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Intel Takes Medfield-Powered Phone and Tablet Out for a Spin

Intel Takes Medfield-Powered Phone and Tablet Out for a Spin

Intel has let a pair of prototype devices out into the wild: a smartphone and tablet running the company's latest Medfield mobile processors. Save for netbooks, the chip giant has barely had a presence in the mobile device market thus far, but that could change with the full release of tablets and phones with Medfield inside.

By Richard Adhikari
12/21/11 12:03 PM PT

Intel is stepping up the drumbeat around its efforts to penetrate the mobile handheld device market leading up to the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which will be held in Las Vegas in January.

The semiconductor giant recently sent prototype devices, known as reference designs, to the MIT Technology Review to try out.

The devices sent to the Review run Android on the Medfield, the latest in Intel's Atom family of chips for mobile devices.

Several mobile handheld device manufacturers will reportedly demo products running Android on the Medfield chip at CES.

"There will be multiple customer announcements," Intel spokesperson Jon Carvill told TechNewsWorld. However, he declined to elaborate.

It's likely that handheld devices demoed at CES 2012 running Android on Medfield chips will be pretty similar to those tested by the Review.

"It's unusual for a vendor to deliver multiple reference architectures for the same chip," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

The MIT Review's Comments

The Review tested prototypes of a smartphone and a tablet running Android on the Medfield.

The smartphone is similar in dimensions to the iPhone but "noticeably" lighter, probably because the case had more plastic and less glass and metal than Apple's iconic device. It ran Android Gingerbread.

The smartphone is "on par" with the latest iPhones and Android handsets, the Review found. It can play Blu-Ray-quality video and stream that to a TV set. Web browsing was fast and smooth.

In burst mode, the smartphone's camera captured 10 full-size 8 MP images at the rate of 15 per second.

The reference tablet tested ran Ice Cream Sandwich. Its screen is slightly larger than the iPad 2's but it's about the same thickness and weight. The Review found that the tablet was "noticeably nicer" to use than older ones running Android Honeycomb.

Circuits built into the Medfield chip and software tweaks apparently accounted for the smartphone's good Web browsing and camera performance, the Review stated.

What's Medfield All About?

The Medfield is an Atom system on a chip (SOC) built using Intel's 32nm high-k metal gate process technology Visit the VMware Tech Center.

SOCs integrate all components of a computer or other electronic system into a single processor. They may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal and sometimes radio-frequency functions. This helps reduce the footprint processors need in a device and cuts power consumption.

The Medfield has low power consumption, a small footprint and has been optimized for performance. It will enable the creation of tablets less than 9mm thick that weigh less than 1.5 pounds and have batteries that will last all day, Intel said.

The Medfield processors are for tablets to be released on the market in the first half of 2012. They will support various operating systems including Android, Microsoft Windows and MeeGo, the operating system created by merging Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo that is now being handled by Intel.

Medfield will deliver rich media and gaming, and advanced imaging capabilities.

Intel showcased a Medfield tablet running Honeycomb for the first time, at the Computex show in Taipei in May.

It's likely that the bulk of mobile devices using the Medfield processor will run Android, as Intel and Google have been optimizing that operating system for the Atom family.

Shaking the Mobile Market Tree

Despite previous setbacks, Intel continues to focus strongly on the mobile device market.

Earlier this month, the company revamped its mobile department infrastructure , consolidating four divisions into one named the "Mobile and Communications Group." The divisions affected are the Netbook and Tablets Group, the Ultra Mobility Group, the Mobile Communications Group and the Mobile Wireless Group.

The Mobile and Communications Group will be led by Intel executives Mike Bell and Hermann Eul.

Bell had previously helped design the iPhone. He was appointed to comanage the Ultra Mobility Group in March, following the resignation of its former head, Anand Chandrasekhar, who led the development of the Atom chip.

Back in February, Intel purchased antivirus vendor McAfee to strengthen its hand in the mobile and online markets.

There exists some doubt about Intel's ability to cut it in the mobile market and concerns that its efforts are, in essence, too little, too late. However, "today's leading vendors all too often become tomorrow's chumps," Pund-IT's King pointed out.

That's "especially the case when the company playing catch-up is as well-stocked with talent and cash as Intel," he added.

"We think Medfield will be a very competitive platform for us in 2012, and it's the first step to accelerate the Atom that we announced at Investor Day in May," Intel's Carvill said, referring to an investors' meeting Intel held May 17 in San Francisco.


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