For Intel, the road to their first real competitive smartphone SoC has been a long one. Shortly after joining AnandTech and beginning this journey writing about both smartphones and the SoC space, I remember hopping on a call with Anand and some Intel folks to talk about Moorestown. While we never did see Moorestown in a smartphone, we did see it in a few tablets, and even looked at performance in an OpenPeak Tablet at IDF 2011. Back then performance was more than competitive against the single core Cortex A8s in a number of other devices, but power profile, lack of ISP, video encode, decode, or PoP LPDDR2 support, and the number of discrete packages required to implement Moorestown, made it impossible to build a smartphone around. While Moorestown was never the success that Intel was hoping for, it paved the way for something that finally brings x86 both down to a place on the power-performance curve that until now has been dominated by ARM-powered SoCs, and includes all the things hanging off the edges that you need (ISP, encode, decode, integrated memory controller, etc), and it’s called Medfield. With Medfield, Intel finally has a real, bona fide SoC that is already in a number of devices shipping before the end of 2012.

In both an attempt to prove that its Medfield platform is competitive enough to ship in actual smartphones, and speed up the process of getting the platform to market, Intel created its own smartphone Form Factor Reference Design (FFRD). While the act of making a reference device is wholly unsurprising since it’s analogous to Qualcomm’s MSM MDPs or even TI’s OMAP Blaze MDP, what is surprising is its polish and aim. We’ve seen and talked about the FFRD a number of times before, including our first glimpse at IDF 2011 and numerous times since then. Led by Mike Bell (of Apple and Palm, formerly), a team at Intel with the mandate of making a smartphone around Medfield created a highly polished device as both a demonstration platform for OEM customers and for sale directly to the customer through participating carriers. This FFRD has served as the basis for the first Medfield smartphones that will (and already are) shipping this year, including the Orange Santa Clara, Lenovo K800, and the device we’re looking at today, the Lava Xolo X900. Future Medfield-based devices will deviate from the FFRD design (like the upcoming Motorola device), but will still be based loosely on the whole Medfield platform. For now, in the form of the X900 we’re basically looking at the FFRD with almost no adulteration from carriers or other OEMs.

The purpose and scope of this review is ambitious and really covers two things - both an overview of Intel’s Medfield platform built around the Atom Z2460 Penwell SoC, and a review of the Xolo X900 smartphone FFRD derivative itself.

The Device

Beginning April 23rd, Intel, through Lava International, began selling the Xolo X900 smartphone in India for INR 22000 (~$420 USD). As we’ve stated before, the design and construction of the Xolo X900 almost identically mirrors the Intel FFRD we’ve seen before, from the specifications and Medfield platform itself, to industrial design and exterior buttons.

It’s a testament to the polish of the reference design that Mike Bell’s team put together that Intel is confident enough to basically sell exactly that device through carrier partners. I’ll admit I was skeptical upon hearing that Intel would basically be selling their MDP to customers, but the device’s fit and polish exceeded my expectations and are clearly those of something ready for customer abuse. First up are the X900 specifications in our regular table (below), Xolo also has its own nicely presented specifications page for the X900 online.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4S Samsung Galaxy S 2 Samsung Galaxy Nexus (GSM/UMTS) Lava Xolo X900
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 125.3 mm (4.93") 135.5 mm (5.33") 123 mm (4.84")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 66.1 mm (2.60") 67.94 mm (2.67) 63 mm (2.48")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 8.49 mm (0.33") 8.94 mm (0.35") 10.99 mm (0.43")
Weight 140 g (4.9 oz) 115 g (4.06 oz) 135 g (4.8 oz) 127 g (4.5 oz)
CPU Apple A5 @ ~800MHz Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z2460 with HT (1C2T)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP2 ARM Mali-400 PowerVR SGX 540 @ 304 MHz PowerVR SGX 540 @ 400 MHz
RAM 512MB LPDDR2-800 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 @ 400 MHz
NAND 16GB, 32GB or 64GB integrated 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 16/32 GB NAND 16 GB NAND
Camera 8 MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8 MP AF/LED flash, 2 MP front facing 5 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 8 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.27" 800 x 480 SAMOLED+ 4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED HD 4.03" 1024x600 LED backlit LCD
Battery Internal 5.3 Whr Removable 6.11 Whr Removable 6.48 Whr Internal 5.4 Whr

It’s interesting to me that Intel, Qualcomm, and others identified and went with WSVGA (1024x600) for their reference designs in roughly the same 4" size. It’s a display form factor that corresponds almost exactly to 300 PPI, and looks great, but more on that later. The rest of the X900 is basically what you’d expect for a smartphone of this generation, and on par with the Android competition that Intel was targeting, perhaps minus microSD expansion.

The design language of the X900 (and Intel FFRD) is a pretty obvious nod to the iPhone 4/4S design, complete with chrome ring, similar button placement, and a few other things. Likewise, the X900 uses a microSIM whose tray is located on the right side and makes use of an ejector port and tool. Below that is the X900’s two-stage camera button, and then speaker port. There’s a matching speaker port on the other side in the same area.

MicroUSB is located at the very bottom slightly off center, and microHDMI is on the left side. Up at the top is power/standby and the standard headphone jack. There’s no real surprises here, and despite being entirely plastic-clad, the X900 feels pretty decent in the hand.

The backside is a soft touch material which we’ve seen and felt on countless other smartphones before. The only downside to the X900 design is lack of a user replaceable battery - the backside is permanently attached. At the top is the 8 MP camera port, adjacent LED flash, and secondary microphone for noise suppression.

 

The front of the X900 is likewise pretty standard fare - up top are the 1.3 MP front facing camera, speaker grille, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor. At the bottom are the four Android capacitive buttons whose design mirrors the FFRD we’ve seen before.

Again there’s nothing super crazy about the design or construction of the X900, it’s an extremely polished reference design turned consumer electronic that feels solid and ready for use as a daily driver if you’re up for it. Enough about the superficial stuff though, let’s talk about what everyone wants to know about - Medfield and Android on x86.

Medfield: Intel in a Smartphone
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  • diulaylomochohai - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    Where are the numbers for HTC 1X and 1S??? Let see how much INTC is off from latest and greatest from NVDA and QCOM??? Reply
  • dwade123 - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Intel proves x86 can compete. With Intel's engineering and manufacturing advantages, Intel may soon surpass ARM in just about everything in the future. I still remember those who thinks ARM's transition to desktop is a threat to the entirety of Intel. Nope. It's the other way around. Intel is invading the low wattage CPU arena. Hate them or love them. The future is Intel. Reply
  • jwcalla - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    I lol'd. Reply
  • jwcalla - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Apple just crapped out $12 billion in pure profit in just the last quarter. That's over 4x the profit that Intel saw, and Apple had almost 4x as much total revenue as Intel.

    The iCraze is in full song and Android is right up there with them. The masses don't care about x86 on a smartphone. And they're not going to. They want the iShiny. Only the dinosaurs that are hooked into these mythical "necessary" legacy x86 mobile apps are going to care about an Intel phone or tablet. And they're going to want them sporting a turbo button and USB-powered 5.25" floppy drive.
    Reply
  • pheadland - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Small correction: I know Samsung says the GS2 only takes 32GB SD cards, but numerous people, including me, have 64GB SDXC cards working just fine in their GS2s (and many other Android phones).

    This trend to omit SD expansion and provide only 16GB built-in is puzzling and annoying. I have around 40GB of music. TV shows and movies can run multiple GB each. Streaming just doesn't cut it in rural areas or on planes.
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Wednesday, May 02, 2012 - link

    Have you put more than 32 GB of data on that 64 GB card, to make sure it's actually able to use all of it? Just curious, more than anything. Reply
  • Exophase - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    In the article you say that the translations are taken from Intel's servers in order to avoid the overhead of doing it on the phone. I doubt this is true, because based on Intel's publications the translation in its current state isn't that sophisticated and unless it is very poorly coded there's no way it'd be slower to do it on the device than pull it off the network.

    I think the real reason they did this is so they can improve the translation quality w/o updating the phones. Part of this could include hand optimizing hot spots or fixing incompatibilities in some of the more problematic games. Maintaining a database of program specific modifications on every phone would not be a good move.

    The article had some good information but I'm disappointed in the total lack of attention given to games. In the big list of apps that work fine I could only spot one game. For comparison, S|A tried two games - both worked, but one of them had awful performance. The phone game market is huge right now and it'd be nice to see someone try several - dozens, perhaps? - of games on the unit. But if they don't, the review should at least indicate that it's not focusing on it. With reviews like this it feels like phone gaming is almost completely devalued, which is bizarre given that several GPU benchmarks are performed, and GPU performance benefits little more than gaming.

    Of course, the battery life tests also don't address gaming. The iPhone 4S review had at least one gaming test (for something really resource intensive) so it's not like there's zero precedent for it.

    The big open questions for Intel putting x86 phones have never been if they can implement competitive GPUs or media blocks or even if they can have very low power consumption when there's low CPU activity. These things are obvious and Intel has already proven themselves on all of these fronts. What people want to know, or at least what I want to know, is what the power consumption is like when the CPU is being heavily accessed. In other words, I want an idea of perf/W. Talk time tests use a negligible amount of CPU. Browser tests use an unknown amount of CPU - it could be literally anything depending on what sites you use and how the idle parameters are tuned. I'd love to see some CPU utilization + frequency graphics during this test. But suffice it to say, if you're trying to simulate the user browser experience it'll consists of small periods of heavy activity while pages are loaded and vast periods of low activity while the user reads what's on the page.

    This is totally different from at least a lot of games, where the CPU constantly has to do something. This both increases the average frequency it has to operate in and gives it less time to go from full idle to full activity.

    At the very least it'd be nice to see some video playback battery tests. This (ideally) doesn't use much CPU either, and I'm sure Medfield does just fine here, but it's at least an important use case that should be validated. When you're on an airplane I'm sure you won't be using your phone for talking or web browsing.
    Reply
  • kuroxp - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    say sorry! see updates. :D Reply
  • sjprg2 - Sunday, April 29, 2012 - link

    Are all the cell phone makers STUPID? Where is the hands free bluetooth support with caller ID such as the Motorola V750 has? These are supposed to be phone! You can't drive in Califorina with the existing smartphones. They are not legal! Reply
  • derodg - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    You people are forgetting one very important thing here. This is x86 device! I should in theory be able to run any x86 compatible OS. Which includes Windows 8 that has a touch interface. This means I could dock my phone to a larger display use a keyboard and mouse. Then pick it up an walk out the door and use the same device.

    And once they get dual-cores in the Atom. Not only can I just buy one app. I can use it on my desktop and mobile device because they both would be the same.
    Reply

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