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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  • jwcalla - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Well... it's competitive. Ultimately it'll come down to who has the most desirable device. We know Apple has it's iPhone... Samsung the Galaxy S... Motorola the Droid Razr, etc. Intel would need to get in with one of those companies and be a top device to be accepted. Nobody is going to buy it just because it's Intel. (Except the fanboys of course.) Reply
  • dt1561 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Looks cool but nothing extraordinary. Reply
  • fic2 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Not that it matters much but does the display use Gorilla Glass? Reply
  • snoozemode - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Sure it's fun that Intel finally has proven that x86/Atom works in a smartphone, but the overall result is just a very bland phone that's not superior at anything really. And with a price of $420.. Why would anyone buy this? Reply
  • A5 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    That's $420 with no contract. Considering the average carrier subsidy is $300-$400, this is a firmly mid-range device. Reply
  • fm123 - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    That is the price in India, which could be a completely different situation than other countries. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    So given the nature of x86, can we self-install other compatible operating systems such as an x86 port of MeeGo? I'm *very* interested in using MeeGo outside of the N9. What about the x86 ICS image that Google makes available on its own website? Are there any customization or tweaking requirements, or can we install any new OS the same way we would install Linux or Windows on typical x86 hardware?

    That would be the ultimate advantage of an x86 phone or tablet, no?

    Finally, the battery tests here don't discuss standby battery life. That's always been an issue with Android, and is why every other OS seems to have much longer battery life than Android. We don't use our smartphones the way these battery torture tests suggest we do. Could you please download an app like Battery Monitor Widget and indicate how many mA are being used during standby?
    Reply
  • dcollins - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Installing a new OS requires supported drivers. MeeGo could be installed in theory if you ported the necessary drivers from Android. They are both Linux based, so this is theoretically possible, but it will require a lot of hacking and technical expertise. The Windows driver model is totally different so you would have to reverse engineer drivers from scratch. That's not going to happen.

    This fight is not about x86 versus ARM as ISAs. It's about Intel versus ARM licensees: who can develop a faster, lower power chip? If Intel does their job well, the ISA shouldn't matter to the end user.
    Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    I think you misunderstand. MeeGo already provides support for x86. Technically it's now "Tizen", but regardless it's been developed with both ARM and x86 in mind. My main question is whether we can self-install an x86 port of MeeGo (or Tizen) onto this phone? Reply
  • fteoath64 - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    ¨This fight is not about x86 versus ARM as ISAs. It's about Intel versus ARM licensees¨

    It blows down to just that!. The cost efficiency of ARM chips will just kill any chance of Intel getting into this market. Just look at a completely built Android handset made in china with retina display for $119. A retailer selling it for $160-199 will made heaps, if billions of units are involved. All licenses of chips and Android are legit. Not copycat stuff. Genuine Cortex A9 licenses.

    It comes at a time when having 4-5 suppliers of ARM chips have made the market very resilient, something a single supplier can never do. So I say to Intel again, get an ARM license and play this game the right way. You can innovate very nicely with competition, and you really need that competition to keep your edge.
    Reply

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