The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Could Be the First 64-Bit Android Phone

Some alleged leaks have begun to surface about the upcoming Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) Galaxy Note 4 phablet. According to the AnTuTu database, there will be two distinct versions of the Galaxy Note 4. The first, probably the North American variant, will sport a Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) Snapdragon 805, but the second, probably the international version, will include a chip known as the Exynos 5433. This part will allegedly sport four ARM Cortex A57 and four ARM Cortex A53 CPUs (both 64-bit ARM Holdings (NASDAQ: ARMH  ) CPU cores) in a big.LITTLE configuration. Could this be the world's first 64-bit Android smartphone?

It's possible, but Intel powered phones could launch before then
If you want to get super technical about it, Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) recently launched Atom Z3480 and Z3580 parts are 64-bit capable. However, the timing of the launches of smartphone designs based on those parts still looks a little fuzzy. That said, there's a bigger -- and more important -- technical issue that will affect both Intel and Samsung in trying to sell 64-bit-capable phones.

Android support required
The bigger issue in doing a 32-bit to 64-bit transition at any non-trivial level is that the software ecosystem has to be recompiled to take advantage of it. Not only does the core Android operating system need to be ported over to ARM64/X86-64 (Intel and NVIDIA have already shown recompiled Android kernels for X86-64 and ARM64, respectively), but all of the applications and various third-party software development libraries need to be moved over, too.

Given that the vast majority of Android based devices will still be 32-bit for years to come, getting developers to move old applications over will take some time. However, it is likely that new applications going forward (once 64-bit Android from Google goes official) will be designed with ARM64/X86-64 in mind, so the transition will happen -- it's just a question of how long it'll take.

How does this affect the chip players?
This transition to 64-bit will probably be a positive for ARM Holdings, which will see a royalty rate increase in the shift from 32-bit designs to 64-bit designs. Further, the transition to 64-bit could prove to be a positive for Intel as the software transition from 32-bit to 64-bit will help elevate Intel's X86 to be a first-class instruction set on Android from Day 1 because the hardware will be widely available.

The royalty rate increase is likely to be on the order of pennies per chip, so it is unlikely that a slight royalty rate hike will move the needle in terms of the cost of goods sold for companies like Qualcomm that license ARM's technology. Further, those costs could probably be partially -- if not fully -- passed on to the customers of the chip companies without too much trouble.

Foolish bottom line
Since Apple's iPhone 5s came in as the world's first 64-bit phone complete with a 64-bit iOS, the race has been "on" to transition Android to 64-bit. Barring an announcement of a major Intel-powered smartphone before September, the international version of Samsung Galaxy Note 4 could be one of the first 64-bit capable Android phones on the market -- if not the first. 

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  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 3:22 PM, AdamGalas wrote:

    I'm considering the Note 4 for my update but waiting to see about Apple's Phablet.

    The biggest thing I like about the Note series is the removable battery, (ZeroLemon offers a triple sized note battery case) and the giant screen.

    If Note 4 and 5 continue the .2 inch screen increases that will do a lot to sway my decision. I prefer IOS but if my choice between Iphone 7 and Note 6 is a 5.5 inch screen vs 6.3 inch (and a potential 5 day battery life) well then I'll make do with android and touchwiz.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2014, at 7:27 PM, vernr75 wrote:

    No surprise there. Based on Samsung's Ram upgrade trends, their next generation of devices was always going to have at least 4GB Ram and therefore 64bit becomes mandatory. From what I've read recently, 64bit Android is only months away.

    This move of Android to 64bit is going to be a huge problem for Apple going forward. Apple's decision to go to 64bit wasn't actually a gimmick. It was an act of real desperation. It was the inevitable fallout from their decision to stick with dual cores while the rest of the high end market used quad cores. Android devices now have quad core processors as standard, and while those cores are 32bit, the number of bits that can be processed with each clock cycle is actually 128bits (32 X 4cores). Apple's 32bit dual cores used in previous iPhones could only process 64bits per clock cycles (32 X 2cores). Apple's iOS is still only coded and optimized for dual application cores. That's why Apple needed to go 64bit even as the move provided no benefits for Ram usage in the iPhone. The move gave their application chips the ability to match Android's 128bits per clock cycle processing while still using 2 cores (64 X 2cores). The result is seen in the benchmarks, where the iPhone 5S is the only iPhone in existence that has processing speeds to match the previous generation of high end quad core Androids. But it's already beginning to fall behind there too as new quad cores get even faster.

    So what happens when Android goes 64bit...and why should Apple be concerned? Well, just look at what the author stated in the above article.

    Android will go 64bit...on quad cores. Quad cores, not dual cores! That's HUGE. That's a game changer.

    That means the 64bit chips will now be processing a whopping 256bits per clock cycle (64 X 4cores). You can't match that with dual cores because ARM has no 128bit reference designs. It negates Apple's whole rational for moving to 64bit and it raises the bar to such an extent that Apple will absolutely have to abandon dual cores, move to 64bit quad cores and finally be forced to optimize iOS for quad cores. Stick with dual cores next year and the 64bit iPhone will become the slowest high end phone in the market. I suspect that quad core transition isn't something that Apple actually desires. They've been making a point of avoiding it. Apple's internal design team is now well versed in designing dual core chips, but they've yet to create a quad core application chip, much less a 64bit quad core chip. And with experienced chipmakers Intel and the established ARM camp now going head to head in competition and innovating as a result, Apple's choice to go it alone and design their own custom chips may end up becoming a liability, just as it did before in the desktop arena.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 12:28 AM, stretcho44 wrote:

    "but all of the [Android] applications and various third-party software development libraries need to be moved over, too."


    I know that the standard 64-bit x86 Linux environment will run both 32-bit AND 64-bit applications on the 64-bit releases. I seriously doubt that Google did not specify the API so that this would also be true on Android 64-bit.

    On the "need" to migrate the application ecosystem to 64-bit, I think you wrong. Maybe I misunderstand what you are trying to say ....

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 5:25 AM, Interventizio wrote:

    I'm no expert, but as far as I know, 64-bit technology has always been deemed unnecessary and not worth it.

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Ashraf Eassa

Ashraf Eassa is a technology specialist with The Motley Fool. He writes mostly about technology stocks, but is especially interested in anything related to chips -- the semiconductor kind, that is. Follow him on Twitter:

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