Intel-powered smartphones to debut this year

Intel’s issued its first serious challenge to ARM with the announcement that its chips are to feature in smartphones from Motorola and Lenovo.

Lenovo is planning to release an Android phone based on the company’s new Atom Z2460 chip, codenamed Medfield, in China by mid-summer. A Motorola phone is promised by the end of the year.

“The best of Intel computing is coming to smartphones,” said Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini yesterday at CES.

“Our efforts with Lenovo and Motorola Mobility will help to establish Intel processors in smartphones and provide a solid foundation from which to build in 2012 and into the future.”

The Medfield chip is a single-core, 32nm processor, clocked at 1.6GHz and supporting hyper-threading. It’s claimed to be particularly low-power: Intel says that a prototype unit could manage eight hours of 3G voice calls, six hours of 1080p video decoding or five hours of 3G internet browsing.

Lenovo’s offering, the K800, will run on China Unicom’s 21Mbs network and uses the Lenovo LeOS user interface. It has a 4.5-inch screen with up to 1280 by 1024 resolution – 720p for video – and features support for HSPA+ with the Intel XMM 6260 platform.

Intel’s released a series of reference designs for phones and tablets which focus on improving battery life; one of the main failings of the company’s Moorestown chip was its high power consumption.

But, says the company, it’s managed this without stinting on other standard features; indeed Ottellini claims the refernce design outperforms the competition at browsing, Javascript and graphics. Existing software won’t need to be rewritten, it says.

So far, Intel’s failure to make progress in the smartphone market has been a simple inability to come up with a better product than rival ARM. If the new chip’s as good as claimed, it now becomes a straight competition – and Intel’s the one with the big guns.