“Intel can’t make smartphones.”
That statement has summarized the opinion of any number of engineers and business analysts ever since Intel launched Atom back in 2008. The technically oriented have tended to emphasize the larger die and increased power consumption of the x86 instruction set, while business pundits have claimed Intel would fail by refusing to price its parts competitively and accept the lower margins that resulted.
Intel, meanwhile, went ahead and built a smartphone anyway. That device, the Xolo X900, is what we’re reviewing today. It won’t ship to North America — Intel partnered with Indian manufacturer Lava International to bring the product to that country — but this is no prototype or proof-of-concept vehicle.
The Lava Xolo (pronounced ZOH-low) X900 is a 3G (HSPA+) device with a 4-inch 1024×600 screen, 1GB of RAM, a 1.6GHz Atom Z2460 CPU, and an SGX540 GPU clocked at 400MHz. Total available storage is 16GB. It runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3.7) with an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwichscheduled to drop later this year. The screen is Corning’s Gorilla Glass and the device itself weighs 127 grams, or about 10% less than the iPhone 4S.
The Xolo X900 sports both a front (1.3MP) and rear (8MP) camera, an LED flash, a dedicated camera button, and micro USB / micro HDMI ports. The rear camera is capable of recording in 1080p and supports 1080p H.264 Main Profile playback at 30 fps. The phone’s specs are solid all the way around; easily on par with other shipping Android products.
One of the things I like most about the Xolo is its rubberized back. The oleophobic coating on the iPhone 4/4S may keep nasty grease from building up, but it makes the phone notoriously difficult to hold. The Xolo has an oleophobic coating on the front half (where it matters), and a no-nonsense surface on the back.
Here is the X900 side-by-side with the iPhone 4S. The X900 is slightly larger than the iPhone 4S on all three dimensions, thanks in part to its larger screen. At 1024×600, the Xolo’s screen has a pixel density of about 297 PPI. That’s slightly below the iPhone 4S (330 PPI), but well within the range of what’s considered a “Retina Display.”
I recently upgraded to an iPhone 4S after my iPhone 3G took an unfortunate tumble. Up until now, my regular smartphone usage was always with an Apple product. When the X900 showed up on my doorstep I swapped out my SIM card, shifted some music and videos over, and set out to use the Xolo the same way I use my iPhone 4S.
If it weren’t for the Intel logo on the back of the phone there would be no way to know that it’s powered by an x86 processor. Battery life is acceptable — it’s on par with the iPhone 4S, with the caveat that I’m personally not overly thrilled with the battery life of the 4S. (More on this later.) Responsiveness when browsing the web is excellent, as is video playback. The phone has no trouble with Main Profile H.264 video at 30 fps.
Audio quality is good, though the external speakers distort a bit at full volume. This was never actually a problem; the phone’s output is more than sufficient for listening to music or watching video without pushing the volume to 100%. There’s only one audio issue that irritated me, and it may very well be an Android/Gingerbread problem rather than an Intel one. The iPhone can play two distinct sounds at the same time. If you’re listening to music and receive a text message, the phone plays the text message notification (if you have one) without pausing the audio. The X900 doesn’t do this. When a text or IM comes in, it briefly locks out whatever you were listening to or watching at the time.
Game performance is the only area where the X900 sags compared to the iPhone 4S, and we knew that going in. Intel’s Atom Z2640 uses an integrated SGX540 GPU clocked at 400MHz. That’s significantly faster than the majority of SGX540 designs on the market today, but it’s still a single-core solution going up against one of the fastest gaming smartphones available today.
Dungeon Defenders is a bit much for the X900
The size of the gap between the two phones also depends on what sort of game you’re playing.Angry Birds Space, for example, plays perfectly smoothly on both. Dungeon Defenders — an Xbox Live game that debuted on tablets late last year — runs unacceptably slowly, even with all the detail levels turned to minimum. Casual/puzzle fans won’t have a problem.