Ask someone to name a microprocessor back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and you’d likely hear Intel and then maybe AMD.  Jump ahead a decade and now the names that roll off of tongues are Qualcomm, NVIDIA, and Texas Instruments.  Why?  Simply put, we’re more mobile today than ever before and Intel just hasn’t figured into the smartphone game.  Until now.


Last week, tech site Technology Review was fortunate enough to try a new prototype smartphone powered by Intel’s own mobile chip, the Medfield.  Powered by Android 2.3 Gingerbread, this reference model may be making its way to Las Vegas next month where it could be announced with a carrier or handset maker.  In fact, it’s possible that someone, somewhere has already had a chance to spend time with it.

 “We expect products based on these to be announced in the first half of 2012,” says Stephen Smith, vice president of Intel’s architecture group.

So how does an Intel-based Android smartphone perform?  Based on the early word from Technology Review, this thing is pretty darn impressive.  Check out a few blurbs we pulled from the article and see if it sounds like the type of handset you’d carry around.

  • The prototype was similar in dimensions to the iPhone 4 but noticeably lighter, (case was more plastic,  less glass and metal).
  • It was running Gingerbread version of Android
  • The phone was powerful and pleasing to use, on a par with the latest iPhone and Android handsets.
  • It could play Blu-Ray-quality video and stream it to a TV if desired
  • Web browsing was smooth and fast. Smith says Intel has built circuits into the Medfield chip specifically to speed up Android apps and Web browsing.

The most impressive feature in the reference model seemed to center around the camera and its ability to fire off a string of high-res photos without stuttering.

One feature that stood out was the camera’s “burst mode,” which captures 10 full-size eight-megapixel images at a rate of 15 per second. Smith says that feature rests on a combination of image-processing circuits built into the Medfield chip and dedicated software tweaks on top, technology that comes in part from Intel’s acquisition of the Dutch image-processing company Silicon Hive earlier this year. This kind of hardware could help apps developed for augmented reality.

Ice Cream Sandwich Tablet

Intel also had a reference tablet to demonstrate, which happened to be running Android 4.X Ice Cream Sandwich.  It is described as having a slightly larger screen than the iPad 2 but with roughly the same weight and thickness.  What’s more, the new OS provided a “noticeably nicer” experience than older tablets that ran Honeycomb.

There’s plenty more to read over at Technology Review, especially the details about how Intel plans to make increasingly smaller chips for mobile.  If you’ve got a few minutes and want to dig in a bit, be sure to head there from here.

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