Lava Xolo X900 Review - The First Intel Medfield Phoneby Brian Klug on April 25, 2012 6:00 AM EST
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.
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.
|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.
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vol7ron - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkI doubt windows would expect PCI channels lol. Though, it might need drivers to operate.
Everything you need is on the phone for windows to operate (Screen, CPU, Video, RAM and Disk space) exists, even though Windows doesn't require it all. Though, Windows does need some way to communicate with those devices (device drivers), which Win7/etc probably doesn't have.
Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkA few years from now it is likely I might be able to acquire one of these for dirt cheap. (Broken screen, etc) I would use it just for an ultra low power ultra low profile *single-function* pc. I would very much like to know if this hardware can run windows 7. It doesnt need to run well, it just needs to be able to go on the web and do basic things similar to an atom nettop.
superPC - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkit won't run windows 7. unlike windows 8, windows 7 requires standard RAM not LPDDR. windows 7 also requires some form of PCI.
Musafir_86 - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link-Excuse me, but IMHO, the type of physical RAM shouldn't matter. If not, we couldn't be able to load these OSes on VMs at all. :)
B3an - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - linkWhy would you even want to run Win 7 on this when Win 8 would clearly be WAY better suited, not to mention it also uses less resources and RAM while remaining faster/snappier than 7.
rahvin - Friday, April 27, 2012 - linkI'd imagine he wants to know because Windows 8 is going to be only slightly less successful than Vista. Personally I'd guess around 5% of the Vista sales. It's a disaster in waiting unless they make dramatic last minute changes. You should try using it.
joshv - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkI am not sure why this chipset matters. Intel usually wins on x86 compatibility with older software. In the phone space there is no existing x86 code, and in fact they are stuck emulating another ABI - so they will be slower and less efficient that competitors that implement that ABI natively.
That leaves Intel to compete on price/performance alone in a market where their competitors have 99.9% of the market. An odd position for Intel.
Perhaps this makes more sense in a Windows 8 tablet?
Impulses - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkIts netbooks all over again, on a much bigger scale. ARM is moving upscale, if Intel doesn't start competing directly they will eventually start ceding some existing market share (when tablets/laptops start to overlap more, and the writing's on the wall with Windows for ARM).
Only difference is they're up against a capable rival(s) as opposed to a limping AMD, so they can't just come out of the gate strong and them dog it and let the lower end market stagnate in order to maintain profits.
This is a small first step but it'll allow them to ink more deals and possibly cement a strong foundation for upcoming Win8 ARM tablets which is probably their bigger long term concern.
dcollins - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkDid you even read the article?
The x86 vs ARM issue is mostly a non-issue that will be completely resolved within a few months. Dalvik apps are JIT compiled to ARM and x86 and will perform similarly. In fact Intel might have an advantage here because they have the best compiler engineers in the world with decades of experience in generating high performance x86 code. NDK apps will generally be supported natively; developers only have to check a box to include x86 binaries. Even Apps that aren't compiled with x86 support are translated prior to installation on the users device. Nothing about the instruction set makes Medfield slower than ARM.
Performance today is comparable to modern ARM processors even when running an out of date, slower OS. Performance in 4.0.x should match or outperform even Krait. Graphics performance is middle of the road, but that's a major concern for many smartphone buyers (myself included). Even in benchmarks that purposefully stress mutliple cores, Medfield holds its own against the many cored competitors. Real world usage is more lightly threaded.
Browser performance is the most important metric for my usage and here Intel performs extremely well. If Medfield is available in a 4.x phone when it comes time for me to upgrade, I will seriously consider it versus a Krait based offering. Now imagine a next generation Atom build on 22nm with dual core, hyperthreading and possibly OoO execution: that chip will eat A15s for breakfast.
dcollins - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - linkedit: "Graphics performances... is NOT a major concern"