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 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.
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.