It's a tablet! It's a phone! Actually, it's both! Image source: Asus.

After many false starts, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) can finally claim to power a smartphone and a tablet sold by a major U.S. wireless carrier. The chip giant has shipped processors to plenty of low-cost devices in markets such as China, but the Asus PadFone X mini is the first Intel-equipped device within easy reach of American consumers.

Now for sale in an AT&T (NYSE:T) store near you, will this gadget be the first of many Intel wins in the domestic smartphone and tablet markets? Or is it just another irrelevant footnote in the annals of mobile history?

What is the PadFone X mini, other than a mouthful?
You'll note that I keep referring to the PadFone X mini as both a tablet and a smartphone -- because it is. We're not talking about a smartphone so large that it might as well go by the tablet name, too, but a smartphone that ships with a tablet-shaped docking station. Snap the 4.5-inch Android phone into the back of the larger screen, and suddenly you have a 7-inch Android tablet and a larger battery -- all powered by the phone's Intel Atom processor.

This is an unusual design, but not the first of its kind.

AT&T used to sell another Asus-designed hybrid device known as the PadFone X. The big brother of the PadFone X mini paired a 5-inch smartphone with a 9-inch tablet body. But the older and larger version didn't have Intel inside. Instead, it ran on a Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 800 chip, which is also found in the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, and other devices.

Independent reviews found plenty of processing muscle in the Intel-based PadFone X mini. However, the battery life isn't impressive, and some reviewers complain about an uninspired design.

Then again, the PadFone X mini was never meant as a high-end flagship device. Sold for $200 under AT&T's prepaid GoPhone banner, this is a middle-of-the-road product in every way except for the unusual design and the Intel-based architecture.

The device has earned an agreeable four-star rating out of five from AT&T's customers, on par with the far more expensive -- and popular -- Samsung Galaxy S5. Once again, poor battery life brings down the review scores.

Image source: Intel.

Will this gadget help Intel at all?
So Intel finally scored a core processor win in a mobile device aimed at the domestic market. It's a low-cost, offbeat product, marketed under AT&T's redheaded GoPhone stepchild of a brand. And early reviews haven't exactly been fawning, indicating the Intel Atom chip inside could stand to improve its battery power management.

But it's a win nonetheless, and Intel will learn a lot from this foray into a new (to Intel, that is) American market.

Intel clearly doesn't have a home run on its hands here, but perhaps a serviceable base hit. Follow up with more of these boring, basic fundamental scores, and Intel could open up the mobile market in a big way in coming years.

We Intel shareholders should pull up a chair and grab some popcorn while the company explores this new opportunity.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Intel, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.