Android On Intel x86 Tablet Performance Explored

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Performance Summary: What's the experience of using a tablet running Android on x86? Pretty much like using an ARM-based Android tablet currently, and surprisingly good for any tablet in the $199 bracket or less. Four years ago, I reviewed a Maylong $120 Android tablet and was alternately chortling and cursing my way through the project, thanking God Walgreens would take the wretched thing back when I was finished. This was not an Intel-based solution but rather ARM 9 and VIA-based. My, how far budget tablets have come since then.

Intel has managed to push its way into the tablet market and has created a thoroughly reasonable platform. Everything I wanted to run on this device runs on it. The games I actually personally play run well. Netflix? No problem either. The 1900x1200 screen on an 8-inch device is crisp and clear. Load times and frame rates may not keep up with the highest of the high end, but they certainly do justice to a $199 device, to say nothing of Dell's Venue 8, which starts at $179. Intel's low-cost Android solution has definitely come of age.

As a tablet, we can easily recommend the Acer Iconia Tab 8. But as a business strategy, while I recognize that Intel had little choice but to slash its prices to compete in the Android market, I'm dubious how much benefit this strategy is buying the company long term. When Intel laid out its Android plans in the fall of 2011, it had a strategy that made sense. At the time, dual cores were still a relatively new thing and Intel argued that its experience in multithreading, power management, and other key areas would be vital to Android's long-term evolution.

In 2011, that was a reasonable argument. It holds less water in 2014, however, when big.LITTLE and the ARM ecosystem have provided their own heterogeneous multi-core, multi-threaded solutions.The question isn't whether Intel hardware is good enough to compete with ARM -- it clearly is and has been for a while now, though product family selection at retail is just now fleshing out a bit more. The question is whether or not Intel can build a business out of Android (and Windows) tablet solutions given that it's currently losing over a billion dollars a quarter in "contra-revenue" tablet shipments.

The only way for Intel to fix that problem is to ship devices that are unquestionably the best-in-class Android devices money can buy, at price points that lets the company turn even a tiny profit. Whether it can do that will be one of the great challenges of 2015. For now, it's enough to know that devices like the Acer Iconia Tab 8 and Dell's new Venue 8 are capable tablets at a good price and worthy competitors for the ARM-based alternatives they face in this aggressive price bracket.
  • Excellent performance for $199
  • 1900x1200 screen is sharp, colorful
  • Software compatibility almost a non-issue.
  • Bloatware -- there's too much software you won't need, won't want, and can't remove.
  • Intel GPU falls behind PowerVR option.

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