Orange San Diego £199.99
18th Oct 2012 | 13:28
Is the future bright with this one?
The Orange San Diego marks a significant milestone in the mobile industry. It's not the biggest, fastest, smallest, slimmest or cheapest phone, but Intel is inside.
It's not even the first handset to sport an Intel chip, that accolade goes to the Lenovo K800, but the San Diego is the first Intel phone to land in Europe.
It's now available for £169.99 on PAYG and for free on some pretty low 24 month contracts , which puts the San Diego below the likes of the Nokia Lumia 710. However, in terms of specs it challenges the more pricey Sony Xperia P and Nokia Lumia 800.
Intel is responsible for manufacturing the San Diego (through the little-known firm ODM Gigabyte), as Orange doesn't have the capabilities of producing its own handsets, although this isn't the first time the network has slapped its name on a phone.
There's no fancy dual- or quad-core action here though, since Intel has stuck its single-core 1.6GHz Atom Z2460 Medfield processor inside the San Diego, along with a 4.03-inch (600 x 1024) display and 16GB of internal memory.
Pop the San Diego out of its box and you'll get a bit of déjà vu, with the handset sporting a resemblance to the Samsung Galaxy S2, and the plastic, metallic coloured strip running around the edge conjuring up memories of the iPhone 4S.
Although not an original design, the San Diego is a decent looking handset, and the rubberised back provides a secure grip in the hand.
The San Diego is a slender device, at 9.99mm in depth, and sits comfortably in the palm. Evenly weighted, without being heavy, it tops the scales at a respectable 117g.
Even though the case is plastic, the San Diego feels sturdy and well built, although we could prise the plastic trim away from the edge of the screen with a fingernail, which may see a build up of dust and dirt over time.
Three physical buttons adorn the Orange San Diego, with a power/lock key located at the top of the handset, next to a 3.5mm headphone jack and volume rocker and dedicated camera shutter buttons on the right-hand side.
The volume rocker is easy to hit, but we found the lock key on top harder to navigate, especially when held in our left hand.
There's a micro HDMI port on the left-hand side and a micro USB port flanked by speakers on the base.
Orange and Intel have gone down the micro SIM route with the San Diego, with a pop-out tray for the chip located just above the shutter button – you even get a fancy iPhone-esque tool for opening the tray. Yippee.
Battery aficionados will be disappointed to learn that the back cover cannot be taken off the San Diego and thus the battery is locked away, however Intel claims battery life has been improved thanks to its new processor and integration methods. More on that later.
The San Diego also fails to offer expandable storage, meaning you're stuck with the 16GB of internal, which will be plenty for most, but frustrating for those who need more or like to pop in a memory card full of content to consume immediately.
Other goodies squeezed in to the Orange San Diego include an 8MP rear facing camera with single LED flash and 1080p video recording, front-facing 1.3MP snapper, NFC technology and HD voice, which enhances voices calls, making them clearer.
The Orange San Diego ships with Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread, which is disappointing because we're now firmly in Ice Cream Sandwich times – although an upgrade to ICS will arrive before the end of the year.
However, it's months on from the original launch, and while the other Intel Medfield-powered phones, the Motorola Razr i, has got the new version of Android, there's no Android 4.0 update coming to the San Diego as yet.
Disappointment of the operating system aside, we're pleased to report the San Diego does a decent job at running Gingerbread, thanks to its 1.6GHz Intel-driven processor.
Although there's an Orange-centric overlay present, reminding you which network is giving you such mobile delight, it's pretty unobtrusive, with just some minor visual tweaks to widgets, app icons and the dock on the home screen – along with the usual array of Orange apps.
You're only given five home screens to play with, so you'll want to be sparing with widgets.
Hold down a free space on a home screen to open up a menu, enabling you to add an array of widgets, folders and shortcuts – plus you can change the wallpaper from here.
Orange has provided its own array of widgets as part of its Android overlay, although there's nothing scintillating here with basic clock, gallery, weather and similar options available.
Due to Orange's widget offering, the stock Android options have been reduced to remove duplications, so the menu can look a little sparse until you start downloading more from Google Play.
We found that there was a lot of padding around apps and widgets on the home screens, leading to a lot of wasted space.
We'd have preferred it if icons were made bigger, reducing the amount of space and making everything easier to see.
An interesting feature that has been added to the San Diego is the Orange Gestures functionality. At first we thought the screen was faulty, since sometimes it would grey out and a black line would appear where our finger had traced.
It turned out the San Diego was actually trying to pick up specific finger movements on the screen as part of the Gestures application.
This enables you to set up specific gestures, which in turn grant you access to your favourite applications quickly. For example you can trace a circle on the screen and set the San Diego to open the camera app.
It's a quaint feature, but we're a little perplexed as to why you may want this, since you can just stick your favourite apps on the home screen, which are actually then quicker and easier to hit than drawing a shape.
Browsing through applications was a smooth and fluid experience, with no hint of slow down or lag. And thanks to the limited amount of tinkering by Orange, you still get the simple Android experience - although some will lament not being able to turn it off altogether.
The Orange San Diego may pack a single-core processor, but Intel has ensured it does the basics flawlessly, providing a pleasing user experience.
Contacts and Calling
The Orange San Diego stays true to the Android way of doing things when it comes to contacts, with the simple and effective Google operating system providing an easy way to manage your chums.
Orange has taken it upon itself to tweak the icons for the contacts and phone apps, offering up babyish orange-coloured (surprise, surprise) pictures. This design extends to a few other key applications, including calendar and messaging.
You can pull in mates from Google, Facebook, Twitter and various other networks and join contacts with their various accounts – although this has to be done on a contact by contact basis, which can be time consuming if you're a social butterfly, with no fancy HTC Sense wizardry to help you link things together here.
Although you can join your best buds with their social profiles, the San Diego won't pull through status updates or galleries, with you having to fire up the dedicated apps for that kind of info.
The phone app (which is the same as the contacts app, just taking you to a different tab) is a dumbed down version of the standard Android offering.
There's no useful smart dialling option present, with just a basic keypad to work with, which is a little annoying as this feature is available on even the most budget of handsets.
During our tests we found the San Diego provided a louder than normal call volume thanks to the Advanced Voice processor, helping us to hear our contacts easier.
To really put the voice processor to the test we called our partner on their in-car Bluetooth setup as they bombed it along the motorway, and found the San Diego enabled us to easily hear what they had to say in the noisy environment.
We received positive feedback from other people we called, who said they could hear us clearly, and we didn't experience any signal issues or dropped connections.
Unfortunately, if you want to gaze lovingly into the eyes of the person you're calling, then you'll be out of luck with the Orange San Diego.
Even though it's got a front-facing camera, there's no option to video call a contact from their profile or from the dialler screen.
You can get around this by installing the free Skype application from Google Play, but this is far from useful and makes us wonder why Intel bothered to include the front camera in the first place.
We're now accustomed to a range of messaging options on smartphones these days, and the Orange San Diego doesn't falter in this respect.
There's a couple of emailing applications, with the Gmail app dealing solely with Google accounts, while the more generalised Email app enables you to add a host of third party accounts.
The messaging app has a very basic design to it, with little to inspire us. It's clean and functional and Orange has not made any attempt to jazz it up.
As we say, it's easy to use, but it makes the phone look cheap and we feel this section has been overlooked by the Orange interface design team.
There's nothing in the way of social networking messaging options on the San Diego, with no hub or even dedicated apps pre-installed on the handset.
This seems to be a bit of an oversight by Orange, since social networking is one of the big things people do on their smartphones, and it's a shame this hasn't been addressed.
A quick trip to Google Play saw us quickly stick Facebook and Twitter on the San Diego, but those who are fans of Samsung's Social Hub or HTC's Friend Stream apps, which pull all your feeds into one place, will be left disappointed here.
The San Diego uses the standard Android keyboard, which while functional, we find to be a little cramped for our liking, with the risk of hitting the wrong key always playing on our mind.
Turn sideways and the keyboard becomes a little more manageable, with keys growing in size, but you lose sight of the message you're replying to for this extended layout.
You can opt to change the input method to Swype, which enables you to slide between characters and the San Diego will build the words for you. It's very much a Marmite feature: you'll either love it or hate it.
The San Diego does enough to provide a positive overall messaging experience, but we'd recommend popping over to Google Play and downloading a different keyboard if you're a text-heavy user – Swiftkey X is our favourite.
Now Intel has made big claims about the internet capabilities of Orange San Diego, saying that it's enhanced the browsing experience to give a faster speeds.
The San Diego offers up fast 3G connectivity with speeds of up to 21.1Mbps supported through HSPA+ where network coverage permits, as well as Wi-Fi b/g/n.
Even though the Orange San Diego packs a single-core CPU, Intel reckons the way it's integrated the processor and other handset features has provided a top-notch result.
And to be fair, Intel's not wrong. The San Diego uses the stock Android browser, which is a decent affair, and it managed to load the famous TechRadar.com in under five seconds, including our fancy banner ads.
The impressive Intel processor makes mince-meat of the majority of websites, giving you a smooth scrolling and seamless rendering experience as you zoom through the levels.
The 4.03-inch display shows texts and images clearly, with edges sharply defined, although colours do look a little washed out.
Double tap the screen when zoomed in and the San Diego will swiftly re-size and re-flow the text to make it fit the screen, a handy feature we wish was implemented on every phone, so we're glad it's present here.
The San Diego comes pre-installed with Adobe Flash player, which means you can jump straight into Flash-rich websites straight out of the box, enabling you to get your fill of BBC iPlayer or check out the opening times for the Waffle House.
Prod the bookmarks icon next to the URL bar and you'll be met with the familiar thumbnail Android layout, which makes for easy navigation to your top sites.
If you're not a fan of the stock browser then you can always head over to Google Play, where a number of free and paid-for alternatives await you. And when Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich lands you'll be able to install Google Chrome too for a next-gen browsing feel.
Rather pleasingly for a £170 handset, the Orange San Diego packs a meaty 8MP camera on the rear, along with a 1.3MP offering on the front.
The front sensor is really there for video calling, whereas around the back the 8MP offering is the main attraction, with a single LED flash for company.
The camera app can be accessed via the application icon on the screen, or via the dedicated shutter button on the right-hand side of the San Diego – something of a novelty these days, since most manufacturers seem to have ditched this physical key.
Sadly the camera app can't be accessed from the lock screen, so instant, out of the pocket snaps may be tricky – with the physical key also locked at this stage.
The camera app itself loads in less than a second, but after that things start to get a bit frustrating.
Intel has included a wide number of functions within the camera app, but has inexplicably made the menu icons so small and difficult to understand that we found ourselves giving up most of the time and sticking with the default options.
We liked Intel's implementation of the setting options being hidden in a notification bar-style pull down, but the tiny size makes them difficult to read and hard to press.
After an age of fumbling, we managed to deduce that the San Diego offers eight colour effects, seven scenes, as well as ISO, white balance, shutter speed, exposure and many more controls.
Rarely do we see the quantity of options available on the San Diego on other camera phones, and we think Intel may have overdone it on the variety a bit, because it's still a mobile phone, not a digital camera.
The Orange San Diego's camera does have something of a party piece though – burst mode. Turn on burst mode and the camera will snap three, five or 10 images in less than a second.
This enables you to capture that perfect moment, be it junior scoring a goal or your friend doing the Funky Chicken, and considering the San Diego comfortably processes this on its single-core chip you've got to take your hat off to Intel.
Outdoors in decent light the 8MP camera stands up well and produces quality images. However, it tended to struggle more inside, with uneven light and dark areas having a negative effect on results.
On top of the 8MP camera, the Orange San Diego is also capable of capturing Full HD, 1080p video – impressive for a phone that is only setting you back £170.
The video recorder is accessed via the camera app – you'll need to prod the faint camera icon on the left-hand side of the screen to swap modes.
As with the camera app, the settings menu consists of an array of tiny icons at the top of the screen, however as there are far fewer of them in video mode it's easy to navigate.
You have the choice of eight colour effects and four white balance modes, but that's about it. You can turn the flash on for filming, but this needs to be down before pressing record.
The same goes for the zoom; you need to set your level before you starting filming, which is frustrating because you're unlikely to want to stay zoomed in for an entire video, especially as quality is reduced the further you zoom.
As well as Full HD, 1080p video, the Orange San Diego enables you to record at another seven quality levels, including 720p, 480p and QVGA.
With a 1.6GHz processor and pleasant 4.03-inch display, the Orange San Diego is capable of being a bit of a media machine.
Some may be put off by the lack of a microSD card, which means you won't be able to expand beyond the 16GB of internal storage, but that's enough for most people.
Getting media onto the San Diego is a simple affair, as you just need to hook up the handset to your computer with the USB cable (provided in the box) and drag and drop the content you want into the relevant folder.
To aid the media experience on the handset, Orange has pre-loaded the Double Twist app onto the San Diego, enabling you to control your music and video from one application as well as offering syncing to other devices/PCs.
You'll need to fork out an extra £4.99 for the music lover package if you want a graphic equaliser and album art clean up, or £9.99 if you want the music lover stuff along with podcasts, AirPlay and AirSync on the Double Twist app.
AirSync enables you to wirelessly transfer movies, photos and music between the San Diego and a PC or Mac. AirPlay lets you stream media from the handset to an Xbox 360, PS3 or Apple TV.
The Orange San Diego rocks up with the standard Android music player, which is functional and easy to use, and capable of playing MP3, WAV and eAAC+ formats.
The player provides the basic play, skip and shuffle functions along with album, artist and song views, but don't expect anything more fancy, since there's no sign of things such as a graphic equaliser here.
There's a widget connected to the app for quick draw music playing from a home screen, but there's no dedicated hub or application that will enable you to purchase and download tracks.
There's also the pre-installed Double Twist app, which offers up an alternative music player.
On the face of it, Double Twist provides another stock music player, which has all the basic functions covered, however as we've already mentioned you'll need to pay £4.99 for the graphic equaliser and album art clean up, or £9.99 if you also want to sync your iTunes playlists with the Orange San Diego.
Orange has thrown in some white in-ear headphones in the box of the San Diego, which suffice for general music playback, but if you're someone who requires excellent sound we recommend you invest in your own set.
If you're a bit more old fashioned then you'll find an internet radio option within the Double Twist application – giving you access to hundreds of different stations from around the world.
We're pleased to see the San Diego hasn't just stuck with the plain Android Gallery that leaves you sifting through thumbnails in search of your videos, as the addition of Double Twist comes as some welcome relief.
The Double Twist video player is a simple affair, with Play/Pause, skip and scrubbing options, but the system feels slick and smooth.
Playback on the 4.03-inch display is crisp and clear and we happily watched TV shows and movies - although colours look a little washed out on that sub-par screen.
Thanks to well balanced handset and rubberised back, the San Diego is comfortable to hold for extended viewing periods.
Orange has also pre-installed the Play Movies app, which gives you direct access to all the films available for rent on Google Play, as well as offering up a browser for videos currently stored on the phone.
The selection of films in Play Movies is modest, and worth a look if you fancy watching a quick flick, with rental prices starting from as little as 99p and going up to around £4.50 for bigger titles in HD.
Play Movies has got a better selection than the likes of HTC Watch, with its limited, non-HD content failing to match Google's offering, although you are able to rent movies from as little as 5 pence (about 8 cents) from time to time, thanks to HTC's "5p Weekends" deal - although this seems to have ended now.
Both pale into insignificance when compared to the offering on iTunes, with its vast array of films and TV shows, although most movies are £4.50 to rent, but are all in HD.
If you'd prefer to stick your own movies and TV shows on the San Diego then it'll happily play the main formats including MP4, H.264 and H.263 – however be careful not to fill up the 16GB of storage with your Disney collection.
It's more standard Android software when you get to the gallery, with the Google-made app providing an easy way to browse you snaps, although videos are mixed up in the thumbnails.
There's no photo editor included on the Orange San Diego, but if you're that way inclined there are plenty of options in Google Play.
Orange has handily pre-installed the Play Books app on the San Diego, which is useful if you're a fan of reading.
There's access to Google's book store (linked to Google Play), which offers up a decent range of titles, with a handful of free ones, along with samples for most of the books, so you can try before you buy.
The San Diego's screen renders text sharply, making it easy to read, and after a short initial load time, you're able to flick through pages with ease.
Battery life and connectivity
Intel has made a bit of a big deal about the battery life on the Orange San Diego, claiming its integration of the processor and other features has helped improved the longevity of the battery.
The San Diego packs a standard Li-Ion battery, which Intel reckons will offer eight hours of call time and up to 14 days of standby time.
Some may be disappointed to learn that the battery isn't removable, or even accessible, which means you won't be able to perform hard resets of the handset, although we didn't experience any freezing or crashing during our tests.
We found that the Orange San Diego could happily last all day with moderate to heavy usage, including web browsing, calls, texts, gaming, social networking and some navigation – with juice left over to get you through day two as well.
This puts the San Diego ahead of a lot of smartphones these days, which often to fail to make it to bedtime before they give up the ghost, so Intel should be applauded for the work it's put in to give this result.
All the usual suspects are present and correct on the Orange San Diego when it comes to connectivity, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microUSB and A-GPS all making an appearance.
It's also supports the 3G network for faster web browsing on the move, supporting speeds of up to 21.1Mbps if you're in an area of top-notch HSPA+ coverage.
A couple of added bonuses with the San Diego are the inclusion of a mini HDMI-out port and NFC technology.
There's no HDMI cable provided included in the box, so you'll need to pop off to the shops if you fancy hooking up to your TV.
The inclusion of NFC shows the continuing shift towards near field communication as a way of transfer data between handsets as well as using your phone to purchase items.
NFC hasn't fully caught on yet and we're still a bit unsure about how mainstream it's going to become, but it's good to see it included - with the likes of BlackBerry and Sony following suit in their handset ranges.
Maps and apps
As the Orange San Diego is an Android device, you're treated to the excellent Google Maps app, which provides you with all your mapping needs.
On top of mapping and directions, Google also handily provides free turn-by-turn navigation software, letting you get from A to B in no time at all.
The San Diego was able to locate us in less than 10 seconds, which isn't the quickest time, but the time was reduced by a couple of seconds when Wi-Fi was turned on.
Maps rendered quickly, with hardly and hint of lag and panning around locations was smooth, with the Orange San Diego's display providing a clear and crisp image.
Once locked, the San Diego was able to keep track of our position easily, even in the furrows of the inner city.
On the whole applications opened quickly and ran smoothly on the Orange San Diego, however there is an Achilles' heel here when it comes to apps.
Since the San Diego packs an Intel processor, some applications are not compatible with the handset, because a handful of developers have coded their apps to run specifically on ARM-based chips.
Intel stresses that the number of affected apps is relatively low, claiming it has successfully tested over 70% of the apps in Google Play.
That said, within a few hours of firing up our San Diego and installing our apps we found four apps that were not supported. They were the popular Temple Run game, ITV Player, Airport City and Men in Black 3.
Although not the end of the world, with trusty stalwarts such as Angry Birds, Skype and Cut the Rope running fine, this is certainly an annoying issue that will frustrate several people.
In terms of pre-installed applications, you get the usual amount of Orange bloatware including Orange Wednesdays, enabling you to read reviews, watch movie trailers and redeem 2-4-1 cinema tickets.
It's a simple, easy to use application that offers a decent replacement to the Flixsterapp, as it also provides cinema listings and movie times.
Trailers start playing instantly after being selected, however the quality is not the best, with some heavy compression in action - providing a rather pixelated image on screen.
Assistant helps you set up certain features on the San Diego such as email and settings including time and date - perfect for someone who is new to smartphones, but pretty useless if you're someone who knows their way around Android.
As we mentioned earlier in this review, Orange's Gestures app is pre-loaded on the San Diego. It makes setting up gestures to perform certain functions easy, with the thumbnail view of shapes providing a clean and efficient interface.
We do however, question how useful Gestures is, and think it's more gimmick than killer app, but some may have fun with it.
Your Orange enables you to keep track of your data, calls and messaging allowances - making sure you don't go over your limits. It also offers a help section, which has a useful set of FAQs. Once again this is great for first time customers, but something that experienced users can gloss over.
The Dailymotion app comes pre-installed, which is basically the poor man's YouTube. YouTube also has its app on the San Diego, providing you with a confusing double choice of video streaming services – a little unnecessary if you ask us, as YouTube usually fulfils our needs.
That said, Dailymotion is a slick app that groups videos into core categories; news, sport, music and so on - with a search option if you want to get to certain content.
Videos buffer quickly, less than two seconds for short clips (a few minutes in length), however longer videos - an hour or so in length - took longer to prepare, with a 10-15 second wait experienced.
Once playing, movements are smooth and colours are rich. You can share videos via social networks and other messaging options and if you login you'll be able to favourite and comment on clips.
Quickoffice Lite, now owned by Google, makes an appearance on the San Diego too, enabling you to view Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files on your phone.
Its simple user interface will scan your device for compatible files, however if you want to edit the documents you will need to purchase the Pro version for £9.27.
As detailed in the media section, Orange has also included Double Twist on the San Diego – offering up an alternative music and video playing experience, if not still basic, unless you're willing to fork out for the premium version.
Hands on gallery
Intel says the Orange San Diego is a high-end phone that's being sold at a low price. Now we're not sure if high-end is really the place for the San Diego, but it certainly gives higher priced mid-range phones a run for their money.
It may be the first phone in Europe to run an Intel processor, but it certainly doesn't appear too shabby, with only some minor issues to report.
The handset runs smoothly, with slick web browsing and fluid running of applications making the San Diego a breeze to use.
With a £170 price tag the San Diego is also very reasonably priced, providing a well rounded smartphone experience with treats such as an 8MP camera and NFC technology.
Intel has done very well with its first stab at a mobile phone, but it isn't perfect.
The biggest bug bear would have to be the app support, and although not every Android handset runs every app, we found several that were unavailable soon after firing up the San Diego.
Another annoyance is the camera app, which has the ability to be great, but the small, fiddly and obscure settings icons make for a frustrating user experience.
Thankfully Orange has managed to get back on the horse with its partnership with Intel, as the San Diego offers an impressive array of specs at its price point and challenges handsets that are £100 more expensive - and for that, we are awarding the Orange San Diego the title of Best In Class for a budget smartphone.
The San Diego is a serious contender for anyone looking for a decent mid-range smartphone who doesn't want to break the bank for some flagship features.