Dell’s Windows Phone Shows An Intel Future That Hasn’t Arrived

Posted on November 5, 2016 by Brad Sams in Hardware, Windows Phones with 48 Comments


The holy grail for Windows Phone fans is an Intel-based smartphone that runs proper Windows 10 and comes in an ultra-mobile form factor. That future almost arrived with Dell but barriers have stopped this device from reaching the market.

The images you see in this post come from Even Blass who posted the shots up yesterday and after poking around a bit, it looks like these product shots show off a Dell made device (based on sources familiar with the phone) that would be using Intel inside. I don’t have the complete list of specs but knowing it runs on x86 architecture, it’s not too hard to figure out what this device would be capable of doing and why it never materialized.

The device, which is likely impossibly thin for an Intel chip, and it’s also possible that these images are only renders, would have had a companion product like a laptop that maximized what we know today as the Continuum experience. While this device would have come in a phone form factor, it would have been more laptop under the skin that also has cellular connectivity.

cwdiys5weaegu7fBut, the silicon that would have been used in this device was killed when Intel abandon its low-end segment and logically, this device would have been a thermal nightmare. We already know that Intel has issues building lower-power processors that run cool enough without a fan and when you put a chip like that inside a very small compartment, it’s a tough scenario for stability.

Internally, Microsoft has considered going down the same route with the much-rumored but never seen, Surface phone. The company has yet to release a Windows Phone with the Surface brand but when they do, it was hoped that they would use an Intel chip to help differentiate its device from other smartphones.

Even though the Elite X3 does deliver on some of the promises of what an Intel-based smartphone could offer, it’s not quite the same. ARM chips, while they have been able to scale-up in power, are still not as good as Intel chips and there is the obvious shortcoming too, it doesn’t run the full desktop variant of Windows 10.

Will this device ever see the light of day? I don’t think so, or at least not in the near future, unfortunately. But, the good news is, if you are a sliver-lining sort of person, is that companies are thinking about unique ways to build Windows phones and while the Intel chips may not be ready today, hopefully we will see something in the future that will fit this form-factor.

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  1. 1 | Reply
    RickyHansen Alpha Member #378 - 2 months ago

    I still dream of af (Surface) phone, which in connected Continuum mode, would switch to an built in x86 cpu, which would power my (desktop) apps, and while mobile, would be running the usual ARM chipset stuff....

    Unrealistic dream, maybe, but a cool dream 😀

  2. 1 | Reply
    Bart Alpha Member #117 - 2 months ago

    Get me an ARM based Surface Phone, with X86 (Centennial) apps running virtualized when in desktop mode. MS should be able to pull this off in its Azure data centers

    1. 1 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      In reply to Bart:

      . . . apps running virtualized when in desktop mode. MS should be able to pull this off in its Azure data centers . . .

      What advantage would this have over iPhones and Android phones also serving as pass-through devices for connecting to remote virtual desktops running on Azure, AWS, Citrix, VMWare, etc?

      The sole potential advantage of Continuum would be running in desktop mode WITHOUT ANY NETWORK CONNECTION. That is, Windows phone serving as the LOCAL PC.

      Tangent: that makes phone in laptop shell problematic compared to phone + true laptop. If 2 devices are needed, why not have 2 devices each of which could function as intended if the other were lost, broken or otherwise unavailable? For me, phone in laptop shell is the ultimate fanboy fantasy, a scenario only the irrational could prefer.

  3. 1 | Reply
    ponsaelius Alpha Member #1328 - 2 months ago

    The rumoured Surface Phone. If Microsoft were keen on a "Surface Phone" I think they would stop talking about "devices".

    We have had two significant Windowsphones launched since Microsoft said it was not going to release any more Lumia phones. Those phones are the HP Elite X3 for business and the Alcatel 4S for consumers. The Elite is an absurdly high priced product that needs docking stations and a remote application suite to be useful. The Alcatel, it has to be said, seems to be a pretty decent consumer device. 

    The market they competing in is 0.3% of "others" in the phone sales space. Microsoft have ducked out of the phone hardware business. I now find implausible that a Microsoft committed first to business customers with a premium Surface brand would build a phone at a price point a consumer could purchase. If a Surface mobile device comes out it is more likely to be a business phablet than a consumer phone. It could potentially have a keyboard, beloved relic from Blackberry/Palm era business mobile, and perhaps tied to some cloud services delivered via azure and office 365.

    Could a Surface Phone arrive? Of course it could. However with 87% of the market Android and almost all the rest IOS it would have a tiny market share unless it created a new device class that fundamentally caught the next wave.

  4. 0 | Reply
    paulschnack Alpha Member #2367 - 2 months ago

    That's "silver", not sliver 🙂


  5. 0 | Reply
    hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

    There's a mystery here in plain sight. Why doesn't MSFT make FULL Windows available for ARM? What does MSFT owe Intel?

    OTOH, maybe there are sound reasons ARM can't handle full Windows. I have no first hand experience with Excel running on the Surface RT/2. Could it handle calculation-intensive workbooks? Are ARM chips ready for substantial floating point processing loads?

    Tangent: MSFT was able to have DESKTOP Office 2013 running under Windows 8 RT, granted without VBA and without add-ins, as well as many desktop applets and the console/command prompt and Powershell. It seems ARM-based machines COULD run full desktop IF MSFT allowed them to do so. Why doesn't MSFT do so?

    1. 1 | Reply
      ind1g0 Alpha Member #1610 - 2 months ago
      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Its not the Windows OS that is the issue. Microsoft has already gone through the work of writing Win10 for ARM. The issue is that 1000's of legacy Win32 apps were complied to run on x86 not ARM. They simply won't work until developers recompile them for ARM.

    2. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      In reply to ind1g0:


      Older software won't run on ARM processors without an emulator, but wouldn't it be easier to write an x86-to-ARM emulator when the OS would be the same?

      Newer software could be recompiled for ARM. Not uncommon for Linux.

  6. 0 | Reply
    Nadawan Alpha Member #1400 - 2 months ago

    And what's AMD doing?

    1. 0 | Reply
      Vuppe Alpha Member #1076 - 2 months ago
      In reply to Nadawan:

      Trying not to go out of business. They're actually scaling up right now, trying to match i7 performance in a new line of chips called Zen. Initial benchmarking shows they're on-par/superior to the i7. But it's not the right direction for a mobile device.

    2. 1 | Reply
      evox81 Alpha Member #1939 - 2 months ago
      In reply to Vuppe:

      Let me know if I've missed it, but AMD hasn't talked about the power envelope of the Zen architecture, to my knowledge. Considering some of their current high end processors are pushing PAST 200 watts at max utilization, I'm interested to see if they've been able to rein that in and still come close to the i7. If they're using more than 2x the power for the same level of performance, they've got a long way to go.

  7. 0 | Reply
    Siv Alpha Member #451 - 2 months ago

    Perhaps Microsoft are doing an Apple and are working with ARM or AMD to design their own x86 ultra low power X86 chip that is tweaked to do Continuum.  They certainly have the capability to do this as I am sure they were involved with the chips in the Xbox over the years?

  8. 0 | Reply
    Omega Ra Alpha Member #537 - 2 months ago

    Actually it's not impossibly thin. I have a Dell Tablet that has intel inside and it is SUPER thin, just like those renders

  9. 0 | Reply
    bbold Alpha Member #669 - 2 months ago

    Neat.. how do we know this phone got cancelled? Maybe it's just being redesigned somehow, that does look like a render btw. We can only dream the rumored Surface Phone could be a small slab of magnesium just like this form factor.

    1. 0 | Reply
      evox81 Alpha Member #1939 - 2 months ago
      In reply to bbold:

      I appreciate your optimism, but if Dell were interested in creating yet another ARM-powered Windows 10 phone they'd have done it. Being that their intended internals are no longer slated for production, going to ARM is the only "redesign" option I can see. If, on the other hand, they were willing to try out an x86 powered device to compliment their PC line, that won't happen now.

      Edit: That's not to say they won't, I was surprised when HP announced the x3, but I just don't see something similar from Dell.

  10. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago

    I thought the Core M are sufficient for fanless tablets or phones despite not entirely sufficiently for mobile devices. The problem still remains that Windows is not entirely mobile. Windows Phone and Windows 10 are on two different tracks and their merging should be the goal. Frankly, I really don't care for they are shown to be not serious when Microsoft abandoned their Windows Phone right when their new Continuum technology debut. It's just an odd show of defeat. Certainly, Intel abandoning a mobile chip foreclosed the perfect phone, but Microsoft didn't bother with an Intel Windows Phone in the previous model iterations. Perhaps they weren't ready. So it makes for an awkward situation.

    The best solution should be a Surface mini-tablet that attempts to bridge the gap. Be a better version of Elite X3 with the Core M and a fully merged Windows Phone / Windows 10 OS.

    1. 1 | Reply
      pass1001 Alpha Member #1022 - 2 months ago
      In reply to glenn8878:

      According to Daniel Rubino from windowscentral, Windows 10 mobile IS running on the same core as Windows 10 right now. Even their build numbers are almost the same because the same people working on the desktop OS also work on the mobile. Actually, any build that is compiled right now has both a Windows 10 and a windows 10 mobile, the mobile one isn't always released though

    2. 0 | Reply
      glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago
      In reply to pass1001:

      The same core is irrelevant for the UI is what matters. Windows 10 mobile and Windows 10 need to have exactly the same build with only the device that should allow the appropriate UI. 

    3. 0 | Reply
      nbates66 Alpha Member #1315 - 2 months ago
      In reply to glenn8878:

      Core M has seemed sufficient for many tablet/2in1 devices but is too large to fit into a device the size of a phone.

    4. 0 | Reply
      glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago
      In reply to nbates66:

      I said mini-tablet. As in it should be marketed as a three in one. Slightly larger to allow the Core M to fit, but fitted in the smallest possible device. A large phone, a small tablet, a desktop when docked. 

  11. 0 | Reply
    toshdellapenna Alpha Member #562 - 2 months ago

    What about hyper-v or vmare running a virtualized x86 environment when docked and running continuum? Seems like it would be a good local solution for lighter programs/apps.

    1. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      In reply to toshdellapenna:

      Dunno about iPhones, but Android phones can already run full Linux desktops when docked, which means they can use Citrix or VMWare apps to run remote virtual Windows desktops already. No advantage for Windows phones.

      The only advantage/unique functionality which Windows phones and Continuum offer over other phones is the potential ability to run desktop software LOCALLY without any network connection. EVERYTHING ELSE can ALREADY be done with Android phones.

  12. 0 | Reply
    nightmare99 Alpha Member #1133 - 2 months ago

    I love this assumption that on an x86 powered phone they would allow it to run any win32 app, perhaps in some continuum scenario with certain whitelisted apps but I doubt MS would allow running any and all win32 code.

    1. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      In reply to nightmare99:

      Windows can be installed on compute sticks like . If an x86 Windows phone were essentially a compute stick + cellular communications, other than OEM licensing restrictions, how could MSFT prevent OEMs from putting full Windows 10 on such phones? How could MSFT prevent end users installing retail Windows 10 on such devices? Would MSFT add code to Windows 10 which preventing running Win32 software when it detected cellular capabilities? Would that mean there'd never be x86 tablets with cellular communications?

      My question boils down to this: if someone can install a legal copy of full Windows 10 in an x86-based phone, how could MSFT legally restrict the Win32 software which could run on that phone?