Inside the Google phone: A 'snappy' chip

The Google phone will be the first non-Windows smartphone to use the screamingly fast Qualcomm Snapdragon.

The Google phone may use what is probably the fastest smartphone chip on the planet and could become the first non-Windows smartphone to tap into this kind of processing power.

Conspicious among the Google phone's leaked specifications is the Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm. Snapdragon is the first gigahertz-class ARM-based processor to be used in smartphones. (In current implementations, Snapdragon runs at 1GHz.)

The Google phone's Snapdragon processor is one of the fastest smartphone chips.
The Google phone's Snapdragon processor is one of the fastest smartphone chips. Cory O'Brien via Twitter

And the Google phone (aka, Nexus One) would--if it becomes an actual product--have some interesting company, though both of the rival phones that use the chip are in the Windows Mobile camp: the Toshiba TG01 and HTC HD2.

Interestingly, all of these phones have, relatively speaking, large screens: more than four inches in diagonal size. The Google phone will also add high-resolution (based on an OLED touchscreen) to that.

What's the big picture on all of this? Smartphones are getting larger and more like small tablets (or "media pads"--which is really a more apt description) and their functionality is becoming more akin to personal computers. So, faster processors are necessary (let's not forget Nvidia's Tegra chip or Texas Instrument's OMAP processor) to handle the increasing hardware and software workloads.

Sort of sounds like the old PC mantra. Bigger, better, faster. Bigger storage/memory capacities, better (increasingly sophisticated) operating systems, and faster processors. Which is why Intel is sprinting as fast it can to get its "x86" PC architecture into smartphones . But this market is going to be a hard one to crack for Intel, no matter how much it wows device makers with its technology and marketing clout.

Look no further than Microsoft for proof. Despite its size and status, it is currently losing the smartphone (Windows Mobile) mindshare ( and market share ) battle to the Apple iPhone. And prospects won't improve with the emergence of devices--such as the Motorola Droid and Google Phone--based on Google's Android operating system, not to mention other popular platforms such as the BlackBerry.

The bottom line is that silicon competition will be varied and vigorous in the smartphone market--unlike the PC space. Which makes the unveiling of every new major smartphone all the more interesting.

Updated on December 15 at 2:20 p.m. PST: adding changes to reflect that it is not yet officially known whether a Google-branded phone would be a commercial product--though a number of reports claim such a phone will be sold next year.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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