Orange San Diego – Intel enters the ring

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The UK’s first Intel-powered handset is a good first effort that is available at a good price, but it is weighed down with old Android 2.3 Gingerbread software and isn’t quite the showcase device we were hoping for

Intel has achieved dominance in the PC processor market over the years, putting huge pressure on once strong rivals such as AMD.

But in the smartphone market it’s been a different story. Chips based on designs by UK firm ARM have been ruling the roost, because they have offered the energy efficiency needed for such portable devices.

As a result, Intel simply hasn’t had a look in until now. But with the Orange San Diego, the firm is making its first solid attempt to change things.

For its first attack on the smartphone market, Intel has chosen a PC motherboard maker called Gigabyte to build the phone, presumably in the hope that a qualified company with extensive experience of building PC systems is less likely to make a hash of building a smartphone with Intel technology.

Together they have done a decent job, but whether it will be enough to upset ARM’s dominance of the smartphone market is still certainly up for debate.

Visually, the San Diego isn’t anything particularly special. It looks good, but it’s also the standard solid black, glossy block we’ve come to expect since everyone in the smartphone business started mimicking the look of the Apple iPhone.

Like most Android smartphones, the San Diego has touch buttons below the screen, but Gigabyte has opted for four rather than three, adding a search button to the standard array of menu, back and home buttons found on most modern Android devices.

Around the edge is a strip of silver plastic – again a nod to the iPhone – which holds a power switch, volume control and a dedicated camera button. The chassis also features speaker grilles at the base, a micro-SIM card slot, a Micro USB and an HDMI-out.

The buttons are well positioned, but can be a little difficult to press at first, until you get used to the phone and the correct amount of pressure required.

The only outward sign that the San Diego contains a potentially revolutionary chip is the ‘Intel Inside’ logo found on so many of the world’s PCs, which nestles below Orange’s own branding on the rear.

Gorgeous screen
But then you won’t be spending much time looking at the back of the handset, and luckily the San Diego’s four-inch touchscreen is a pleasure to gaze at.

It is sharp and clear, with vivid colours that remain truer to life than the washed-out or over-saturated screens of so many rival devices.

Videos play well, and while the four-inch screen may not be as big as some of the more entertainment-focused handsets available, it can still deliver a very good film-watching experience, with images crisply rendered. Many mid-priced handsets skimp on screen quality, but it is very clear that the San Diego has been designed to avoid the temptation to take this route.

The eight-megapixel camera is also decent. It’s not quite up to the standard set by HTC’s excellent One series or the Sony Xperia range, however, and the camera’s software application has very few bells or whistles.

Of course, the San Diego is much more about what’s inside than out. And Intel claims that even though the 1.6GHz CPU is a single-core chip, it delivers more processing power than a similarly clocked dual-core processor based on ARM designs can provide.

In essence it is saying that it can deliver the same performance as the latest dual- and quad-core devices without the trouble of adding extra processing cores.

In benchmarking tests we found that the San Diego certainly performs on a par with dual- and quad-core handsets. It doesn’t pack quite the punch of devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it isn’t far from very high-end quad-core phones like the HTC One X.

Full article in Mobile News issue 520 (August 13, 2012).

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