Why aren't more manufacturers using Intel in their Android phones?

Two years ago, seeing the Intel Inside branding on a smartphone would have made a lot of people laugh. Qualcomm owned the mobile world, and Intel wasn't ready to compete. This past year, we saw something very different. Qualcomm stumbled with the Snapdragon 810 in a mostly-pointless rush to support 64-bit architectures, and the handful of phones we saw Intel processors in seemed to close the performance gap between $200 and $600 phones. Suddenly we had ASUS ZenFone 2 owners looking at HTC One M9 or LG G Flex 2 owners and asking what they actually got with their more expensive phone, and the answers to that question weren't obvious.

As we move into the next wave of Android phones, many most likely coming with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820 processor, some Android users are left wondering why we aren't seeing more phones packing Intel processors. Specifically, why aren't any of the top-tier manufacturers making the switch after this past year?

Intel Experience

Anyone who has used the ZenFone 2 or ZenFone Zoom has seen the way these phones compete with the most expensive phones in the Android ecosystem. The $200 ZenFone 2 can launch Chrome and navigate ZenUI just as fast as the $800 Galaxy Note 5, which is impressive. It's clear ASUS and Intel know something about UI performance that Samsung doesn't, because none of Samsung's less expensive phones perform as well as the Note.

Without decent hardware-accelerated encoding and decoding, those features would be miserable on these phones.

Setting these phones side by side and just navigating the UI, you'd almost think they were equally capable of handling the tasks thrown at them. Where the differences become clear is launching GPU-intensive apps, specifically games. The ZenFone Zoom can play Vainglory, but getting there is a chore compared to any higher-end Android phone. This lacking GPU is also why the ZenFone Zoom camera doesn't do RAW photography or 4K video. Without decent hardware-accelerated encoding and decoding, those features would be miserable on these phones.

The other big reason you won't see top-tier manufacturers go Intel this year is the lack of an integrated modem. Qualcomm is currently offering processors with modems baked in that function on every band if you pay for the privilege, and Intel's mobile processors aren't there yet. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for every company, but Qualcomm's radio performance has become something of a standard and it's something they've gotten quite good at showing off.

Asus ZenFone Zoom

When you see the little details Intel is missing, it becomes a little easier to understand why it is Qualcomm is still the default in most of the high-end Android phones. The intense focus on image quality and camera features is matched only by the desire to enjoy more games and have the best connection to our high-speed data networks, and right now Qualcomm crushes Intel in all of these things.

That doesn't take away from the things Intel is doing right, and in fact shines a spotlight on just how narrow of a performance gap there is between the low and high ends right now when it comes to day-to-day browsing and usability. If Intel can sprint on GPU performance and integrated modems with their next wave of mobile processors, this will be a question we can address with a lot more optimism in a year.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • No Thanks. Qualcomm is king. I don't want Intel Inside anything but my MacBook. If not Qualcomm, Samsung.... that's it. I gave up on NVIDIA...and well then there's Mediatek which I automatically ignore when I see it.
  • Ignorance is bliss, yes?
  • I don't know so much... While made somewhat inelegantly, the point is hard to argue against in the current market. Well, except the Macbook part, I don't want one of those. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Isn't it funny how people with Apple devices always refer to it as "my Mac" or "my iPhone" (instead of "my computer" or "my phone") in a way that assumes people actually care about their Apple device? Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • As an owner of the Asus Zenfone 2 (original one with Intel) I think their chips are garbage. There's so much lag and there's 4GB of memory on the device. Also there are some apps that won't run that my cheap Nexus 5 could run like Pixel Heros.
  • Kirin is awesome too!
  • i do hope mediatek or intel get somewhere. while i love where qualcomm is at, i also think samsung is doing a fantastic job giving qualcomm a run for their money. But sammy is inconsistent as it will again depend on their qualcomm for their chips. I just feel that someone needs to dethrone qualcomm for a while so that snapdragon steps up their game.
  • You don't like Nvidia and you're very picky as to what products have Intel inside of it? Dude u sir are lost in the sauce Posted via the Android Central App
  • Gave up on nvidia? Why?
  • In my experience with Nvidia (the original shield with a Tegra 4 and the original Nexus 7 with a Tegra 3) while they start off pretty damn fast (Holy crap my Shield was incredible when I got it. Smashed the benchmarks out of the park, played ANY game with ease) both of those devices slowed down to almost unusable levels (my Nexus 7 more so) as time went by. Maybe there was some other contributing factor, but the end result was not fun. Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • That is more of an android thing than nvidias chip.
  • I thought that too, but I've only really experienced crippling slow downs on those 2 devices. Sure other ones slow down as time goes on but not so quickly or abruptly.
    I dunno, I've moved on from those devices anyway so it doesn't really matter lol Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • Great points. (sarcasm) Google Nexus 6P
  • Mediatek isn't that bad, though. I've found at least two SoCs that are impressively good, I guess the hardware combinations are pretty decent too. The MT6753 is pretty good in the Elephone M2, although the phone's build is a bit fragile. It also did a good a job in the Doogee Valencia 2 Y100 Pro. The MT6752 is also decent if backed properly and with stock Android! It depends on what you use the phone for, but I find that with a mix of video, social media, browsing, forums, games, photos, photo editing, online poker and ebooks, they work without hiccups. For a couple of months, that is. Get it?
  • I just got a jide remix mini, 1st experience with meditek and so far color me impressed, these smaller chipmakers are great for the general consumer, without competition the Qualcomm's and Intel's have less reasons to innovate, and if for only for that reason everyone should be cheering them on. Competition benefits everyone innovation and price wise.
  • Lol wish my isp would giveup on hitron(they arnt even utilizing MoCA to its full potential right now its whole home pvr) seeing as their whole cable network is Cisco(scientific Atlanta) for tv/phone would be nice to see them return to them for docsis
  • Would a shift towards Intel processors make the merging of chrome OS and Android easier?
  • Lol no. Those are arm based processors not x86 that you have in a computer.
  • Android does have x86 support though, IIRC. Think some tablets use it Posted via the Android Central App
  • Not 100% correct. Google's Android has close to 0 support for the x86 instruction set, the Android running on Intel phones comes from Intel's fork.
    Basically, Android for Intel phones comes from Intel.
  • Actually, Intel's mobile processors are x86 based, not ARM based
  • Which is why I'll likely stay with Qualcomm based processors for the foreseeable future. I think I've read somewhere that there's still extra steps involved in order to get stuff running properly on Android with a x86 based processor. Not everything is compatible it seems.
  • My daughter's Toshiba Chromebook 2 with a very-much x86 Celeron would like a word with you.
  • Intel's mobile processors are based on the x86 architecture, just like their mainstream CPUs like Skylake and Haswell. That's why someone got a Windows VM running on a Zenfone 2.
  • And have been for the last 20 to 25 years. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • I'd say some of it stems from non-standard or newer AT commands. Both Mediatek and Intel introduce an almost completely new set of commands that will take some time to learn and code effectively.
  • Maybe because current intel mobile soc are on par with snapdragon 801 or lower?
    If they make a high end soc to compete with snapdragon 820 the can be in more devices.
  • The Snapdragon 801 is still pretty fast today, and can handle intense gaming and photography. We'll see more when phones with the 820 ship, but for now with 801 is perfectly fine.
  • Isn't the 801 a 2yr old chip, i think his point is that Intel's chips are a bit behind when compared to Qualcomm. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In terms of day to day performance, you won't really see a huge difference between a Snapdragon 801 and an 810. You will only really see the difference when it comes to gaming. I have a Snapdragon 801 in my OnePlus One and it flies. I do want to see more offerings that have Intel inside, adds to the competition. Though, I have a feeling that the Atom brand/line will eventually be merged with the Core line, seeing how Core M is oh so close to what the Atom line can offer in terms of battery life/power efficiency but almost double the performance.
  • I totally agree. I plan on holding on to my Nexus 6 for awhile. The 805 is a great chip and will be for some time. I'm thinking I'll upgrade to the 2017 Nexus, unless the 2016 brings something that I'll feel the need to upgrade.
    In regards to Intel they will eventually grab a decent portion of the market. I thought that Windows phones would have made a bigger push with Intel. Posted via the Android Central App
  • And yet there is no Windows phone with an Intel processor.
  • The article did say that Intel still has some catching up to do. The rumored Surface Phone is thought to have an Intel processor, which will come out about the time that Intel is expected to have their bugs ironed out.
  • Nexus 6 ... must be Retired ...
  • I own an 801 and 810 device, the performance difference between them is not as large as you would think. For sustained performance my 801 is king here.
  • You're comparing to midrange Intel chips. The 801 is still more powerful than their own midrange chips as well. Posted via the Android Central App
  • is there such a thing as a high end intel SoC then?
  • I've used a few phones this year. I've had the Priv, M9, and the Zenfone 2. I have to say that the Snapdragon 810 has been the worst processor in the bunch, and Intel's has been the best. There were bumps with the Zenfone, but I think that was a dang nice phone. The Zenpad was also a rockstar device. Intel isn't totally there, but they're making amazing progress. I won't hesitate buying another Android device powered by Intel. In fact, I'm starting to look for them now.
  • What I've noticed on my ZenFone 2 is that none of the cores ever seem to go idle (according to CPU-Z). If I look on any Snapdragon-powered phone, cores are often going idle if I'm not doing much. I'm convinced that this is why the ZenFone 2's battery life isn't as good as it could be, and why Android OS often takes up >50% of battery use by the end of a charge.
  • Yeah. I haven't seen even ONE Asus phone with good battery life. I wonder why...
  • That could explain the high power consumption on my mom's ZF2.
  • Should actually be due to Android 5.0. That release of Android was memory leaks and other bugs that cause battery drain.
  • If you've got time, go into that power manager app on your phone and test if there's any different in CPU behaviour in High performance vs Battery save/ normal. I have a feeling that Intel cores can idle, their laptop chips can so there's a good chance that they will on mobile.
  • I think I tried that once, but will do so again. Thanks!
  • It's true Qualcomm is King. Samsung's Exynos is somewhat up there with Qualcomm if u ask me. But I bet u... Kirin isn't too far off, and so are MediaTek and Intel. Having once used the Mate 7, Zenfone 6 and Vibe X2 (all three having either one of these chips)...it's safe to say the future will only be bright for these SoCs.
    I'm back on a Snapdragon chipset....but I don't mind going to any of those three once again. Posted via the Android Central App
  • One of the main reasons is developer support... one look a what's being developed for in xda says it all... developers know QC SoC and have kernel source the phones that use them.
  • This. I still make my purchase decision based on amount of support on XDA. Opinion expressed from a Moto X Pure
  • The Zenfone 2 seems to have good support on XDA
  • When you write an application for android the code is mostly(almost entirely) agnostic to the hardware. compiling an OS isnt all that hard either, as long as the required drivers are available(they are). It comes down to whether the developers want to buy middle end hardware.
  • .
  • The personally I think the best benefits for Intel would be Window Phones running x86 with continuum. I do personally prefer QC in my android phone even though I loved the ZF2. I don't think they will ever break QC stronghold on the market. Posted via the Android Central App
  • AMD mobile, FTW!!!! Oh wait.......
  • I'm still waiting in line Posted via the Android Central App
  • What about Cyrix?
  • Lol a mobile 6X86MX. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Lol, and running @ 133 MHz!!!
  • Isn't mediatek a rebranded Cyrix?? Lol
  • 1 of their arm chips(server division) scaled down for mobile
  • The same could be said about Nvidia. Just swap out Intel for Nvida and pretty much every argument is the same. It's also why Texas Instruments dropped out of the game even when everyone was praising their OMAP processors. Without a full system on chip platform it's become extremely difficult to complete with Qualcomm anymore. Both Samsung and Intel have a lot of money to throw at the problem so maybe in a year or too they'll actually have a viable alternative, but till then we wait and accept more of the same.
  • but nvidia has killer gpu's.
  • Yeah, but did anyone notice how sh1tty the battery life in Asus phones is?
  • Actually, no. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Probably because you're used to it :))
  • A lot better than the battery life on my Nexus 4 and 5.
    Probably bigger and more expensive phones have better battery life than my Zenfone 2 but I'm not willing to pay so much for a phone.
  • I've got the new Galaxy A3 (2016, 4.7 inch) for $300 and it's got more battery life than huge $600 phones.
  • Not really. My mom's ZF2 lasts all-day for her......mostly. The power consumption is about the same as my LG G4....which is odd for a phone with a 1080p display since the G4 has a 1440p display which obviously eats more battery power.
  • The G4 is also sh1tty with the battery life :) http://www.gsmarena.com/battery-test.php3?idPhone=6901#show
    It's less than half as good as most new phones.
  • Its a poor benchmark honestly. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Most phones have ****** battery life, but of course it all depends on the users, settings and Apps. If you can manage +4hrs SoT, I'd say the phone is doing well. Seems like alot of phones are just below that. Some phablets with massive batteries or lower powered devices can manage that. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In my experience with the Zenfone 2, the poor battery life is related to the 5.0 Lollipop WiFi bugs, I still use it as a work phone and if you leave WiFi off and turn off background WiFi scanning the battery life is actually very good.
    If I happen to use WiFi, I reboot the phone and I get great battery life on my Zenfone 2 that way.
  • Wow I was just thinking about this yesterday. I've always wanted a phone with Intel in it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • And, by the way, cheap Samsung phones aren't the same old slouches anymore.. I've just bought the new Galaxy A3 (2016) for $300 and it's super fast (although I don't game on it, so I wouldn;t know about that). Touchwiz is also reaaally reallly clean and simple.
  • Same story here with the Galaxy A5 (2016) owned by my dad. $399, 16GB of storage + 2GB of memory + a free 32GB Samsung Evo SD card. It's a pretty solid midranger. That Eyxnos 7580 seems to be quite capable and I haven't experienced any serious performance issues with it yet.
  • Not to mention the awesome battery life, that Asus phones can only dream of.
  • Funny you should mention that. My dad's A5 has a 2900mAh battery and a 1080p display. My mom's ZF2 has a 3000mAh battery and a 1080p display. The Zenfone is almost always charging at night. The A5 didn't have a cable lugged into it until 2 days after that last charge. The battery-life on my dad's A5 is so good, it makes me jealous.
  • Exactly. My A3 is the same. It lasts 2 days with moderate usage.
  • The A5 also has a smaller AMOLED display, vs a larger LCD. Not to ignore the result, but that difference shouldn't be ignored when attempting to compare SoC's power consumption. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In theory, they should be almost equal to each other.
  • nope I'd rather get a 2014 flagship for that price.
  • That's what I'd do, honestly.
  • For $300 I can get 2015 flagships.
    G4, Moto X, M9.
    If $200 was my budget I'd get 2014 flagships
    Nexus 6, G3, S5, M8, etc
    I only paid $350 for my S6 active. and Before that I paid $250 for my 2015 moto X pure.
    Touchwiz launcher ******* blows so that garbage had to go asap.
    happy with the phone otherwise though.
  • That's the 1st time I've ever heard touchwiz and clean and simple used in a sentence, it gives me hope for the future, I'm waiting for MM on my galaxy note 1V to see if touchwiz is any better I might actually not use nova prime and give it a try.
  • I know :) I couldn't believe it myself. But it's true. I hated Samsung phones for a long time but not anymore ..
  • Totally think it is time for Intel to get more aggressive. Qualcomm needs a big competitor to step up. Intel and MediaTek are both capable companies. Posted via the Android Central App
  • $
  • Windows phone is far superior Posted via the Android Central App
  • So we finally found Rubin's big secret.
  • Windows phones could be completely fun to use exactly like an Android I would switch. And of course the App Store The tip is not included! So tip your Uber driver.
  • Of which Windows 10 Mobile is not Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • Intel cellphones are good but only for multi tasking not for gaming camera is crap and battery life sucks
  • Well it's the camera on a $200-300 phone so...
  • I think we should all sit back and have a sip of bourbon in celebration of all the progress and competition happening around us. NVIDIA is on to something great. Intel is onto something great as well. My opinion is based on devices I currently own, and I find that this article is very valid. Well done Russell.
  • Intel SoCs are certainly improving. They're obviously not going to be dominating soon, but they are improving in a pretty big way. Intel also said that they're focusing on mobile processors in the future. Given how desktop processor innovation seems to have slowed down somewhat, perhaps it's time for Intel to keep improving on their mobile processors. The Atom Z3580 is a pretty good foundation.
  • Funny you mention that, if anything I want to see Intel improve its integrated graphics. I know we have that with Broadwell, but we need to see it for the mainstream. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • But let's not ignore this minor detail: http://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-imposes-formal-antitrust-charges-on-qualc...
  • Yeah but the EU are complete bullies. They try to break up any company that's doing too well. That is their sole purpose in life, to control they public, and to get money from big companies so that big companies and never get bigger than them and passing on the money fines on to themselves. It's one of those who watches the watcher situations. The tip is not included! So tip your Uber driver.
  • The biggest thing that Intel has yet to do on their chips is just what Russell mentioned. Unless the OEM works directly with Intel to get the price down and factor in the additional costs of a GPU along with a LTE modem they can't make everything smooth on the price point. Why would they design a phone with Intel and put the extra man hours into compensating for the space on the hardware side and working with the GPU and modem providers when they could just go to Qualcomm and get it all in one box.
  • So far what I've seen from Intel has been lackluster. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The question I'm more interested in is "Why aren't more manufactures using Nvidia in their Android phones?" I feel like they have a better competitor to Qualcomm than Intel does...
  • Well didnt you get the memo they dropped support for 3rd party oems
  • No, I didn't actually. When did that happen? Got any links to articles about that? Thanks
  • I feel like AMD should give it a try as well their processors are pretty solid and usually cheaper than nvidia and Intel. Posted via the Android Central App
  • They don't need another reason for their PC CPU's to come out any later... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Wouldn't mind seeing them try one of their arm server chips
  • Great article! Spot on! Intel has made a huge progress in GPU department even though they still have a long way to go. I think they made a very good choice to drop PowerVR from their Atom line.
  • A few things:
    1) Qualcomm simply mops the floor with Intel CPUs in benchmarks.
    2) Modem performance has tripped up Nvidia too.
    3) Qualcomm CPUs are x64, while Intel Atoms are still 32-bit AFAIK
  • my Atom is x64, but with a 32 bit bios. so i cant install x64 windows. Intel ingenuity!
  • Same exept you can use linux 64-bit systems if you put a bootia32.efi file in efi/ boot ( basically this is a 32 bit file which ur bios/uefi will use since the 64 bit bios uses x64 bit files, doesn' work with windows since you can't edit the efi partition.) Hope this helps , but too bad you can't change the efi file in windows.
  • I'm not sure that's entire accurate, Intel has processors with LTE Modems in their chips, see here http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/processors/atom/atom-x3-c3000-bri...
  • I don't want that THING on my phone.
    Maybe hide it under the battery/cover but personally that mark qualifies as vandalism, not power or prestige. It just doesn't work on a phone.
  • Exynos is life, exynos is love Posted via the Android Central App
  • Hey :)
    For me Qualcomm is still the Best... No way what Intel or Mediathek do... And Huawei Kirin... Oh please don't go on my nerves with these child processor :)
  • Though I'm a QC fan myself, I think the more the merrier. Thanks to the effects of a more competitive environment we could maybe finally catch up to the performance Apple gets out of their dual-cores. I think Nvidia should get into the phone business as well. Their Tegra chipsets are pretty beast and I'd like to see them bring that Jeremy Clarckson mindset of "POWAAAAAHHHHH" to phones as well. Blackberry Priv
    Nvidia Shield "Portable"
    Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • Good write up - thank you. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Taking Intel seriously in the Android space would be a lot easier if Intel had released libhoudini as open source. A large percentage of the most popular applications provide parts of ARM only binary code in their Android packages. Intel's solution, libhoudini, does ARM to Intel translation to address the situation. However, this is very complex code which does not always work correctly. Since Intel only licenses this directly to phone manufacturers and doesn't distribute it through the Google Play store, there is no way to get updates to libhoudini unless the phone maker decides to release an update. Also, if you go to a non-standard ROM for your Intel phone, you lose all of the libhoudini functionality since that is not licensed for distribution with any third-party ROM. It should quickly become apparent how Intel phones appear to provide a crippled Android experience and Intel help cause that issue. Aside from Intel's restrictive use of libhoudini to sabotage Android x86 adoption, Intel also does not seem to provide the same polished customer experience that Qualcomm does. For example, Qualcomm QuickCharge and battery life produce results that customers care about and there doesn't seem to be the same sort of equivalent in the Intel phone offering.
  • Thanks for another great article Russell Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm not sure, I think Intel make great products, maybe price is prohibitive, or they can't produce in high enough volume for the big phone sellers like Samsung and LG, who knows? But over time I think we will start to see more Intel chipsets in phones.