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

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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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Comments (48)

48 responses to “Dell’s Windows Phone Shows An Intel Future That Hasn’t Arrived”

  1. 1792

    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.

  2. 8092

    Having an small windows tablet powered with Intel Atom z3735 that runs full desktop version of Windows 10, I am wondering why the 8-inch screen inside could not be replaced with 5-inch, add smaller battery and GSM modem, second camera, and call it a Windows Phone? This device has a plenty of power and it costed under $100 two years ago. All the additional components can not cost that much that if this tablet could have been sold at this price point with a certain profit gain; then $200 phone with the same components would have a pretty good profit margin and great value for customers.

  3. 7037

    Intel concluded that Atom processors would never be able to be used in mobile phones. That's why they gave up on mobile.

  4. 400

    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 ?

  5. 6190

    Anybody that thinks that continuum is the panacea which will get everyone onto windows phones is deluding themselves.  The current technology of phones is that they "just work".  Rarely do we reimage a phone.  An x86 phone running windows will be susceptible to all the worrst parts of windows, the slow application of updates, malware and management.  Given the connections they'll make in airports, coffee shops etc., they'll be attacked even more.  In enterprise, the current go to solution seems to be a reimage.  With encrypted hard drives, often the data are lost from reimage.  Nobody (readers here excepted) wants to go back to that with their phones.  Sure there is a niche market for continuum, but for the masses, that ship has sailed.

  6. 127

    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

    • 1377

      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.

  7. 5380

    That's "silver", not sliver ?

     

  8. 7932

    It is my understanding that x86 is an inefficient instruction set. It was good for the old days when a shortcut in hardware seemed more efficient than running a software instruction. But it takes power to keep that hardware alive. Why would we want to bring that old paradigm into the mobile world? It needs to die. However, I'm fine with it being on PC's when and where required. I won't (and don't need to) be running a cpu/gpu heavy task on every device. Different tools for different jobs.

    If x86 appears on mobile at some point, it's inefficiencies are still being masked. It is like adding room after room onto your house to end up with a mansion at some point: it still will be a cobbled up mess.

  9. 1995

    And what's AMD doing?

    • 1139

      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.

      • 1959

        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.

  10. 1377

    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?

    • 3177

      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.

      • 1377

        In reply to ind1g0:

        Understood.

        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.

  11. 5394

    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.

    • 1073

      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

    • 1567

      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.

      • 5394

        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. 

  12. 5496

    Who are these people that want a desktop pc on a 5, 6 inch screen?

    it will be unusable at that size.

  13. 5592

    "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."

    With the same OS and the same architecture and just a version of the tablet shell that's optimized for a small screen and Windows Universal Apps that's pretty much exactly what we already have with Windows 10 phones.

    A Windows 10 mobile phone is essentially a laptop that also has cellular connectivity. Really, what else is different between a Windows 10 phablet like the 950XL and a small Windows 10 tablet?

  14. 6988

    Still have a Dell Venue Pro, very well designed phone too bad it did not sell too well. 

  15. 2371

    Microsoft really needs to be working on the a full Win32 SKU for W10M for ARM processors.  Then they just need to have a compiler made to target ARM.  That would finally free Windows to be truly mobile!  Intel has had ample time to get x86 to run for mobile, my guess is now they will no longer try.

  16. 473

    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?

  17. 7066

    Paul and Brad,

    What about a Android or Windroid Phone with a highly customized Windows 10 UI, and deeply integrated Windows 10 services like Office and Cortana plus a Amazon-like Windows store. I would buy this device.

     

    Looking at this logically....why do I need Win32 apps on mobile? I get the novelty but most of the time all I need to do is message, email, and type quick memos and stuff at least until I get to my desk to do more computationally intensive tasks. my problem with Windows 10 is purely that I don't have the depth of apps available, otherwise it's a superior experience to Android or iOS.

  18. 565

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

  19. 2039

    > 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.

    You write this and both you and Paul say it over and over again yet he at least praised device like Kangaroo PC which is 13 mm thick and otherwise the size of 5" smartphone and runs full Windows, though obviously without display but with regular PC ports. I don't think Atom powered phone was that of a stretch for 2017 if Intel kept on working on it - especially if it's packed in 6-6.5" device that has more room for battery.

    • 5615

      In reply to Vidua:

      I have 2 Kangaroo PCs and they definitely have heat issues when they're pushed too hard (i.e., if you use them). They get much hotter than any smartphone I've ever had and the case has several vents to try to help cool it down -- which doesn't really help too much. Absent a cooling fan, the only way to keep them relatively cool is to not use them.

  20. 6062

    Surface branding is all about creating product categories, right?  So if we do see a phone (or what's more likely to be branded a mini-tablet with phone call capability), it's going to have to do something akin to this.  Might be why it's launch is being delayed or why it might take a long time to actually see the light of day.  The technology isn't quite there yet.  However, if they can pull it off, they might be able to offer real innovation in a cellphone market that is pretty mature when it comes to hardware improvement.

  21. 699

    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.

    • 1959

      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.

  22. 4949

    lets keep in mind that Intel, while behind ARM, is not THAT far behind arm.  There have been Intel based phones before, and generally as thin as typical ARM based phones... perhaps the pictures would be a bit optimistic because that looks rather unrealistic even by ARM standards... but the idea that you couldn't have a competitively designed x86 phone is just wrong.  performance per watt on the CPU ARM and Intel have been neck and neck for several years.

    That said, Intel's GPU tech generally sucks, and their partners in the mobile space are just as bad (if not worse, but having access to key mobile GPU IP).  Intel is too proud and short sighted to use their ARM tech (yes, they have plenty of ARM tech), or to licence good mobile GPU tech to break into the mobile space.

    On top of that, Intel can't get their costs down to compete with ARM, and running an Intel chip limits the number of apps available on a given platform.  No reasonable phone manufacturer would buy an expensive, slightly warmer chip package, that limits application compatibility.  There is simply no need for such a device on the market.  Turns out Intel agreed with that assessment and pulled out of the market... though I have a 'funny feeling' that Intel will be back with a vengeance with the next die shrink in a year or two.  Their GPU tech has been improving dramatically the last few years (still sucks, bug rapidly improving), and their manufacturing prowess just might bring them back with a competitive market on cost and thermals.  Combine that with MS pushing 'universal' apps that work just as well on ARM and x86 could prove to be a nice combination.

  23. 6525

    I do not buy

    - an iOS phone because they are more expensive than I would ever want to spend on a phone,

    - an Android phone because of missing data protection and OS updates,

    - a Windows 10 Mobile phone because it is eternal beta,

    - a Windows 10 (Pro) phone / tiny tablet with phone because it does not exist,

    - a different smartphone because it is not supported or by far too expensive.

    So I do not have any smartphone. I can wait. I wait for the rest of my life if no manufacturer produces a suitable one. I can afford this luxury because my phone usage is very limited; I prefer emails.

  24. 5553

    Everytime I sign into Thurrott.com I'm so glad my FP reader is on the home button where it belongs...and it is so quick and accurate Thanks Samsung !

  25. 5553

    I want a mini laptop in my hand There are many things I do for recertification that require a PC...Continuum would be perfect for this.

    WinVidiaTel for life ??

  26. 1321

    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.

    • 1377

      In reply to nightmare99:

      Windows can be installed on compute sticks like http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/compute-stick/intel-compute-stick.html . 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?

  27. 593

    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.

    • 1377

      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.

  28. 6825

    I'm STILL USING my Intel Atom Asus (Android) ZenFone2. I always thought it would be an outstanding Windows 10 phone, and it's the BEST android phone I've ever owned. That said, I am planning to upgrade to a 1+3T in the near future.

    Still wish Intel hadn't given up on phones, but of course I don't have all the information that Intel's engineers have.

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