By Aldo Panessidi
Intel’s first Android cell phone, the Orange San Diego (once known as the Santa Clara), performed quite well for a debut device from a first-time smartphone manufacturer. Packed with a (1024 x 600) 4-inch LCD, 8-megapixel camera with flash, micro-HDMI port and 1GB of RAM, the San Diego appears to be a solid, mid-range Android device. During its pre-launch, Intel didn’t over-promise on the San Diego, but focused on a few priorities: good web browsing performance, a high-quality camera and maximum battery life.
Watch the following insightful video on the Intel smartphone
The Orange San Diego’s look like a smartphone should. The cell phone case is durable but is a pretty ordinary design. Its black body is ringed by a silver border. There’s nothing special about the finish or any of the other body parts. The soft-touch backing is a nice feature for such an inexpensive phone, but it will still need the protection of a skin or a case to keep it blemish-free.
Along the right side of the 10mm edge are the volume rocker, micro-SIM slot and two-stage camera button. The micro-USB port is at the bottom. The mini-HMDI output is along the left side. All of the buttons are responsive. The camera button even quick launches the camera.
That the San Diego has a 4-inch screen is a nice surprise. While there’s no Super AMOLED Plus or Super LCD 2, the contrast is sharp and the colors are rich, although there is a little discoloration on the edges. The 1024 x 600 is screen is ample. When turned up to full brightness the screen was almost readable in full daylight.
There’s almost 11GB of storage space, but no expansion slot. The whole phone is sealed, so the battery is not removable, so a quick reset by removing the battery is not a possibility.
The camera can be controlled by the physical button or the touchscreen. The rear-facing camera can record 1080p video. The four capacitive buttons can be read in daylight. They also illuminate if lighting is too low.
This is probably the biggest disappointment. While the camera is an 8-megapixel / 1.3-megapixel camera duo, you can’t judge this phone’s performance by its specs. Those 8-megapixels don’t live up to their reputation with this phone. While it is capable of burst capture, images are blurry and colors are washed out. Overall, photos appear dull and images aren’t very detailed. Color reproduction indoors was no better. Problems seem to improve a bit when operating in macro mode.
You’ve got a lot of camera control options including capturing multiple photos at differing exposures. The camera doesn’t have an HDR mode, but you can download your images, and turn them into HDR on separate hardware. The camera does have several auto exposure modes (including aperture and shutter priority), shutter-speed adjustment, anti-banding options, RAW mode, ISO settings (800 maximum) and a burst-mode capable of 15 frames per second for up to 10 shots, but you might not have much use for them given the overall mediocre performance of the camera.
Video produced the same ho-hum results. White balancing helped with fuzziness, but also washed-out whites. Autofocus performed well but slowly.
The San Diego’s OS is Android Gingerbread. The phone should be Android 4.0-capable, and that will be available later this year. It's hard to tell what was customized in the Orange San Diego’s OS. There are gesture features that could be useful. Drawing a symbol with your finger across the home screen or with any app acts as a shortcut that will take you to your pre-identified location. You can assign up to 27 shortcuts to apps, contacts, playlists and even Foursquare places.
Popular apps like Orange Wednesday come pre-installed but so do less-useful apps like the Orange Assistant, a redundant user guide and an NFC tags app. The presence of the NFC app doesn’t make much sense. The phone is NFC-capable, but it doesn’t come with taggable cards, and it’s not connected to Orange's existing payment service.
The display keyboard is one of the most responsive of any Android device, regardless of price. Swype is offered as an option as well. The web browser performs comparably to other dual-core Android devices. Even dense websites download easily and with little stutter.
Most apps were compatible with the new chipset, and only two didn’t work out of many tested.
Call quality was sharp and clear. Orange provides HD voice calling between the San Diego and other HD devices. The San Diego’s earSmart voice-cancellation processing is found in higher-end phones like the Galaxy S3.
Performance and Battery Life:
These are the two most important indicators of a viable future for Intel in the smartphone market.
The San Diego’s processor can’t come near a quad-core or Snapdragon S4s, but its single-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460 performs like a dual-core processor.
Battery life didn't hold up to Intel’s promise of 14 days' in standby mode. It’s primarily due to the juice drained by powering the screen. The San Diego was tested with a video loop with the screen at 50 percent brightness. The phone ran out of power around seven hours and 20 minutes. That’s a result pretty much on par with other Android devices, but not bad for a 4-inch smartphone.
Day-to-day use was a lot better than many other of the latest smartphones. The battery lasted two to three days between charges. Not using the smartphone features at all gave the battery a two-week lifespan between charges.
To sum it all up:
Overall, Intel's first Android smartphone performed admirably.
- The real stand-out was its Medfield processor that met and, in some cases, exceeded expectations.
- The battery didn’t live up to Intel’s claims but still held its power very well.
- The camera was a big disappointment. Back to the drawing board Intel.
- When compared to Samsung and HTC devices the San Diego looks cheap and somewhat fragile.
- It needs Ice Cream Sandwich sooner rather than later.
Priced at $308 USD, the San Diego joins a nice variety of inexpensive entry-level smartphones in the Orange family.