Orange San Diego review

The Orange San Diego is the first Intel-powered phone to hit Europe

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Orange San Diego review
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Orange San Diego review

For

  • Powerful handset
  • Sharp screen
  • Lightweight and strong

Against

  • Awful keyboard
  • Dated Android
  • Worrying battery niggles

The Orange San Diego is the first phone to include Intel’s Atom chip, which promises better battery life, faster browsing and full HD movies

Intel is one of the biggest names in tech, but despite producing 70% of the world’s PC processors, smartphones have eluded the US giant. Until now.

The Orange San Diego sports one of the maker's Atom chipsets, but can it match the new quad-core monsters like the iPhone 4S, HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S3?

Orange San Diego: Build

The Orange San Diego is a strange mash-up of stories, in one compact 4-inch smartphone. On the one hand it’s packed with Intel’s latest mobile processing technology, and on the other, it’s a budget handset for Orange customers who can’t fork out for the biggest and baddest phones, like those in our list of the best smartphones around.

In the hand it feels like the latter, and it’s adorned with a soft black plastic that feels durable, yet inexpensive. It’s light yet strong, and tips the scales at a solid 117g, but feels solid and reassuring to hold.

Unlike other handsets, it follows the Intel reference design closely, and that means there’s four buttons along the bottom of the screen for back, home, search and menu. If you’re used to using Android with three buttons it can be confusing and it doesn’t help that they’re poorly labelled.

Orange San Diego: Features

For a handset that costs a shade under £200, there’s a good range of features to be found. Firstly, there’s an 8MP camera, which is packed with settings, effects and tweaks. Shutter lag is almost non-existent, evidence that the Atom processor is doing its job.

Despite the wealth of features, photo quality left a lot to be desired. Our shots looked washed out and grainy in anything but perfect light, evidence that the sensor has been scrimped on.

The San Diego runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which is also disappointing. Back at MWC we were personally assured that an over-the-air update to Ice Cream Sandwich, but there’s no word on when this might be. What’s more, with the soft keys present, we can’t see a good fit between the two operating systems.

The on-screen keyboard was also dreadful, with tiny buttons made even smaller with extra buttons added to the side.

The positioning of many of the keys was also bonkers, with settings and SHIFT keys placed in the bottom right, with the symbol toggle key awkwardly situated two keys in, which made it a pain to punctuate.

Even after a few days of use, we still frequently miss typed, and it ruined our entire experience with the Orange San Diego.

The San Diego comes with 16GB of internal storage with no option for expansion via microSD, so if you’re a hungry media and apps user, you might want to look elsewhere.

Orange San Diego: Screen

For a budget handset, the San Diego has an excellent screen. The 1024x600 resolution is extremely sharp, with bright colours that looked excellent in our video tests. Colours were well represented if a little pale.

Of course, it’s no match for the iPhone’s Retina Display, nor the AMOLED screens of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X, but at a fraction of the cost, it’s a good pay off.

It’s head and shoulders better than other budget handsets such as the LG Optimus L3, in terms of sharpness, resolution and colours, and watching YouTube videos was a genuinely pleasing experience.

Despite the sharpness, the screen’s high resolution did make icons small and text hard to read. If you like a big clear display, this is not the handset for you.

Orange San Diego: Performance

We can’t review the Orange San Diego without talking about that Intel chip at the beating heart of the handset, so prepare yourself for the technical bit.

The Intel Atom Z2460 is a single core 1.6GHz chip, which is a world apart from any other smartphone chip. It’s of the x86 ilk, which basically means it has more in common with the chip in your PC than your iPhone 4S. Remember netbooks? Yeah, that.

Intel says that the 22nm architecture is more power efficient than its competitors, which use larger die sizes. The Intel Atom chip can also stagger its power usage, giving you power when you need it, and stepping back when you don’t.

One of Intel’s boasts is that browsing speeds were improved from the use of the Atom chip, and we were impressed. Pages were rendered extraordinarily quickly, and that’s in no small part due to the chip.

This performance was backed up in Sunspider, with the San Diego thrashing the iPhone 4S in Java performance.

The Antutu benchmark scores put the San Diego in the middle of the road with a score of 5463, which is a fraction of the quad-core power of the Samsung Galaxy S3. However, as the Atom processor is only single core, it’s not a fair comparison, and we couldn’t find the limits of the Z2460 chip.

Orange San Diego: Battery

We got decent day-to-day battery use form the Orange San Diego, and we were able to easily last the day with heavy use. With any modern smartphone, two days of battery life is a pipe dream, but the San Diego never stopped short of a full day’s use.

However, in our stress tests, which involved lopping HD video until the battery gave out, the San Diego was dismal.

The phone got very warm and gave out after a pitiful 202 minutes. In the same test the Nokia Lumia 900 managed 407 minutes, but day-to-day, battery performance was worse.

We put this down to Atom chip’s power throttling. The chip was obviously working overtime to process HD video, and that could cause the dismal score. If you’re a basic user you won’t have any problems, but if you regularly watch video or play games, you might find the San Diego dies before you get home.

Orange San Diego: Verdict

The Orange San Diego is a well-built and powerful budget handset. However, usability niggles such as the small screen, the awful on-screen keyboard and the worrying battery performance under heavy strain means that Intel’s first outing isn’t inside a world beating handset.

Orange San Diego availability: Available now

Orange San Diego price: £15.50 (24-month contract), £199.99 (PAYG)

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