10/07/2012 12:27 | By Duncan Jefferies, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Orange San Diego review

The first handset from Orange's partnership with Intel looks promising, offering high specs at a low price.


Orange San Diego

What is it?
The first Android phone to launch in Europe with Intel inside, available exclusively from Orange.

What's great
Top quality screen; eight-megapixel camera and 1080p HD video; fast Intel Atom processor.

What's not
Runs on an old version of Android; slightly generic design; no micro SD slot.

The bottom line
The San Diego is decent debut for the Intel and Orange partnership, offering high specs at an affordable price.

Review
In the late 90s and early 00s almost all desktop computers had Intel inside. Now, after years of false starts, the company has finally moved into the smartphone market. The San Diego is the first European phone to feature their Intel Atom processor. It's available exclusively from Orange for £199.99 on PAYG, which means it creeps into the mid-range bracket. But is a snazzy new chip all it has to offer over rival handsets?

Intel are certainly keen to let you know what's under the hood of the San Diego: the company's logo is stamped in the middle of the rear cover. The Orange logo sits just above it, with a generous 8MP camera lens and LED Flash at the top (more on which later). There is also a front-facing 1.3MP camera on the front of the phone and micro HDMI connector on the bottom left edge. The physical buttons - power, volume rocker and shutter release - are a bit small and stiff for our liking, however.

Although solidly built it's a pretty generic looking smartphone, taking its cues from the iPhone 4S. The soft rubber coated back cover is a nice touch though: classier than shiny plastic, and nice and grippy in the hand. The weight of the phone feels just right too and it's also reasonably slim. But overall the design is very middle-of-the road: not bad, but not particularly exciting either.

It's worth noting that the San Diego is a closed unit. The micro SIM tray is released by inserting a pin into a small hole on the edge of the phone, and you can't access the battery. There's no option to expand the memory with a micro SD card either, leaving you with 12GB of the 16GB internal memory to play with (the remainder is taken up by the operating system and pre-installed apps).

The San Diego's screen is one of its most impressive features. It's a fraction over 4-inches, with a high resolution that's comparable to that found on phones costing twice the price. There's also a hefty amount of unused space surrounding the display; the touch sensitive buttons are adrift on a large black strip. However, for a mid-range handset it's an exceptionally good screen, rendering text and icons crisply and sharply.

You won't be in any doubt which network you're using once you turn on the phone: the San Diego is sporting the smartphone equivalent of a fake tan. Orange tints and hues dominate the operating system, but changing the wallpaper and placing a few apps and widgets from the Google Play store on the five home screens does dial things down a notch. It's annoying that so many of the pre-installed apps are stuck on your phone for good though.

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Orange gestures allows you to draw various shapes on the screen to open apps, which is an interesting idea, though ultimately we didn't find ourselves using it much. The phone also comes with Swype pre-installed, allowing for more finger-drawing antics when typing - an acquired taste, though you can of course just stick with the standard Android keyboard.

An eight-megapixel snapper is a big plus on a mid-range phone. The San Diego can also shoot full 1080p HD video, which is by no means a standard feature at this price point. There are a ton of shooting options to get to grips with, including Burst Mode, which allows you to capture up to ten snaps a second. But the sheer number of settings (Anti-Banding? Raw Data?) is, frankly, overkill. The poor design of the camera app, with its tiny icons and bloated menu system, doesn't help matters either. Indoor shots also had a disappointing amount of noise.

Intel claim their new chip, though single core, offers a faster web browsing experience, and we were certainly impressed by the San Diego's nippiness in that department. Busy desktop sites load in seconds, and the double tap to zoom and text reflow system works smoothly. The San Diego also has a feature called HD Voice, which, according to Orange, offers improved call quality. Calls definitely sounded cleaner than average to our ear, with voices seemingly boosted to combat background noise.

The San Diego's battery life is impressive. If you're someone who only makes the odd call, text or tweet you should easily be able to coax a full day's use out of the phone, possibly two. Music and videos - which are best accessed through the pre-installed Double Twist app - will obviously zap the battery more quickly. But it's a definitely step up from the smartphone norm.

Again, that's largely thanks to the Intel Atom chip. It's undoubtedly the star of the San Diego, turning a competent but slightly bland smartphone a much more interesting proposition. Currently, a small minority of apps in the Google Play store appear not to work due to their incompatibility with the phone's architecture (BBC iPlayer and Temple Run, for example). But despite these glitches Intel and Orange's first collaboration points toward a bright future for Intel powered phones.

4 stars

Essential info
Camera: 8MP (rear facing), autofocus, LED flash, 1.3MP (front facing)
Video: 1080p with rear camera, 720p with front camera
Display: Capacitive touchscreen, 600 x 1024 pixels, 4.03-inches,
Dimensions: 123 x 63 x 10 mm
Weight: 117g
Internal Memory: 16 GB storage
Card Slot: No
Colour: Black with silver trim
NFC enabled: Yes
Audio Playback: 3.5mm headphone jack & speaker
Operating System: Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread), planned upgrade to v4.0
Processor: Single core 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Z2460
Battery Life: Up to 8h talktime

Check out our Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review

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