NVIDIA has officially unveiled its smartphone strategy with Tegra 4 this morning, and the star of the show is undoubtedly the new Tegra 4i platform - a low-cost, slightly down-market version of NVIDIA's Tegra 4 chip that was announced at CES in January. And don't worry - the standard Tegra 4 platform will be featured in 'superphones' as well, T4i is all about the low to middle range of the market.

I understand, a budget chip may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world on paper, but remember - NVIDIA's budget Kai tablet platform is what the Nexus 7 owes its existence to. NVIDIA has something of a knack for developing low-cost, high performance hardware, and Tegra 4i is going to be taking that trend to a whole new level - because you've never seen a budget smartphone chip like this before.


Tegra 4i_die_shot

Tegra 4i, pictured above, is powered by a quad-core A9 'R4' 28nm processor, running at 2.3GHz, with the signature fifth power-saving core. There's a scaled-down version of NVIDIA's Tegra 4 GPU included, with 60 GPU cores. 2GB of RAM. This will also be NVIDIA's first chip with an integrated cellular modem, the Icera i500, and it's an industry milestone: this is the first smartphone chipset announced with what's known as a "software defined radio." We'll get into that in a minute. NVIDIA's newly-christened "Chimera" imaging technology (the fancy HDR stuff, known as "NVIDIA Computational Photography Architecture" at CES) is included as well. And it does all this on a die half the size of the comparable Qualcomm Snapdragon chip.

Now, chipsets are all well and good, but let's be real: gigahertz and RAM and cores are only so much fun to talk about of their own accord. They've got to be doing something to be really cool. Well, NVIDIA's pulled something of a rabbit out of its hat on this one (a rabbit that looks curiously like a phone), and also taken the opportunity to introduce Phoenix - the basis of what could very well be your next smartphone.


Phoenix Reference Phone_Tegra 4i

5" 1080p display. LTE. Quad-core chip. 2GB of RAM. Chimera HDR imaging. Sounding like a pretty good phone for something that's supposed to be "cheap," right? Well, that's Phoenix, and it's NVIDIA's vision for the Tegra 4i platform, much like Kai was its vision for Tegra 3 (on tablets). And like Kai, Phoenix comes with a price target. Are you ready?

$100-300 - unlocked. The range depends on the market, optional extras, and the respective OEM's price-setting strategy. But regardless, that's impressive.

Phoenix-based phones are expected to start shipping late this year, and into early next year (2014). And yes, that's a while off yet, but even given the pace at which current phones are advancing, I'd be willing to bet Tegra 4i and Phoenix will still be fairly formidable by year's end, especially at that absolutely mind-blowing price point.

Going back to the Icera i500 modem, the fact that it's software-defined will give NVIDIA and OEMs a lot more flexibility in terms of designing a single hardware platform for multiple networks. Now, it's worth noting that NVIDIA has officially confirmed that the i500 will not be compatible with CDMA networks, meaning you won't see any Tegra 4i phones on Verizon or Sprint any time soon. But even so, the i500 is a big leap forward, and will allow your phone to get significant radio software updates. Support for standards like 150Mbps LTE, carrier aggregation, and TD LTE make the i500 hugely more flexible than existing modems. Next Nexus phone platform, anyone?

Anyway, here's some spec comparison porn (Tegra 4 vs. Tegra 4i) to geek out on, too.


Along with Shield, this is shaping up to be a pretty big year for NVIDIA.

NVIDIA Introduces Its First Integrated Tegra LTE Processor

Tegra 4i Delivers Highest Performance of Any Single-Chip Smartphone Processor

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—February 19, 2013— NVIDIA today introduced its first fully integrated 4G LTE mobile processor, the NVIDIA® Tegra® 4i, which is significantly faster yet half the size of its nearest competitor.

Previously codenamed “Project Grey,” the Tegra 4i processor features 60 custom NVIDIA GPU cores; a quad-core CPU based on ARM’s newest and most efficient core— the R4 Cortex-A9 CPU— plus a fifth battery saver core; and a version of the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem optimized for integration. The result: an extremely power efficient, compact, high performance mobile processor that enables smartphone performance and capability previously available only in expensive super phones.

“NVIDIA is delivering for the first time a single, integrated processor that powers all the major functions of a smartphone,” said Phil Carmack, senior vice president of the Mobile business at NVIDIA. “Tegra 4i phones will provide amazing computing power, world-class phone capabilities, and exceptionally long battery life.”

Tegra 4i’s new 2.3 GHz CPU was jointly designed by NVIDIA and ARM, and is the most efficient, highest performance CPU core on the market.

“Tegra 4i is the very latest SoC solution based on the ARM Cortex-A9 processor and demonstrates the ability of ARM and our partners to continue to push the performance of technology and create exciting user experiences,” says Tom Cronk, executive vice president and general manager, processor division, ARM. “ARM and NVIDIA worked closely to further optimize the Cortex-A9 processor to drive performance and efficiency in areas such as streaming and responsiveness. This is an example of the collaboration and innovation that enables ARM technology-based solutions to be market drivers through multiple generations of SoC solutions.”

Utilizing the same architecture as Tegra 4’s GPU, Tegra 4i features five times the number of GPU cores of Tegra 3 for high-quality, console-quality gaming experiences and full 1080p HD displays. It also integrates an optimized version of the NVIDIA i500 software-defined radio modem which provides LTE capabilities, and makes networking upgradability and scalability fast and easy.

''NVIDIA’s Tegra 4i appears to outperform the leading integrated LTE chip significantly, and also benefits from an integrated ‘soft-modem’ that can be re-programmed over-the-air to support new frequencies and air interfaces – something other modem vendors can only dream of,” said Stuart Robinson, director, Handset Component Technologies Program at Strategy Analytics.”

Tegra 4i mobile processor’s camera capabilities include the NVIDIA Chimera™ Computational Photography Architecture recently announced in Tegra 4. This delivers many advanced features, including the world’s first always-on high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities, first tap to track functionality and first panoramic photos with HDR.

NVIDIA also introduced its “Phoenix” reference smartphone platform for the Tegra 4i processor to demonstrate its unique mobile technologies. Phoenix is a blueprint that phone makers can reference in designing and building future Tegra 4i smartphones to help get them to market quicker.

The Tegra 4i mobile processor will be demonstrated in the NVIDIA booth in Hall 7, Stand #C110, at the 2013 Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 25-28.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjamin.pavel Benjamin Pavel

    Please Google put Tegra 4i in the next Gen Nexus 7 !!! >.<

    • http://twitter.com/Michael97F Michael Fordham

      Or just Tegra 4

    • http://twitter.com/ericcamil Eric Camil Jr

      Now I will wait for the next gen Nexus 4.

    • Simon Belmont

      Or, you know, put the regular Tegra 4 in it. I'd rather have A15 based chips than A9.

      Nothing against the Tegra 4i though. The specifications look good.

  • Robert Goddard

    Why not on Verizon? Verizon should have full LTE rollout by then and VoLTE is in the near future. Why couldn't it be a LTE only Verizon option?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I doubt Verizon will be allowing LTE-only devices on the network for a while yet. Maybe, but I'd imagine you'll be waiting until well into 2014 or beyond.

    • Paul

      I think all carriers need to focus on VoLTE. Makes phones a lot more compatible. But they don't want us to be able to easily move between carriers. I'd love a Droid 4 on AT&T network and I'd love a Sony Xperia TL on Verizon's network. But AT&T and Verizon don't want that. VoLTE would make jumping carriers easy, like in the UK with almost every carrier being GSM.

  • Scott

    I'll take a Phoenix reference phone please.

    • John O’Connor

      A Phoenix+(?) Reference phone would be more up my alley. I would love a Tegra 4 chipset as opposed to a 4i, There does not appear to be any indication of a reference 4 vs. 4i device in the article. The only saving grace here for me is that the 4i will not be available on CDMA providers (i.e. my providers) so they may well see a full Tegra 4 device

  • Mikken

    That's what's all about! I'm always more excited about what cen be done on budget than when money is no object. That's what changes things. Can't wait.

  • k3rc

    Shut up and take my money!

  • Sergii Pylypenko

    Are they planning to sell that hardware at a loss? Because it's too good to be true.

  • Paul

    Meh. Maybe I'll get my wife, mom or daughter a phone based on the Tegra 4i. I'll take the Tegra 4 myself. A15 is still vastly awesome compared to A9. Good price/performance ratio though, no doubt.

  • Paul

    So I see Ouya2 (retail $100) using this chip, and Ouya2+ (retail $150) using the full on Tegra 4 chip. The Ouya2 for casual gamers can play pretty much any game you'd want and you could have one Ouya2 for each TV in the house at that price; but if you're into higher end games, stronger graphics, etc. etc., hardcore gamers would go with the Ouya2+. I'd put a Ouya2+ on my main T.V in the living room and a few Ouya2's in my room and the kids rooms. Future here we come! On a side note, the Qualcomm chip may actually have a better design and better graphics, but it's not always about better specs but more about price and who can get to the market first and how popular a chipset is. Nvidia's going to be very popular in the Android gaming arena thanks to the Ouya and project Shield. A game developer wouldn't think twice about optimizing their game some for Nvidia. Qualcomm may be better, but unless they get into some gaming systems, a game developer may not take full advantage of Qualcomm's better graphics or performance, but if the game isn't optimized for it but is for Nvidia, it very well could look better on that platform even with a less advanced chip. I think Qualcomm and AMD/ATI need to team up. And Intel needs to stay away from Android.

  • http://www.williamint.com William Aleman

    Where do I insert the money?

  • Jaime Larios

    Awesome :-)

  • invinciblegod

    As much as I like nvidia, I was wondering if this will be the same as tegra 1-3 (very few devices use it). I read an article on semiaccurate which basically said that nvidia lied to their partners on their previous chips about performance and all of them are, as a result, burnt out on nvidia. I wonder if that is true and if it true, makes me take the claims on this chip with a grain of salt.

  • Paul

    mentioned the Phoenix reference device was $100-$300 but another article about the Phoenix on
    another site reported that there was no pricing information available.

  • Mike Reid

    A phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

    Or so Nvidia hopes. Or it's all just ash.

  • Elias

    Yet another shovel of dirt on the locked-down mess that CDMA is. Thanks, nvidia!
    Also, it's a wonderful thing that nvidia announced this with a price point. This will pressure other manufacturers to release cheap versions of their chips with equivalent performance.
    On one side, feels a bit sad to realize my just-bought nexus 4 is already dated, specially with the One launching in March. Luckily, software readily up-to-date will still be its differential. Also, with phones at even lower price points (as suggested by nvidia) I might very well upgrade from the n4 once the next nexus comes out. Even better, I might skip the n7 I was currently considering and get a new n7 when it becomes available.