Today we got some quality hands-on time with Intel’s latest smartphone SoC and the platform powering it. This smartphone platform is based on Intel’s Merrifield SoC based on Intel’s latest Silvermont CPU cores. As we had already talked about this SoC in our previous Intel MWC coverage, the Merrifield SoC does not have an integrated modem and is a dual core chip that features the Imagination Tech GPU rather than Intel’s own. Intel has already launched the Baytrail platform for tablets and such, but that SoC uses Intel’s own GPU and is a quad core rather than a dual core. Intel does have a quad core version of Merrifield by the name of Moorefield, which is simply a quad core version of the chip, but not much else more is different.

The phone itself is their Saltbay development platform and has a host of interesting features that hint as to where the company is looking to target the platform/SoC. The Merrifield phone that we had a chance to play with was incredibly light, comfortable and good looking not to mention incredibly responsive and easy to use. We met with Matt Dunford from Intel during our meeting and he was able to show us the Merrifield platform running the Mobile Xpert benchmarks as well as a host of other things, including the Epic Citadel demo that we were originally shown with Clovertrail+. I must say, my experience with this demo has been pretty extensive and from what I could tell, this tiny little SoC handled it more than aptly. 

We also had an opportunity to see Intel using this Merrifield phone to do a whole host of other LTE demonstrations including VoLTE calls and H.265 decoding in realtime using a 1080P video. The really impressive thing about the Merrifield was that you could not tell that H.265 was really putting a strain on the SoC at all and that the demos worked quite well. Although Intel isn’t quite at the point of doing H.265 decoding and encoding in hardware, they are actively working on doing so, considering that the industry STILL isn’t quite ready yet.

In terms of the phone itself, the hardware is pretty simple but gives a pretty good idea of where Intel is trying to focus. The phone has a 720P display, a volume rocker, USB 3.0 connectivity and a very nice camera, which in my short time with it appeared to acquire and take photos incredibly quickly. Sure, it wasn’t as instantaneously as HTC’s smartphones are capable of, but I have a feeling that with HTC’s imaging chip, this phone would likely be able to take photos incredibly quickly and rapidly.

As you can tell, the phone also has a volume rocker, volume switch, and a microSIM and HDMI port. We asked Intel if their Saltbay platform supported MHL, but I have a feeling that may end up getting implemented by an OEM in their own design and since this device has HDMI out it probably won’t have MHL, which is a shame considering that MHL 3.0 can stream 4K video over a simple USB connector.

When you look at this reference design and the hardware inside, it is clear that Intel wants to make a shot at the middle of the market with this phone and they believe they can do it at a reasonable price and performance. Something that many people might not know is that Merrifield is also capable of 64-bit computing and could end up competing with processors based on ARM’s A53 SoC. While we weren’t given any concrete dates on devices with this SoC, I have a feeling we’ll probably see at least a few by the end of this year.