Orange has sold a range of own-brand handsets for some time now, and it contains some gems — the San Francisco, for example, was an impressive budget Android smartphone. Now Orange has introduced the San Diego, an affordable Android smartphone that's the first to use an Intel processor.
If you're looking for the best screen for your money, then your search stops here. With its 4.03in. 1,024-by-600-pixel display, the San Diego's 297ppi (pixels per inch) screen is a stunner. It can't match the iPhone 4, whose 3.5in. 960-by-640-pixel Retina display offers 326ppi, but it compares very favourably with Samsung's flagship Galaxy S III (4.8in., 1,280 by 720 pixels, 306ppi).
The San Diego's screen can certainly show plenty of detail: web browsing is a treat and reading text is no problem either — although those with poorer eyesight may find they need to boost the text size in some apps to avoid eyestrain. This is not something we note very often in handset reviews.
The screen technology isn't up to the Super AMOLED of the Galaxy S III — side by side, Samsung's device offers more vibrant colours and a generally brighter experience. However, the San Diego is perfectly readable outdoors.
The build quality is good too, contributing to the general impression that this handset punches well above its weight.
The San Diego's slightly blocky design lacks panache, though, and it doesn't stand out visually. A black front and back, the latter with a rubbery finish to assist with grip, are broken by a silver side band that houses the various buttons and connectors.
The Micro-USB port for power and PC connectivity is on the bottom edge, and the headset jack on the top. The bottom edge also houses two speakers, while the left edge has a Micro-HDMI socket — both relatively rare finds on budget handsets. On the right edge is a volume rocker, a camera button and the Micro-SIM card slot.
The SIM card lives in a tray that's accessed using a small pin. We had great difficulty getting at the SIM tray and in the end were reduced to prising off the supposedly non-removable backplate to pull out the tray.
The location of the SIM slot tells you that the battery isn't supposed to be accessible. In fact, even with the backplate off, we weren't inclined to remove the battery, although it's visible enough.
The plastic chassis feels quite flexible, but Orange has at least been able to produce quite a lightweight handset at just 117g. That's not bad for a phone that measures 63mm wide by 123mm deep by 9.99mm thick.
Looking at the specifications, the standout feature is Intel's 'Medfield' processor, the single-core 1.6GHz Atom Z2460. The CPU's HyperThreading capability means it can operate two sets of instructions in parallel, appearing in some ways to function as a dual-core processor. We certainly didn't notice any performance issues during out tests.
However, you may notice that some apps won't work on the San Diego. This is because some developers have coded their programs specifically for ARM-based chips. Intel has reportedly suggested as many as 30 percent and as few as 5 percent of apps could be affected. Everything we tried was OK, but we have heard a few reports of issues — mostly concerning games.
Orange equips the San Diego with 16GB of internal storage and there's no MicroSD card expansion slot for adding more capacity. Of that 16GB, Orange claims 12GB is available to the user, although out of the box we found just 10.7GB free.
Some potential buyers may be deterred by the fact that the San Diego runs Android 2.3.7 (Gingerbread) rather than the latest Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system. It's also a shame that HD Voice and Signal Boost aren't present — Orange could have given this handset a push by including these features.
Still, Orange has specced-out the San Diego pretty well considering its price. It has intergrated NFC, which, although a technology that's yet to really prove its worth, could prove valuable in due course.
A number of Orange apps are provided, including the ever-popular Orange Wednesdays and Orange Gestures. Wednesdays gives access to film trailers and two-for-one ticket deals, and is a longstanding Orange favourite. Gestures is a utility that lets you open apps and services by drawing shapes on-screen. There's also Your Orange, an app that monitors data usage, calls and messaging, to help you keep within your allowance. Dailymotion, a video streaming app, is hardly necessary as YouTube is also present.
You also get a copy of QuickOffice — but it's only the viewer, so you can't create or edit Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents.
The San Diego has an 8-megapixel rear camera with a small LED flash that works well in most situations, although it suffers in low light conditions. There's touch focus, burst-mode shooting, a macro mode and several effects onboard. There's also a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video calls.
Performance & battery life
The San Diego's Atom processor caused no problems during the test period. The handset was responsive and all of the apps we tried loaded without a hitch. Finding that a required app won't install would be extremely irritating though.
The keyboard on our review sample had an issue: if we lingered on a key it would register multiple presses — sometimes of a completely different letter, number or symbol. Hopefully this was a one-off glitch, but it made working with text pretty much impossible.
We also noticed that the handset got a little warm when charging. The amount of heat generated seems unlikely to prove a long-term problem, but it was noticeable.
Battery life is always important for a smartphone, but we were particularly interest to see how Intel's Atom processor fared. The news is encouraging: we got through a day of normal mixed usage on several occasions without needing to worry about recharging towards the end of the day. This bodes well for future Intel-based smartphones.
The Orange San Diego is a reasonably affordable smartphone, although at £185 (inc. VAT; 154.17 ex. VAT) it's hardly a budget handset. Still, you do get quite a lot of phone for your money here. Its large, high-resolution screen is a real plus point, and the battery life is above-average too.
Orange could have boosted the San Diego's appeal by including HD Voice and Signal Boost, and if you really need one of the apps that Intel's processor doesn't like you'll be pretty annoyed. Overall, though, it's an impressive phone, a worthy debut from Intel, and good value for money — particularly for those requiring a large screen.