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What Integrating a 4G LTE Modem means to the Snapdragon S4 Processor and Battery life

The advantage of buying a Smartphone equipped with a 4G LTE modem is clear: you can surf the web, video conference, or play multiplayer games at up to 10 times the speed of conventional 3G. In some cases, these phones have enough data throughput capability to be their own mobile hotspots and share their 4G connection with up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

So what’s the catch?

4G LTE can sometimes come at the expense of battery life. Prior to the launch of Snapdragon™ S4, a LTE phone’s modem and application processor were usually separate chipsets. Typically, the more chips that are involved in building a device, the more challenging it is to conserve battery life while maintaining performance.

What’s unique about the Snapdragon S4 processor, particularly the MSM8960, is that the modem baseband and application processor are combined into a single chip, optimized for performance and power efficiency. The modem is also multimode, meaning it can fall back to 3G when LTE isn’t available. (Some chipmakers still sell separate 3G and 4G modems – and don’t even try to integrate them into the application processor.)

Consolidation means good things for your battery. Of course, there are other factors at play besides LTE integration. Moving to a 28nm manufacturing process technology, an act of shrinking a die to create a somewhat identical circuitry with a more advanced fabrication process, improves performance by packing in more transistors, and also significantly reduces active power consumption. There’s also the inclusion of Connected Discontinuous Reception (CDRX), a technology that dyanamically shuts down the handset receiver to conserve power between data bursts from the network (such as when a web page is loading). Display technologies, such as BRITE (Backlight Reactive Illumination Tecnology), solve the issues of backlight intensity by dynamically adjusting it based on content demands.

Reviewers have noticed the difference. Consider these reviews of the HTC One X (AT&T) and HTC Evo 4G LTE—the first handsets with a Snapdragon S4 processor and LTE—will do the trick:

Anandtech says, “In practice the AT&T One X seems to last a lot longer using LTE than any LTE Android phone we've tested in the past.”

Slashgear shares a similar verdict: “The battery life here is pretty excellent, just like the HTC One X on AT&T and the HTC One S on T-Mobile, you’ve got the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 backing your whole system up with its ability to stay strong without draining the life out of your day via the battery. Count on this device to last you what it’s lasted us, that being 10+ hours a pop with heavy use, no problem”

The road to balancing blazing 4G speeds with great battery life has been long and winding, but it looks like Snapdragon might finally get us there.

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