Meet the Orange San Diego, a new Android phone that’s exclusive to the network. It’s the final, shipping name of the Orange Santa Clara phone that we profiled back in February. While we normally like to stress that it’s the software that counts these days, and not the hardware, it’s the silicon inside this phone that’s significant.
You see, this is the first phone in Europe to ever sport an Intel chip. The big beast of desktop computing has finally persuaded somebody to use its new mobile chip, so there’s a lot riding on this smartphone. Let’s take a look.
We don’t think Gigabyte, the manufacturer of the Orange San Diego, will take too much offence when we say that it’s a pretty boring looking phone. It’s just a black slab with rounded edges and a metal trim, a bit like the iPhone 4/4S.
It’s a bit pedestrian, with a lot of stuff going on around the edges, lines here, holes there, speaker grilles there. But it is firm, the matte black back panel is smooth to hold, there’s no sign of creaking, and it’s not missing anything: there’s a camera button, and even a HDMI-out port on the left hand side.
The 4.03-inch display itself is bright with broad viewing angles, and fairly sharp, given its 1024×600 resolution. In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s a really bloody weird resolution for a smartphone. Fortunately, we haven’t seen any problems in terms of app support: your lay user won’t notice between this and more typical 960×540 displays found on Android phones.
The Orange San Diego runs Android, but it’s a very, very orange version of it. Literally: the default homescreen is orange. But the homescreen and menu system (or “launcher” as it’s known) is also an Orange creation, and we’re in two minds about it.
On the plus side, there’s little evidence of lag, one of our main gripes with Orange’s modifications in the past. And its smart gestures really are smart. On the homescreen, you can launch any app or shortcut you choose by drawing a letter that you specify: it works flawlessly, and is very fast.
On the downside, there’s a bit of bloatware on board, including Navigon (Don’t bother unless you’re travelling abroad, Google Maps Navigation is free), and the Dailymotion video app, which is a poor man’s YouTube. We wouldn’t mind so much but that you can’t uninstall them, which is a bit heavy handed on Orange’s part. Like salting the earth.
It needs hardly saying that Android itself is amazing. It’s not as hard to use as people like to say, and there are hundreds of thousands of apps on the Google Play store to make the Orange San Diego do almost anything. Anything that is, except run Android 4.0 just yet.
You see, the Orange San Diego is running Android 2.3, a now 18 month old version of Google’s mobile operating system. That’s a massive faux pas when Android 4.0 is more than half a year old itself now. This latest version of Android packs some crucial enhancements, including a massive redesign, a new Gmail app and support for the excellent Android Chrome browser.
Orange says an Android 4.0 update is on the way, but it’s like we’ve always said: you should never ever buy a phone based on what it will do in the future, rather than what it does now. Just because a company says that it will provide an update, it does not follow. The road to hell is paved with good intentions: just look at Motorola.
We can take or leave the eight megapixel camera on the Orange San Diego. The results are average, although it is nice to see full HD video recording is an option. Call quality is perfectly acceptable: let’s skip straight to what everyone wants to know. What’s it like to use an Intel phone?
Surprisingly normal, is the answer. Other than the logo popping up on the boot screen, you won’t notice any differences. It doesn’t sweat unicorn tears or make loud angry fan noises: the 1.6GHz Atom Z2460 processor makes the Orange San Diego relatively nippy, but not amazingly so. Try and load a few tabs in the browser and you’ll run into the typical Android slowdown from time to time.
In the Quadrant Standard benchmark test, the phone clocked around 3,700 – that would have been impressive a year ago, but several phones pushing many more pixels have streaked ahead of this now.
This isn’t a speed demon like the Nvidia Tegra 3 chip in the HTC One X, or the Exynos 4212 powerhouse inside the Samsung Galaxy S3. Battery life in practice doesn’t seem to be any different: you’ll get a day’s use of the phone with sync on, but not much more.
Granted, this phone isn’t priced to compete with the top tier, but Intel really needs to hang with the big boys, otherwise why bother? We doubt Intel wants to be known for being inside mediocre mid-range smartphones.
Intel’s been making a huge deal out of its mobile efforts for years, but now that it’s actually here, I’m sorry to say it’s more a fizzle than fanfare.
While there’s nothing wrong with Intel’s innards, there’s nothing particularly impressive either. Until Intel inks some bigger deals than Gigabyte (“Who?” we hear you ask) and even Motorola, the likes of Qualcomm, Nvidia and Samsung won’t be losing any sleep just yet.
If you have any sense whatsoever, you’ll buy a phone with Android 4.0 out of the box, like the similarly priced HTC One V (We’re in the process of testing the HTC Desire C at the moment, and rather nice it is too). If you’re after a bargain, the Android 2.3 running Huawei Ascend costs half the price.
We’ll revisit when and if the Orange San Diego gets Android 4.0, but for now not much has changed: Intel has still to make a splash in mobile.