Orange San Diego Intel-based Android phone
First Atom-powered smart talker
Review If you own a smartphone then you are almost certainly using an ARM CPU. That’s good for ARM and its licensees but bad for Intel, as it wants a piece of the vast mobile chip market. Cue the San Diego, a retail version of Intel’s own Gigabyte-built smartphone reference platform built around a hyper-threading 1.6GHz Z2460 Atom processor.
Orange San Diego Intel CPU Android smartphone
Before we get into the technical long grass it’s worth pointing out that Orange has been clever with the San Diego’s pricing. At £200 on PAYG it slots in between the cheap, albeit very cheerful, £100 Huawei Ascend G300  and the likes of the Sony Xperia P  which will set you back around £300.
Sim slot on the side, but no micro SD expansion
To emphasise the point – besides an Atom CPU with 1GB of RAM – your £200 gets you a 4.03in 600 x 1024 screen, 16GB of storage, an NFC radio and an 8MP main and 1.3MP secondary camera. Sadly it’s also lumbered with Android 2.3 but Orange tells me an Ice Cream Sandwich update is due “shortly”.
Physically, the 10mm thick, 117g San Diego feels solid and well made and has a pleasantly tactile rubberised back. The front is devoid of any Orange or Intel branding, which I suspect will increase its appeal as will the slightly ICS-style capacitive buttons.
Home screen and status
The black and silver body is smart rather than stylish and the screen bezel is a bit thick at the top and bottom. It’s a very functional design though, thanks to the physical camera button, micro HDMI port and punchy 0.3W speaker that projects through grills flanking the micro USB port.
Combine the San Diego’s screen size and resolution and you end up with a pixels-per-inch count of 297. That’s close to the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 306ppi and not a million miles shy of the iPhone’s 330ppi. For an LCD panel it’s pretty bright too, almost up with the Xperia P with its extra WhiteMagic pixels.
AnTuTu and Sun Spider tests
Performance is on a par with 1 and 1.2GHz dual-core ARM handsets and the AnTuTu score of 5600 reflects this. However the SunSpider browser test returned a superb figure of 1417. That’s a hundred points lower and better than the Samsung Galaxy S3 and a massive 5000 points better than my HTC Desire HD. The San Diego really does render web pages very quickly.
Another area where the San Diego impressed was the speed and sensitivity of the GPS system. I managed near enough instant satellite lock even in indoor locations where my Desire HD and a friend’s iPhone 4S couldn’t even find a signal. Unusually at this price, the San Diego is capable of playing 1080p video but you won’t be loading it up with HD files. With no Micro SD slot you are stuck with the built-in 16GB which actually means 2GB for apps and 11GB for files. On the subject of slots the San Diego uses a micro Sim.
Browser and Swype keyboard
I’m not going to drone on about the ugly Orange launcher or preloaded Orange software because there’s enough system storage to not have to worry about the latter and any good third-party launcher can be used to replace the former. Sadly, the San Diego lacks Orange’s handy HD Voice cellular-over-Wi-Fi app but you do get active noise-cancellation.
The camera is an 8Mp unit but generates a rather blurry and washed-out end product though you do get a flash. There are also plenty of shooting modes including a burst option and the camera launches quickly from a push of the external button which can operate both the rear and front cameras. Video can be shot at 1080p and doesn’t look too bad.
The San Diego has a built-in 1460mAh battery which proved good for two days of solid use so Intel’s claims that its new Atom chips perform better on this front than many ARM-based phones seem justified - it's not like an excessive CPU power-draw is being masked by an over-large battery. As a more empirical test I looped a 720p MP4 video with the screen at 50 per cent brightness and managed 4hrs 40mins from a full charge.
8Mp stills and 1080p video capture sound impressive, but the image quality is lacklustre
If you want to save power by switching your handset off completely the San Diego has you covered – from stone cold dead to fully functional takes a brisk 22 seconds.
Finding Android running on Intel shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise. Android, at the end of the day, is Linux by another name and Linux works fine on x86 chips. More to the point, Intel and Google have been huddled in a corner tweaking Android to run on x86 chips since early 2011.
When it comes to apps the 75-80 per cent of those in the Play Store – running on the Dalvik virtual machine  and using the Android Framework – work out of the box. This leaves only those Dalvik VM apps that use JNI (Java Native Interface) libraries built for ARM-only or NDK (Native Development Kit) applications needing recompilation. However, Intel says its on-the-fly Binary Translator has most of these covered.
There are however some downsides to buying an Intel x86 phone with an uncommon screen resolution. I quickly stumbled across several popular games including Sprinkle, Cordy, Osmos HD, Shadowgun and Temple Run that wouldn’t instal on the San Diego and nor did the official BBC iPlayer app or the new Firefox browser. Hopefully, the developers will get re-coding and plug these gaps. A powerful CPU and high-DPI screen make the San Diego a great gaming machine but only if there is a decent selection of titles available.
Perhaps of less importance to the target audience but a big disappointment for the modding community is that the San Diego’s bootloader seems to be locked down tighter than a missile silo at DEFCON 1, so you are cut off from the joys of custom ROMs and rooting.
Handsomely specified and cleverly priced, the Orange San Diego offers a lot of phone for the money. That said, it’s a bit short on style, has a so-so camera, doesn’t support a lot of popular gaming titles and at launch Ice Cream Sandwich is a promise, rather than a reality. However, the last two points are likely to be remedied in due course. The screen is a gem though, performance strong and battery life good. It also renders web pages with truly dazzling speed and can play 1080p video. With this debut handset, the future with Intel and Android is bright... and Orange. ®
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