Finally, an Android phone that runs on something other than an ARM chipset. Let me introduce you to the Orange San Diego, the first of its kind to carry an Intel processor (x86 architecture). It has a 4.3-inch display and is sold SIM-locked exclusively from the Orange web site. It's a low-end smartphone with high-end hardware. Advertised as being fast and powerful with a long battery life, does Orange's new phone offer good value for your money?
DESIGN & HANDLING
To build Europe's first Intel Inside handset, Orange turned to Gigabyte Technology. The least we can say about the design is that it reminds us of... another time. The finishing is excellent (although the rubber body is a smudge magnet) and it feels good in your hand. But the look will leave most entirely indifferent, if not thoroughly unimpressed. Compared to the rest of the products in its price range, the San Diego looks rather uninspired.
The San Diego has a micro-USB port and a micro-HDMI port
The micro-HDMI port is extremely handy, but it also would have been nice to have an LED to notify you know when you've received a text message, e-mail, etc.
Made and sold by Orange—and don't you forget it!
The high-quality 4.3-inch display has an uncommon screen resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels. From readability and viewing angles to contrast, brightness and colour accuracy, this is an excellent display. Exemplary, in fact, when it comes to colours. We have never once found this low of a Delta E on any other smartphone: 2.8, where 3 and below means high accuracy. That's incredible, period, not to mention that this is an entry-level product!
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
The Orange San Diego unfortunately does not come with Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android. That means you'll have to make do with the rapidly aging Gingerbread and the Orange software overlay. You definitely notice the overlay, but it's restrained—nothing like HTC Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz. With ICS so widely available now it feels a little weird, today, in mid-2012, to be stuck with a list of apps that can only be viewed in alphabetical order. Especially if you've ever used ICS. Fortunately, Orange has announced an update "coming soon"...
The notifications menu gives you the bare minimum: no Wi-Fi access notifications, etc.
As for Orange's relatively small software overlay, it all comes down to a matter of taste. While the orange icons scattered around the five homes for featured apps like Deezer and Dailymotion can get on your nerves, you can always download a different launcher, such as Holo Launcher, from Google Play.
The single-core Intel Atom Medfield Z2460 chipset is clocked at 1.6 GHz and runs on 1 GB of RAM. Can this new non-multi-core processor handle any situation you throw at it? Yes, it can, and then some. The single-core unit is in no way a handicap to the Orange San Diego, even compared to Qualcomm's dual-core and Nvidia and Samsung's quad-cores. Remember, there still aren't any smartphone apps out there right now that demand all the power provided by a multi-core CPU. Besides, the real performance you get out of any chipset will ultimately depend on the architecture and interactions between the chipset and the operating system.
Despite everything we put it through during our tests, the Orange San Diego almost never fumbled the ball. While it is very responsive (when downloading and opening apps, loading web pages...), however, we should mention that the interface does suffer mini-hiccups here and there and the biggest, most recent games could run a bit more smoothly. Same thing when web browsing (see below). But when you consider the price tag, who's complaining?
As for benchmark results, the Intel chip fits snugly in the arena of powerful processors, with a balanced set of results between the CPU (computing power) and GPU (graphics/3D processing). The Samsung Galaxy S3 is well ahead of the Medfield when it comes to computing power, and according to some benchmarks the One X's Tegra 3 and the One S's Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 are only slightly better in terms of graphics processing. But on the whole this first Medfield chip makes the Orange San Diego a highly responsive smartphone.
Google Play doesn't offer all the video games that are available for ARM-equipped smartphones. We couldn't find Shadowgun or Riptide GP, for example. And there isn't any section dedicated to games optimised exclusively for the Medfield CPU, as Nvidia did for the Tegra 3. You can get the great majority of apps (all the major ones, at least) on the San Diego, but not everything yet.
All the high-end smartphones on the market right now have an 8-Megapixel camera, and that's what the low-end Orange San Diego has. And contrary to its entry-level competitors, it has a physical button for the camera. Now, the San Diego's camera is a perfect illustration of something we've been talking about for years: contrary to popular thought, more pixels do not necessarily mean a better image. Or rather, pixels alone don't. The image quality will also depend on how the picture is rendered.
And the rendering on the San Diego is mediocre. The pictures are noisy, not very sharp, and the edges bleed. Primary colours come out especially flashy—too flashy. Basically, it's quick to focus and there are a lot of options (the interface is even a little cluttered), but the stabiliser could be perfected and the rendering is subpar for a smartphone that advertises it as a selling point. And the rapid-fire mode isn't one of the fastest; for that we recommend the HTC One series or the Galaxy S3.
As for the video camera, which films in resolutions up to and including 1080p, the quality is satisfactory for a smartphone.
Web pages do load quickly, but the overall browsing experience isn't necessarily the most enjoyable. Both the scroll and zoom functions tend to get a little choppy, and pages with Flash content take longer to load. In the same price range, the Huawei Honor, which also runs on Gingerbread, offers much more pleasant browsing.
The audio signal, on the other hand, is far more respectable. The maximum volume is more than sufficient for any nomadic headphone and both the dynamics and stereo rendering are decent.