Have you seen the barrage of quad-core smartphones lately? Every week, we see four to five new smartphones launched with quad-core CPUs, which is being seen as the benchmark for good processor specs. Most of the phones are priced under Rs 15,000 and they even start under Rs 10,000. Xolo’s Q600, which was launched yesterday, comes with a price tag of Rs 8,499. Three more feature-rich, well-designed quad-core smartphones by Lenovo are about to debut in the market this month. What’s the common point in all these phones? The MediaTek MT6589 SoC, of course.

The MT6589 is the beating heart of the quad-core smartphone boom that’s ongoing in India and has already swept China. MediaTek is a Taiwanese company, which was originally the R&D unit for UMC or United Microelectronics Corporation, the oldest chipmaker in the country. MediaTek’s business was spun off UMC in 1997 and the company began making chips for CD and DVD drives, and later for home entertainment systems. By 2000, it had established itself as a top player in each segment and in 2004, it ventured into making chips for smartphones. Currently, it has the fifth largest share in the smartphone applications processor market, trailing the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Broadcom. MediaTek is on tenth spot in the overall mobile processor market. The fast climb by MediaTek is attributed to its popularity in devices produced and sold in China, as well as emerging markets such as India.

Fast climb by MediaTek in the smartphone industry

Fast climb by MediaTek in the smartphone industry

The predecessor of the quad-core chipset, the MT6577, was arguably the most popular dual-core processor among those used by Indian smartphone companies. And the same is the case with the MT6589 when it comes to quad-core CPUs. The MT6589 is the world's first quad-core Cortex-A7 chip and is by no means a laggard in the quad-core game. It is known to provide about 75-80 percent of the performance of a Tegra 3, Snapdragon S4 Pro or an Exynos 4 quad-core SoC, but it is available at half the price.

While the MT6589 used in Indian smartphones has so far been used predominantly for powering 720p displays, the SoC also features the PowerVR Series5XT GPU, in addition to the CPU. And this combination can support displays up to 1080p in resolution as is evident in smartphones like WickedLeak Wammy Passion Z. This is the same chipset that is expected to be powering the upcoming Canvas 4, which is also rumoured to have a full HD display. Already, there is a lengthy list of smartphones with full HD displays powered by the MT6589. These are not as widely available in India as they are in China, but their existence proves that the next crop of low-cost full HD smartphones will be powered by this very same processor.

It’s all well and good if the processor is powerful, but it will be of no good use if it taxes the battery too much. Thankfully, the 28nm manufacturing process of the MT6589 means you can have great savings when it comes to power consumption. In fact, MediaTek claims its MT6589 is also the coolest running quad-core setup in the market.

What’s more, the GPU is powerful enough to support 3D displays, including real-time 2D-to-3D conversion. In terms of imaging, you get the best option from the current crop of camera modules as the MT6589 supports sensors up to 13 megapixels with integrated in-system programming for better image processing. MT6589 also has support for 3D cameras, but these are highly rare among smartphones.

Not only does the MT6589 have an integrated graphics solution, it also comes with a built-in HSPA+ chip for 3G connectivity. This is the top-end connectivity solution for India, where 3G is beginning to gain ground and 4G is yet to enter mainstream. This means that it will support 3G speeds of up to 42Mbps. In addition, the MTK6589 has support for Miracast, which is great for wireless content sharing on multiple screens. It also has a pre-integrated connectivity chip suite, which includes modules for the 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and FM Radio.

Chipsets for all devices

Chipsets for all devices

There’s no denying that the MT6589 is a highly popular choice for all type of OEMs. Due to its popularity, MediaTek has also announced two variants: an entry-level MT6589M and a more powerful MT6589T. Each chip is based on the MT6589, but has slightly different specifications and hardware support. For example, the MT6589M only supports up to 8 megapixel cameras, 720p video capture and QHD resolution displays. This is meant for the sub-Rs 10,000 quad-core smartphones like the Xolo Q600. The more powerful MT6589T (Turbo) has a CPU clocked at 1.5GHz and a touch faster GPU clocked at 357MHz.

It’s not just in India that MediaTek’s magic has worked. Fairphone, the world’s first smartphone manufactured with ethically-sourced materials, is using the MT6589, and so are several phones made by American indie company Blu. Acer has the Liquid S1, a phablet that's based around the MT6589T. With more manufacturers expressing interest in MediaTek’s smartphone solution, average prices of high-spec’d phones will continue to fall even further.

American brand Blu's phones look quite similar to the Indian quad-core brigade

American brand Blu's phones look quite similar to the Indian quad-core brigade

There’s already some buzz about manufacturers like Sony and HTC contemplating using the MT6589 for low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. Qualcomm, the world’s leading mobile CPU maker, has an MT6589 competitor in the form of the Snapdragon S4 Play, which is a similarly spec'd quad-core processor. But to our knowledge, only one mainstream Indian smartphone – the Karbonn Titanium S5 – is powered by it. In comparison, MediaTek’s MT6589 is a clear winner in India and could soon be setting its sights on other markets.

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