Orange's San Diego is the first Intel-powered smartphone to hit the UK. It's an interesting prospect that's been on the cards for years now, but no mean feat for the PC and laptop processor maker, which first had to figure out how it could reduce the power consumption, heat generation and even the dimensions of its x86 chips in order to cram them into mobile devices. Read our Orange San Diego review to find out whether an Intel-inside handset poses a threat to the ARM-dominated mobile-device market. 

Previously known as the Santa Clara, and internally by Intel as the AZ210A, the Orange San Diego marks Intel's entrance to the smartphone market. Faced with a battery of rivals running ARM chips under various guises, the San Diego has an Intel Atom Z2460 processor clocked at 1.6GHz. This single-core x86 processor is paired with PowerVR graphics architecture to form Intel's 'Medfield' system-on-a-chip (SoC) platform. 

It's Hyper-Threaded, meaning it can simulate dual-core operation, while Intel Burst Performance Technology allows it to ramp up the clock speed when required. Intel also provides 1GB of RAM and 16GB of non-expandable storage, of which only 10.71GB is available to the user. 

Expect the Orange San Diego to be the first of more Intel-powered handsets to pop up for sale. The chip maker has high hopes for the mobile market: later this year it will release an Intel Atom Z2580 dual-core chip that uses the same 32-nanometre (nm) manufacturing process, but promises twice the performance of the Z2460 seen here. 

In 2013 we can expect both high- and low-end 'Merrifield' 22nm chips, while 2014 should bring 14nm mobile processors. Intel claims these CPUs will bring faster performance and longer battery life to the smartphone market. Read more smartphone reviews.

Orange San Diego: Design

The San Diego runs old Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread, but in fact it looks more like an iPhone 4 than the army of Google phones with which it competes. 

This black slab feels very sturdy, if a little plasticky, in the hand. There's no flex when squeezing the handset, nor are ripples evident onscreen. A matt, slightly rubberised rear contrasts to the glossy front fascia, and usefully aids grip. An 8Mp camera with LED flash, capable of full-HD video recording, juts out at the San Diego's rear; all other ports and connectors are on display around the edge, with concealed Micro-SIM tray accessed via a pinhole.  

A sliver plastic band circles the San Diego's chassis, revealing a Micro-USB port and two speaker grilles at the base, Micro-HDMI on the left, power and reset buttons, plus a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, and a volume rocker and camera button on the right.

The San Diego's 4in toughened-glass touchscreen runs short of the chassis edge, with a raised rim interrupting the handset's otherwise smooth surface. It's very responsive, although we found some of the hardware buttons - in particular the camera button - required a firm press to click into action. At the bottom of the screen are four Android-standard touch buttons for Back, Options, Home and Search; a 1.3Mp camera and mic sit at the top. 

The display itself has a 1024x600 resolution, with a pixel density of 295ppi across the 4.03in panel. This is notably higher than many of the smartphones with which the San Diego competes, and viewing angles are excellent. However, we found the display rather dull at its default (automatic) setting. 

Orange San Diego video review

Orange San Diego: Hardware, performance

Entering the market with a budget handset is a very clever move by Intel. After all, an Intel handset would be unlikely to gain traction if the best it could muster couldn't come even close to some of ARM's smartphone wins - most notably the Samsung Galaxy S III and Apple iPhone 4S. By pricing its smartphone at £199 on a PAYG tariff (with a £10 top-up) or ‘free’ on contract from £15.50 per month over two years, Intel has lowered customer expectations and set itself easier-to-beat rivals in the form of the HTC One V, LG L3, Huawei Ascend G 300 and other budget Android smartphones. And it can still compete with the best dual-core handsets.

In this market, the San Diego's single-core 1.6GHz processor is exemplary; paired with a comparatively generous 1GB of RAM, it gives Intel the performance lead it needs to turn heads. It's interesting to note that this processor is clocked faster than those of market-leading smartphones - the Samsung Galaxy S III takes a 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Quad, and Apple has selected a 1GHz Cortex A9 dual-core for its iPhone 4S, for example. 

Make no mistake, the Orange San Diego is not the fastest smartphone you can buy. However, it is the fastest budget smartphone we've seen. Whereas the HTC One V recorded 282 points in Geekbench 2, the LG L3 managed 434, and the Huawei got a slightly better 525, the Orange San Diego put in a very good performance with 889 points. It also impressed in the SunSpider JavaScript test, where it recorded a fantastic 1,383.9ms. Whether Intel can also take on the high-end smartphone market is anyone's guess until we've seen its forthcoming Atom Z2580 chip. 

In real-world use, navigating the handset's various menus is very snappy, and we found the stock Android browser reasonably fast to load pages over a wireless connection. The handset stayed cool during gameplay, and even third-party apps, which are not written for the x86 processor architecture and must pass through an emulation layer to correctly operate, appeared to function well in our tests. 

Orange San Diego: Software

It was feared that between 5- and 30 percent of the apps in Google Play would not be compatible with Intel-powered Android devices. In our experience, taking into account the apps you might actually use, it's closer to 10 percent. 

Of the top 100 free and 100 paid-for apps in Google Play, 19 are listed as not compatible: BBC iPlayer, Adobe Flash Player 11.0, RealPlayer, SongPop, Temple Run, World of Goo, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto III, Osmos HD, Asphalt 6 and 7, Riptide GP, Sprinkle, Shadowgun, The Dark Knight Rises, Reckless Getaway, Plants vs Zombies, X-Plane 9 and BBC Olympics. 

In the case of iPlayer you can still watch content via the website, and there are plenty more apps you can enjoy on Intel Android, including YouTube, Football Manager Handheld 2012, Instagram, WhatsApp, Where's My Water, Need for Speed: Shift, Mass Effect: Infiltrator, Flick Golf, PES 2012, Draw Something, Dropbox, Evernote, Fifa 12, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (social-networking apps are not preinstalled), Angry Birds, Adobe Reader, Skype, Dolphin Browser HD, MX Player and eBay.

Admittedly, there will be other apps not supported on this smartphone - perhaps increasingly so, given that it isn't running the latest version of Android… or even its predecessor. 

We've been told that an upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will become available, although it has yet to appear. And besides, we now want 4.1 Jelly Bean. 

Intel has left Orange to interpret Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread how it sees fit, and Orange has responded with a lick of orange paint in the software and the addition of more than a few Orange-branded features, including Orange Gestures and Orange Wednesdays. 

We particularly like Orange Gestures, which lets you define up to 27 gestures for launching applications. By default, drawing a circle on any of the home screens brings up Orange World and a square launches the Messaging app, for example. 

These gestures aren't any quicker than tapping an app shortcut, and are of no use as soon as they're forgotten, but they look clever. Orange Wednesdays, meanwhile, is a perk for Orange customers, allowing them to bag free cinema tickets on Wednesdays; the app merely describes the films currently showing and finds your closest cinema.

An app launcher runs along the bottom of the five home screens, offering quick access to All programs, Messaging, Call log and Contacts. We couldn't find a way to change these shortcuts, although it's a simple matter to add shortcuts, folders and widgets to a home screen. 

You can opt to use either the standard Android keyboard or a Swype version, with the latter letting you draw a path through letters with your finger, rather than individually tap each key, and it automatically adds the spacing. 

Swype takes a little while to get used to, but it can save you a lot of time in tapping out messages. Both software keyboards automatically adjust to landscape or portrait orientation.

The Orange San Diego also supports Wireless Display and near-field communication (NFC); a Tags app is preinstalled, although no smart tags are provided with the handset. Wireless connectivity stretches to 802.11n, and Bluetooth to 2.1.

Orange San Diego: Camera 

Unlike most budget smartphones, the San Diego has an 8Mp rear-facing camera with an LED flash (which also works as a torch), 8x digital zoom and several manual settings. 

The camera app includes a burst mode, letting you quickly capture three, five or 10 shots, at a framerate between 1- and 15fps. You can also select from several scene and colour modes, set the focus and metering modes, and adjust the image size and quality, ISO, white balance, shutter speed, exposure and more. 

In fact, the camera app has so many tweakable settings that you may not even notice the dull, blurry and poorly lit pictures actually produced by the San Diego. Recorded videos are also something of a let-down, if full-HD in pixel size.

A 1.3Mp front-facing camera is also provided; you can toggle between the two cameras using an onscreen button, making the front cam useful for more than just video chat. In this respect, the Orange San Diego may well appeal to all those who are guilty of having taken photos of themselves in a mirror. Note that if you do want to use video chat you'll need to install Skype, however: there's no preinstalled option to make a video call.

Orange San Diego: Battery life

One of the things Intel hopes to bring to the smartphone market is improved battery life, yet we've seen no evidence of this in the Orange San Diego. In fact, we may well see future handset manufacturers taking advantage of the ability to underclock the processor in 100MHz increments to prolong battery life, at the expense of speed.

Intel claims the non-removable battery will run to 8 hours of talk time, or 14 days on standby. In our own tests, with normal usage, the battery was down to 41 percent after 10 hours. Most of this capacity was consumed while the phone was doing nothing (35 percent standby and 27 percent phone idle), which suggests you will need to keep a Micro-USB cable handy for those days when you know you'll want to use the phone more than usual. One thing is for sure: this battery won't survive more than a day, if that.

This is a first-look at the Orange San Diego, with a full review to follow when we have had a chance to test the Intel-based handset.

The Orange San Diego is a long-anticipated mobile phone that runs on an Intel processor and uses Google Android 2.3 for its operating system. See also Samsung Galaxy Ace review.

Intel has been talking about building processors for mobile devices for several years, and with the Orange San Diego handset it has finally delivered.

And note that it is Intel that has put the reference design together itself, rather than a mobile handset manufacturer. There are good reasons why the Intel-in-a-mobile project has been doomed to fail, so does the Orange San Diego prove the naysayers wrong?

To answer that question will require a full review of a phone like the Orange San Diego, which we hope to complete when we've had a production sample to test.

A key aspect that requires testing is how well Android apps – typically written in Oracle Java and translated through Google's Dalvik interpreter into code that can run on the ARM processor architecture – will run after passing through Intel's emulation layer in order to be executed on the Intel x86 processor architecture.

Intel estimates that around 70% of Android apps will work without recompliling. Which leaves many Android apps that potentially will not run on Intel Android.

Until our full review, we tried a factory-fresh sample of the Orange San Diego, its battery brimming at 100% when we first picked it up.

Orange San Diego in a box

The Orange San Diego, nèe Intel Santa Clara, fresh from its Orange box

The challenge is of course to take a processor architecture designed in the 1970s for desktop PCs, when heat and power consumption were of little concern, and then trim it back enough so that it can keep a smartphone working for several days from a small internal battery.

To squeeze an x86 chip into a phone, Intel has realigned its Atom processor for even lower power consumption, and built all the supporting PC silicon into one system-on-a-chip (SoC). For graphics, it's using the British-designed PowerVR architecture first employed in the Apple iPhone. Combined together, Intel calls this processor platform Medfield.

Orange San Diego: Features

The Orange San Diego, formerly codenamed Santa Clara, is an unremarkable phone when you ignore its odd choice of processor. Intel designed the phone, and Gigabyte made it. (Update: some report are suggesting ZTE is the orginal manufacturer. We hope to clarify this later.)

Then Orange took the complete design and put its badge on it, along with several pre-loaded Orange apps.

It has a 4in display, resolving 1024 x 600 pixels to make a 16:9 aspect-ratio screen. A rear camera shoots stills at 8Mp and the front at 1.3Mp. It also films in full-HD resolution. 

For connecting to the world, there’s the usual quad-band radio for GSM and 3G data. Bluetooth goes up to version 2.1 and Wi-Fi to 11n.

Storage is very limited. Orange only offers a 16GB capacity version, which actually had 10.71GB of available storage on the new sample we looked at. There is no card expansion slot. 

The processor running the show is a new Intel Atom Z2460, clocked at 1.6GHz. This can be stepped down in 100MHz increments in a bid to reduce power consumption. Quantity of memory in the Orange San Diego is not specified.

Orange San Diego: Build

Like nearly all phones since 2007, the San Diego has a toughened glass front, and uses plastic for the rest of its frame. It feels... plasticky. The basic look is copied from the iPhone 4, with black front and back, and a silver band ringing the edge. The iPhone theme is felt stronger on the bottom, where we find two grilled cutouts for mic and speaker either side of a Micro-USB socket.

Like over 60% of such Google-based handsets in circulation today, the Orange San Diego is using version 2.3 (Gingerbread) of Android, released in 2010. There is also talk of an update to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) some day. 

Orange San Diego: Performance 

We had around 45 minutes to play with a new sample of the Orange San Diego handset at a press event on 31st May in London. We didn’t run any synthetic benchmark but can vouch that the phone didn’t feel as treacly in basic OS interface performance as many Android phones. 

Nor did it get warm in our very moderate use. We didn’t play any games or otherwise stress the processor, but did find a worrying trend from the battery life indicator.

A slide from the Orange presentation specified the phone with just 1.25 hours of talktime before the battery is dead. Intel claims it will sit idle (screen on but no other functions operating) for 18 hours.

Standby time in its full sleep state is said to be 14 days.

In our limited trial, the battery dropped from 100% to 79% in those 45 minutes of use. Extrapolating from this, you would see around 3.5 hours (214 mins) of actual use – probably less if you tried anything more ambitious than web browsing.

We hope to test this phone fully as we find it hard to believe that Intel and Orange would sell a phone with such appalling run time.

In the course of our hands-on, the Orange San Diego phone crashed once, requiring a reboot. Web page loading was very slow over 3G. From our location at the top of Centre Point, one of the highest buildings in central London, we'd expect pages like to take considerably less than the two minutes we saw for the webpage to load.

Moving over to a Wi-Fi connection, webpages loaded in a normal manner.

Orange San Diego: Price

Orange makes the San Diego available for no intial cost when you sign a contract to pay Orange £15.50 every month for two years. This is a time limited offer though; if you sign the contract after July you pay £20.50 a month for two years.

For that pay-monthly deal you get less than an hour’s talk time (50 mins) per billing month, plus 50 texts. Internet use is restricted to only 100MB of data per month.

Alternatively the Orange San Diego is available for £199.99 plus a £10 minimum initial top-up on Pay As You Go.

It’s not clear to us from the Orange website how much Orange charges per minute for PAYG calls and we’re awaiting clarification from an Orange spokesperson on the company’s pricing schemes.

First-look verdict

It’s too early to make a final judgement on the Orange San Diego, although the evidence of its high price and very limited battery life so far suggests this phone is unlikely to become a must-have handset.

Andrew Harrison

Orange San Diego: Specs

  • Intel AZ210A smartphone
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460, single-core
  • Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
  • 1GB RAM
  • 16GB storage (not expandable)
  • 4.03in (1024x600) touchscreen
  • 8Mp rear camera, LED flash, full-HD video
  • 1.3Mp front-facing cam
  • 802.11n
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Wireless Display
  • Micro HDMI
  • Micro USB
  • lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • claimed battery life: 8 hours talk time, 14 days standby
  • 63x123x9.9mm
  • 117g
  • Intel AZ210A smartphone
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460, single-core
  • Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
  • 1GB RAM
  • 16GB storage (not expandable)
  • 4.03in (1024x600) touchscreen
  • 8Mp rear camera, LED flash, full-HD video
  • 1.3Mp front-facing cam
  • 802.11n
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Wireless Display
  • Micro HDMI
  • Micro USB
  • lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • claimed battery life: 8 hours talk time, 14 days standby
  • 63x123x9.9mm
  • 117g


The Orange San Diego is the first Intel-powered smartphone to land in the UK, and a budget-friendly one at that. Despite its low £199 PAYG asking price, it offers significantly faster processing than its similarly priced rivals, a very good screen, a long list of tweakable camera settings and full-HD video recording. On the down side, battery life is poor, the 16GB of storage can't be expanded, and the simple fact that Android developers don't write apps for x86 processors means some of your favourites may not be compatible. If this is what Intel's low-end Z2460 chip has to offer, though, we can't wait to see its Z2580.

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