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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  • Splynn - Sunday, April 29, 2012 - link

    I'm curious as to if there will be cost saving in the software development side of a tablet or phone. Intel is very good at developing platforms at this point that have a consistency from a software point of view (for example, PCIe works like a super set of PCI from a software point of view which was a big factor in its adoption).

    If this saves enough on the cost of development and maintaining the software, then it would seem to be a good option. But it would be a new way of doing business for the embedded market.
    Reply
  • djgandy - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Not a bad attempt, sure there are better SoC's out there but considering the age of the current Atom architecture and how it began it's not faring too badly. Medfield is a pretty old chip in terms of design. I'd expect Intel to start tick-tocking with Atom soon Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    The whole POINT is that Intel probably can't spin this as fast as ARM can. That has always been the more intelligent argument against Intel in this space-not that x86 is too large or too power hungry, but that it is so so so much more painful to design and validate, but any attempt to cut corners has the potential for embarrassing bugs like the pentium FPU bug. Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    I wonder how much better this phone would do with ICS loaded instead of GB? Will AT give this phone an update when the official ROM is released?

    Please forgive my ignorance - you could load Windows XP or Windows 7 on this thing, correct? Dual boot? Is there hardware that would restrict one from doing so? Seems to me that if it's just a glorified X86 Atom, it could be done. Arguments about drivers, battery life, and overall functionality aside...

    I'll keep watch over at XDA...
    Reply
  • S20802 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    How would it be with Win7 SE? Pretty Cool for fun. Reply
  • Rick83 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    There might be some issues with Windows, as it probably expects some desktop hardware, such as PCI or PCIe buses.
    While the CPU is x86 (x64 supposedly), the systems is not necessarily what you'd call "PC-compatible".

    Plus, the boot-loader is probably locked tightly.

    It would be interesting to see how Windows 8 positions itself though. With the mobile version now being called Windows for ARM, I'm wondering if the normal version will run on the reduced platform that mobile Atom offers.
    Reply
  • superPC - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Windows 8 can run on x86 SOC with LPDDR2 and no PCI/PCIe buses ( http://phil-it.org/chris/?p=1179 ). This phone can't run windows 8 though because it doesn't have any DirectX 9_3 compatible GPU. Now if anyone started selling phones with Z2580 (it uses PowerVR SGX544MP2 that can run DirectX 9_3) than it's all fair game (provided we can tinker with the BIOS and bootloader). Reply
  • IcePhase - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Doesn't Windows 8 also require a 768p screen? Reply
  • superPC - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    yes if you want to run metro apps. if you only use the desktop than it's all good (tried this myself with HP mini note with the exact same resolution as this phone, pathetic i know...). for benchmarking though desktop is all we need. if you want to use it as a phone though than it's going to be tough (to say the least). Reply
  • superPC - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    yes if you want to run metro apps. if you only use the desktop than it's all good (tried this myself with HP mini note with the exact same resolution as this phone, pathetic i know...). for benchmarking though desktop is all we need. if you want to use it as a phone though than it's going to be tough (to say the least). Reply

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