Intel processors are ubiquitous in desktop PCs and laptops, and now they’re finally making their way into smartphones. Intel announced on Thursday that the first Intel-powered smartphone, the Xolo X900, will go on sale on April 23.
But if you’re in the market for a new phone, don’t get too excited yet. The Xolo X900, made by Lava International and based off of an Intel reference design, will only be available in India. The phone runs on a single-core Intel Medfield chip — specifically the Z2460 Atom processor, which clocks in at 1.6GHz and supports hyper-threading. It will cost consumers 22,000 Indian rupees, which is about $410, without a plan.
The Xolo X900’s specs aren’t mind-blowing but are arguably competitive. It sports an 8MP camera and a 4-inch “high-res” LCD touchscreen. It also runs on Android 3.0 (Gingerbread), with a scheduled upgrade to Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) shortly after its release. The phone also supports 1080p HD video playback and offers long battery life — at least for audio playback, which hits a whopping 45 hours. As for talk time and 3G browsing, battery life is average: eight hours and five hours, respectively.
The phone only supports HSPA+ 3G, but since India just recently got its first 4G network, it shouldn’t be a big problem in the phone’s initial market. And, according to Intel, its Medfield platform can support HSPA+ 4G networks, too.
After years of working on its smartphone strategy, Intel finally has a physical device to show for its work. But what makes Intel’s Medfield chips especially competitive in a market full of ARM-based processors?
“We finally have a very competitive product for smartphones,” Jeff Ross, Director of Intel’s Marketing for Mobile and Communications Group, told Wired. “We have a high-performance part that can compete with products in the market, and those coming out to the market. It’s not just about the performance, but also about the energy efficiency. There are number of performance factors that we’ll be the best at.”
Ross highlighted three features in particular: camera capabilities, video encoding and playback, and browser speed and performance. Ross says Medfield features advanced and speedy image processing technology, making it possible for smartphones to take photos in burst mode — at 10 photos per second. Intel also worked to optimise the Android platform with its chip, so browsing feels a lot faster, says Ross.
But even if Intel’s Medfield processors live up to the company’s claims, it needs a plan on getting the Medfield-powered smartphones into the hands of consumers.
“We have a good foundation of diversified partners on different markets around the world to get started,” Ross said. “We’re really trying to win one customer, with one product at a time.”
Intel has announced that several more Medfield processor-based phones will roll out in the coming year. The company has partnerships with Orange, Motorola, ZTE and Lenovo. Lenovo’s phone will launch in China in May and Orange’s phone will launch in Europe mid-year. Motorola’s and ZTE’s phones will launch sometime in the second half of 2012. There’s still no word on where Motorola and ZTE will launch its phones.
How will the phones compare to one another? Lenovo demoed its Intel-powered Lenovo K800 at CES 2012, and the main difference between the Lenovo and Lava devices lies in screen size: the Lenovo demo had a 4.5-inch screen.
Intel and its partners haven’t revealed specs for the other smartphones. But we can expect that they’ll at least somewhat follow Intel’s reference design, which includes the Intel Medfield chip, a 400MHz graphics clock, 1080p video encoding and playback, and HSPA+ 3G connectivity.
“What we’re hoping for is that our customers find that the [Intel] platform enables them to truly differentiate and create unique offerings for the market,” Ross said. “Which will mean that consumers will want to buy the smartphones, and if consumers buy them, then our customers will need to purchase more from us.”
In the end, it’s all about making money.