Windows 10 phones to get bigger, smaller, faster, and maybe even x86ier

Windows 10 logoEven as we wait for a flagship Windows handset, Windows 10 for phones will support faster processors, more RAM, and higher screen resolutions than Windows Phone currently does.

Microsoft has been talking Windows 10 hardware at its WinHEC hardware conference in Shenzhen, China. As we've heard previously, there will be two main Windows variants: one "Mobile," for phones and tablets with sub-8-inch screens, bottoming out at 3 inches, and one "desktop," for devices with screens of 7 inches or more (and yes, this means that between 7 and 8 inches, OEMs will be able to pick either operating system).

The "Mobile" family will be the successor to the Windows Phone we have today: no desktop, no traditional Win32 applications, fully locked down and sandboxed, and running on system-on-chip platforms. Microsoft seems unsure of exactly what this desktopless versions is called; sometimes it's Windows "Mobile" with the quote marks, other times it's just Windows Mobile in a terrifying resurrection of a widely maligned and near-universally unpopular branding. Until it's clear, we're going to stick with the former, because the alternative is unpalatable.

The Windows Phone universe has always been more constrained in terms of supported hardware—it's no coincidence that Windows Phone is currently exclusively available on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, it simply doesn't support anything else—with OEMs having to wait for changes from Microsoft before they can roll out new processors, screen resolutions, and hardware support.

Windows 10 will support a wider range of SoCs than before. New to the list of supported chips are the Snapdragon 810, 808, 615, 210, and 208. These processors span the breadth of Qualcomm's range; the 810 is an 8-core, 64-bit processor with four A57 cores and four A53 cores. It has integrated LTE including Category 9 support, for data rates of up to 450Mbps. The 208 is a quad-core 32-bit processor using the ARM A7 core, and only supports HSPA+ at up to 21Mbps.

Also supported are Intel's Atom x3 (formerly known as SoFIA), and x5 and x7 processors (codenamed Cherry Trail). x3 is aimed at low-to-mid-range smartphones, with x5 and x7 targeted towards tablets. AMD's Carrizo and Carrizo-L processors are also supported, and Carrizo-L in particular may find its way into tablets.

While the high-end Qualcomm processors, and all of the Intel and AMD processors, are 64-bit, Windows "Mobile" is presently strictly 32-bit, and those processors will be working in their 32-bit modes.

Currently, Windows Phone tops out at a 1920×1080 resolution. Windows "Mobile" broadens this considerably, including support for 1440×900 to 1920×1200, 2048×1152 to 2560×1600, and 2560×2048 or greater. These ranges also have corresponding RAM requirements; 2GB or more, 3GB or more, and 4GB or more, respectively.

There's no change at the low end, however; 800×480 (with hardware buttons on the front) or 854×480 (without hardware buttons) remains the minimum resolution, and 512MB remains the minimum RAM. Any higher resolution, from 960×540 to 1366×768 bumps the RAM mandate up to 1GB.

The new resolutions are straightforward. What's a little more peculiar are other requirements. Windows "Mobile" on Phones will require a cellular radio, Wi-Fi, audio jacks, speakers, and a microphone. On tablets, all of these bar the speakers are strictly going to be optional. Surprisingly, however, both sensors (including accelerometers, compasses, ambient light, proximity, and gyroscopes) are currently listed as optional, even on phones. More bizarrely still, touch screens are also listed as optional.

We assume that this must be some kind of error or oversight in the slides. Current Windows Phones require accelerometers and, of course, touch screens. Losing the former would break some apps; losing the latter would break everything. This may well be an error or oversight in the slides, of course, and that's what would make most sense.

Overall, while we don't expect these changes to have much impact at the low-end—the only real excitement being Snapdragon 210's LTE support, which will be a nice upgrade over the 3G still used in the cheapest phones—they will have impact at the high end. The bumped specs will let Windows devices match the specs of class-leading Android ones, and that's surely good news for those still holding out for a hero phone.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Microsoft, OSes, Windows 10

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