The new HTC One M9 was announced over two weeks ago and was supposed to be on sale in Taiwan this week, but HTC have had to postpone the release because of a software bug in the device. We don’t know the exact details of this issue as whilst it is disappointing for customers in this region, it is better to release the software fully working than rush the launch. We’ve also seen a Dutch website benchmark the new, pre-launch software and see the skin temperature reach 133 degrees, which is too hot for a consumer smartphone.
The culprit is being widely blamed on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 System on Chip, SoC, which will typically run warm or even hot during high workloads such as benchmarking applications. The Snapdragon 810 already had a rumor of overheating during use, something that Qualcomm have been quick to deny. Unfortunately, some rumors are stubborn and persistent. The 810 is a new design for Qualcomm using an eight core, big.LITTLE processor arrangement that pairs up a high efficiency, quad core ARM Cortex A53 with a high performance, quad core ARM Cortex A57, running the ordinary processor core designs rather than a custom, proprietary Qualcomm design. This means that Qualcomm have not necessarily had the time and development to fine tune the processor, either to optimize the clock speeds and number of active processor cores: the previous Qualcomm processor core, Krait, had been in use for three years and benefited from Qualcomm’s experience.
Now, Jeff Gordon, HTC’s Senior Global Online Communications Manager, today explained on Twitter: “HTC One M9 software isn’t final yet, no matter how many pre-release benchmarks you run.” This implies that HTC is still fine tuning the platform in order to find the right blend of performance, heat and power consumption. It’s likely that their software engineers are working on changes to the device kernel, which essentially sits between Android and the hardware. The kernel determines the switch over points between the processor cores, the processor speeds themselves and thermal limits, that being the temperatures at which the clock speeds are reduced in order to both prevent damage to the hardware and discomfort for the user. Jeff also wrote that “current tests can’t be relevant,” which would seem to imply that there are reasonably significant changes that could be taking place under the skin.
It’s great that HTC are taking an interest in what the world thinks of their new flagship device even before it’s released. Preproduction software and hardware is never the same as the final, retail product but can be close. Manufacturers will refine their products during the product cycle – Google have changed how the Nexus 6’s processor copes with idling in the switch from Android 5.0 to 5.1, for example – but headlines are made by high temperatures. Benchmarking application suites load up a device harder than most users will do, most of the time and are not representative of the normal temperatures we’d expect to see out devices at. Nevertheless, with reports of high temperatures and lower benchmarking results, HTC has to get their kernel refinement complete if it is to be considered comparable to the new Galaxy S6.