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MWC: Intel Merrifield smartphone hands-on review

Shows off dual-core 64-bit Atom chip in prototype Android 4.4 Kitkat handset
Thu Feb 27 2014, 11:52

BARCELONA: INTEL UNVEILED its 64-bit Merrifield Atom smartphone chip at Mobile World Congress (MWC) this week, and the company is showing off what the processor is capable of in a reference design smartphone.

The Merrifield chip inside the reference design smartphone, which also has a 4in HD 720p touchscreen display and Google's Android 4.4.2 Kitkat mobile operating system, is faster than Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chip and the Apple A7 processor found inside the iPhone 5S, according to Intel. Given these claims, we headed over to the Intel stand at MWC to put the handset through its paces, although Intel told The INQUIRER that the device is unlikely to see a release anytime soon, since it's still looking for OEM partners to bring the smartphone to market.

Design
Despite the fact that it's still unclear whether the handset will see a release, the Intel Merrifield reference smartphone sported one of the more interesting designs we've seen at this year's MWC.

Intel Merrifield smartphone design

While it's fairly bulky and heavy, with Intel telling us the design definitely will be streamlined ahead of a rollout, it features a quirky look that's likely to stand out from the crowd. The rear of the device, which is made predominantly from plastic coated in toughened glass-like material much like the Sony Xperia Z2, features curved edges that soften the otherwise angular appearance of the handset.

Screen
Intel's Merrifield reference design handset has a 4in 1280x720 resolution display, although Intel did not release full details about the screen.

Intel Merrifield reference handset with 4in 720p HD display

Still, while it's not HD 1080p, we had no complaints about the display, although we did find brightness levels somewhat lacking compared to those of other Android smartphones on the market.

Performance
Of course the big thing about this device is the processor under the bonnet, which is a dual-core 2.3GHz 64-bit Merrifield Atom chip.

We experienced no performance lag while using the handset, with the device easily outperforming previous Intel Atom devices. Google's Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system ran smoothly without any hiccups, likely aided by the fact that it was running a vanilla version with a user interface skin. In particular, gaming on the handset was extremely nippy.

Intel Merrifield smartphone handled gameplay well

We even managed to benchmark the device using Geekbench 3. The handset scored a single-core figure of 859, which means it stacks up well compared to other big name smartphones on the market, despite having only two cores. For example, the Intel Merrifield Atom reference design smartphone outperformed the LG G2, which scored 838, and the Samsung Galaxy S4, which benchmarked at 773.

Intel Merrifield smartphone benchmark score

Intel's Merrifield Atom processor also has integrated sensor management, which means that apps are always kept contextually up to date, and also meant that the reference design handset was stuffed full of fitness focused features, much like the Samsung Galaxy S5. This likely will help OEMs to take the device to market, as it means they will be able to challenge Samsung's latest flagship smartphone without too much effort.

First impressions
Following our hands-on with the Intel Merrifield Atom reference design smartphone, we're looking forward to the appearance of the first smartphones with these Atom chips later this year, with Dell, Asus and Lenovo all committed to bringing Merrifield Atom smartphones to market in 2014. What's more, if prices remain as low as they were for the previous generation of Intel Atom smartphones, we think the big names in the smartphone industry should be worried, as the Merrifield Atom chip offered silky smooth performance during our time with it.

We also hope that Intel's reference design handset is picked up by an OEM. It's unlikely to be to everyone's taste, but we liked it during our hands-on time with the device. µ

 

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