Chip maker Intel enters the mobile space with a new CPU, the Medfield, which it is launching for Android phones. The mobile space has so far been dominated by British chip maker ARM Holdings, and the coming of Intel could lead to more competition, innovation and lower cellphone prices.
The first Medfield-based phone is the Lava Xolo X900, which officially released on Monday. If the phone is successful, it will lend a lot of momentum to Intel, and is likely to push ARM to make even better chips to stay in its No. 1 position.
Lava Xolo X900: Gaming on this phone is a lot of fun.
Intel and ARM
ARM created CPUs that used power far more efficiently than PC CPUs, and fit into the sleekest devices, making them ideal for mobiles. The Intel Medfield chips are based on the x86 design of PC and laptop CPUs, but they have been adapted for mobiles by improving battery efficiency and portability, something early Intel CPUs couldn’t deliver.
The Medfield CPU is a single-core 1.6GHz CPU, which uses a technique called hyper-threading to act like a dual-core processor while having only one physical core. This keeps the battery running longer and gives good performance.
This CPU is supported by Android, and according to Intel, will run at least 90% of all apps available on the Google Play Store (formerly the Android Market) smoothly. Of course, right now 100% of all apps on the Play Store work smoothly on an ARM chip, so if there are some apps that are absolute must-haves, then make a point to test them on the Xolo X900 before buying the phone.
Most apps you’re buying for that smartphone will work fine with a single-core processor—the iPhone 4, which is very capable at handling high-quality 3D graphics, runs a 1 GHz, single-core CPU. A quad-core CPU will not make a difference to how well your Facebook app runs, how well Angry Birds plays, or how smoothly a Web page loads.
Lava Xolo X900—Medfield in the market
We were able to go hands on with the Lava Xolo X900 for a week before its launch, and found it to be a competent phone available at an affordable price. Aside from the single-core 1.6 GHz CPU, there is an additional 400 MHz graphics processing unit (GPU). This GPU boosts the performance of games and video playback.
The 4.03-inch screen runs at 1024x600, almost 300 DPI. It’s not quite a retina display, but the screen still looks great, and the hardware behind it makes the phone snappy. Video playback is smooth and graphically intensive games worked very well too. At Rs 22,000, the phone will be cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S2, and almost half the cost of the HTC One X, currently the most cutting-edge Android phone in the market.
The Xolo X900 supports HD video recording and playback, and can mirror mobile content (apps and videos both) on an HDTV, using an HDMI cable and the phone’s microHDMI output. Even when mirroring full HD video, the performance doesn’t slow down, showing off the power of the CPU.
Games were also a lot of fun, playing smoothly and looking good on the screen. These games are straight from the Play Store, without needing to be specially optimized for the Intel chip, unlike Nvidia’s TegraZone apps.
The phone comes with an 8 MP camera with a burst mode that allows it to take 10 photos per second. While the camera is good, it’s not top of the line.
The Xolo X900 matches up fairly well to the Galaxy S2, but if you want the latest and greatest hardware, this isn’t the phone you’re looking for.
Our other complaint against the Xolo X900 is its design. It’s a little ungainly, and boring. It looks a little like a disproportionate iPhone. HTC, Sony and Nokia all have far more attractive devices, a lesson Lava needs to learn if it wants to be successful in the high-end market.
The Xolo X900 is running on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) but is expected to receive an over-the-air update (users don’t have to connect their phones to a computer, the update is distributed directly to phones that are online) to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) “before the next quarter”, according to Lava. But the real differentiator for the phone still lies in the x86 design. As of now, the experience is good, if lacking in flair, and the phone marks a good start for Intel and Medfield.