chipset into Android devices leaves a functional duopoly between Qualcomm and Samsung in the Android CPU market until Intel can gain a significant foothold, which may not happen until next year at the earliest. Rumor has it that Google will continue its collaboration with Asustek to build the next Nexus 7, this time allegedly packing a 1080p display, and I wouldn't be surprised if this new tablet was powered by the Tegra 4. If I'm right, NVIDIA might still have some glimmer of hope. The second-generation Nexus 7 is expected to be announced at this year's Google I/O in May, so NVIDIA might be able to parlay the exposure into more second-half sales this year, because Qualcomm and Samsung certainly appear to have the first half of the year locked up.
Xiaomi Mi-Two, the Optimus G and Nexus 4 by LG, the Padfone 2 by Asustek, the J Butterfly and Droid DNA by HTC, and the Find 5 by Oppo. Joining the crew this year are the Xperia Z and ZL by Sony and the M7 by HTC (I'm sure I'm missing a few more).
As dominant as the Snapdragon S4 Pro will be in early 2013, it will soon be eclipsed by two similar Qualcomm chipsets called the Snapdragon 600 and 800 respectively. The Snapdragon 600 (APQ8064T) is similar to the S4 Pro (APQ8064), but gets a 200 MHz bump in max clock speed (1.9 GHz compared to the rated max of 1.7 GHz supported by the S4 Pro) and LPDDR3 memory. The Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974) can be clocked up to 2.3 GHz and includes an Adreno 330 GPU capable of supporting 2160p resolution (that's right - double the 1080p resolution of the S4 Pro's Adreno 320 GPU - look for this in tablets since the resolution bump would be imperceptible on a phone).
We should start to see the quad-core 5450 in the Galaxy S IV, possibly as part of a new chipset called Octa. The Exynos 5 Octa chipset contains eight CPU cores, but is not a true octocore chipset because only four cores will be active at any given time - the Exynos 5450 chipset for intensive tasks such as gaming, and an older ARM-9 chipset for lesser tasks to preserve battery life.
RAZR i, but Intel has yet to make a significant impact in the Android world. That might change in the second half of this year, however. Intel's Medfield and Clover Trail processors have benchmarked competitively against 2012's best ARM and Krait processors in CPU-intensive tasks, but Intel has a long way to go before they catch up with the likes of the Adreno and Mali GPUs in terms of graphics performance.
It remains to be seen if Intel will be able to present a viable alternative to the ARM and Krait architectures this year. UPDATE: it appears that Intel might be the processor of choice in a new budget 7" tablet from Asus this year called the Fonepad (gotta love the reverse Padfone nomenclature there, right? No? Me either ). I will delve deeper into each of these chipsets in the succeeding articles of this series, and together we will hopefully come to a better understanding, not only of how much more powerful 2013's processors are than last year's, but also of how the CPU affects your device overall.