The huge 4.3-inch TFT display and the very latest Android Gingerbread OS
You'll need big pockets to carry it and there are too many unnecessary Orange apps hogging the memory
The Monte Carlo is the latest flag on the Orange map, its latest Android offering being a step up from the more than adequate San Francisco. The bar (and price tag) has been raised to deliver a feature-packed handset which will still return you some change from £150 on prepay.
The first thing that's going to strike you about the Monte Carlo is the sheer scale of this behemoth. It's almost the same size as Monte Carlo without the budget of the House of Grimaldi. It's not an ugly handset by any means but this much shiny stuff's not going to keep itself clean. Another import from the Chinese manufacturer ZTE (like the San Francisco before it), the Monte Carlo sports the same high-gloss finish that we're used to on Samsung hardware.
It's hard to draw your eyes away from the huge screen, a vast 4.3 inch capacitive TFT that's the same size as the vastly more expensive Samsung Galaxy S II. It's also a pretty spiffing 480x800 resolution, not quite iPhone 4 Retina display but certainly sharper than most handsets in this price bracket.
Aside from the gigantic display, the tour takes in the usual Android hardware keys across the bottom of the handset - Home, Back and Menu - which are nice and positive to use, a volume rocker on one side, power switch and micro-USB socket on the other and a 3.5mm jack on the top. The volume and power button are hewn from the finest blocks of chromed plastic.
The Android OS is version 2.3 Gingerbread which is as up to date as you're going to find on any handset until 'Ice Cream Sandwich' appears on the Google Nexus Prime in the next few months. When navigating around the home screens and apps, the 800MHz processor keeps everything chugging along nicely without any noticeable lag or stuttering. Playback of HD video on YouTube was smooth and there were no complaints watching downloaded MP4 files.
At 126x68x10mm, the Monte Carlo's a big old unit but actually only tips the scales at 120g, still lighter than an iPhone 4, helped my the back cover being moulded so thin it's almost like Rizla paper. But the display is definitely the main event here. In fact, the screen might actually be too big because of the size of chassis it dictates. If you've only got small hands, you may struggle because there's so much real estate on the touch screen to cover with your thumb.That said, the Monte Carlo actually feels quite nice when you're making a call. There's an old school charm about it being so big.
The call quality is clear enough and the Monte Carlo features HD Voice which enhances the sound and reduces background noise. However it's a bit like having a fax machine - if you don't know anyone else using a handset with the same technology, it's all a bit pointless.
The camera is a big improvement on the Orange San Francisco. It's been pumped up to 5 megapixels and features an LED flash which comes in handy without being so bright it washes out the images. Being Android, a couple of prods of the screen and your photos are sent straight to Facebook without any hassle.
Speaking of Facebook, the Monte Carlo doesn't ship with it preinstalled which is a bit unusual, something quickly remedied with a trip to the Android market. If you've already got a Google account, a couple of further options will sync all your contacts and calendars to the phone as well. What there's no shortage of, is Orange. The branding couldn't be more clear if the Monte Carlo was made out of chocolate by Terry's. You'll find the usual corporate modifications from the drab wallpaper to games that makePong look like Halo 3. Credit where credit's due however, Orange Gestures is a tidy little app that allows you to assign up to 27 different swipes to any shortcut from the home screens. The gestures are pre-defined so you can't draw a phallus to call your boss, but to access regularly used operations it's surprisingly useful.
Under the bonnet, the Monte Carlo gives you 512MB of memory but you've only got 129MB free for apps. It's around the norm for a phone in this bracket but if you're a regular visitor to the Android Market, you'll need to start using the SD card. That's inside the back cover and is accessed by removing the battery.
The Monte Carlo is the best of the bunch of Orange's mid-range smartphones with decent looks and the best display this sort of money will buy. If you're looking for something discreet, this one's not for you but if you don't mind accommodating a bigger chassis for a whopping screen you'll not be disappointed with this Android monster.