Dell’s “Stack” was/is the Intel x86 Windows 10 Phone/PC hybrid

Computers and mobile devices are increasingly able to talk to each other, but the companies that make them still have a long way to go before they offer a truly portable experience. Dell and Intel, however, once embarked on a mission that could have offered a big push in making computing more transferable.

The pictures of a thin phone running some version of Windows 10 on an Intel x86 processor as provided by Evan Blass now have a backstory, also provided by Evan Blass. We now have a more detailed look at the phone/PC hybrid that never made it to market.

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If you’re wondering why am I referring to it in the past tense, that’s because there’s a chance this project has been canceled… but Blass notes that it’s also possible that Dell could still be working on the Dell Stack and may still plan to launch it at some point.

At a time when most smartphones offer some sort of cloud sync features (snap a photo on your phone and it’s automatically backed up to the internet, purchase music from iTunes and it’s automatically available on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac), Dell Stack seems like a kind of anti-cloud phone. There’s no need to sync your files between devices if your phone is the brains of all your devices.

Blass reported on VentureBeat that the device, non-cellular actually, may have just been the integral piece to an ecosystem of Windows 10 desktop and mobile devices envisioned from Dell. Thanks to Continuum and Universal Windows Platform apps, users would have been able to move all of their computing tasks between a core phablet-sized device, other tablet form factors (such as the one pictured above next to the core device), a laptop and a desktop.

The project was called Stack and it wasn’t just a phone… it would have been a whole ecosystem of devices powered by a pocket-sized device (assuming you have fairly large pockets, since the phone had a 6.4 inch display). Documents showed that the phablet was originally envisioned with a full HD screen that could be equipped with an Intel Core processing unit built on the Kaby Lake architecture. Mind you, it wouldn’t be a full-blast U-series processor, but a more conservative dual-core Y-series processor (then using the Core m branding).

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Used on the go, the device would use about 3.5 watts. But plug it into a desktop dock and the processor could kick into high gear, drawing around 12 watts. It’d also be capable of working with a laptop dock to provide a bigger screen, touchpad, and keyboard for on-the-go computing, or a tablet dock when you just want a bigger touchscreen display.

Dell Stack was designed to support 4GB to 8GB of RAM, 128GB to 256GB of storage, and a microSD card slot for removable storage. A five-megapixel selfie camera would double as an iris scanner. While Dell Stack would be able to run full Windows desktop software thanks to its x86 processor, it’d also be able to function as a phone. That was the initial plan anyway, but all of that would take up a lot of room and leave less of it for heat dissipation. Eventually Dell decided to increase the size from 6.4 inches to 7 inches, making the core of the Dell Stack experience more tablet than phone.

Interestingly, it seems unlikely that Intel’s decision to scrap its Atom chips for smartphones had much to do with the cancellation and/or delay of the Dell Stack, since it was never designed to use an Atom processor in the first place.

Stack was conceptualized in the middle of 2014. The company bet on a commercial launch by spring of 2017. There was even a cell-enabled 6-inch planned as a second-generation device. But at this point, it’s unclear if the project is still alive or dead and for what reason. It is possible that the device was put on hold, but based on early reactions to the VentureBeat report, it seems it could be a hit if it goes to market.

How excited does this make you for the future of our devices? A connected ecosystem of devices doesn’t sound bad to me. Might even boost sales of Windows smartphones if it takes the competition long to come up with similar solutions. What do you think?

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