The Orange San Diego sports a sturdy but streamlined unibody with a tactile rubber back cover and super sharp screen
Android Gingerbread is as ever intuitive and simple, but the Orange interface adds little (apart from bloatware apps you’ll probably want to delete). The virtual keyboard is a bit cramped, and a gremlin in the auto-correct algorithm makes accurate typing pretty tough
For £200, it’s an impressive lineup of features, including an eight-megapixel camera with 1080p video and all sorts of software tweaks available, 1.6GHz processor and NFC support
Apps ran smoothly with zero lag when switching programs, even with downloads in the background and several apps open. The camera delivers sharp pictures and the flash is decent for low light photos
Pretty standard at around 14 hours with internet, GPS and gaming. 3G in particular drains its juice.
Orange has had a great run of low-cost smartphones in the last year or so, with both the San Francisco and its successor the San Fran II schooling everyone else in well-built Android phones for around £100. The San Diego kicks it up a notch to £200 – and a 1.6GHz chip, 1080p video recording and a brilliant high definition display. That’s the perfect media phone sorted for half the price then – but a gremlin seems to have sneaked into the software...
If you’ve been rebelling against the recent rush of giant handsets, the Orange San Diego is conveniently hand-sized, yet packing a respectable four-inch touch-screen with a brilliant HD resolution clocking in at 1024x600 pixels.
Its unibody build is light but sturdy thanks to a thick, matt rubber back cover that is both tactile and scuff-resistant. The display is coated in Gorilla Glass, which resisted the random scratches of daily use as we merrily tossed it into bags and pockets. Along the base are four touch-buttons for Back, Menu, Home and Search, while a hard camera button lets you fire up the snapper from any app. A volume rocker also doubles as a zoom, and, in line with the iPhone 4S, Motorola RAZR Maxx and Nokia Lumia series, this runs on a Micro SIM that’s hidden inside a door openable only by the provided pin (or, as generations of thwarted iPhone users know, a paperclip).
There’s 16GB of storage for apps and media, but unusually for an Android phone, there’s no expandable memory slot. Connectivity wise, you get the full lineup – HSDPA, Wi-Fi and GPS – as well as future-friendly NFC support for when that mobile wallet finally becomes a reality.
Powering the San Diego is an Intel 1.6GHz processor, marking the computer chip maker’s entry into the smartphone market alongside ARM, Qualcomm and Nvidia. That’s more of a milestone for Intel than it is for us phone users – the computer giant is a bit late to this exploding market, but its chipset, essentially offering what other chips at this clock speed do, is unlikely to sell the phone. That hasn’t stopped it, and Orange, both from brandishing their respective logos on the back of the phone – one of the minor issues we always have with Orange handsets.
The San Diego runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the expected, slightly elderly version for non-top-end phones. The newer Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions offer greater power and more efficient design, but here navigation is simple and intuitive nonetheless. An Orange interface skins things with the network’s custom icons and colours, and a few plain widgets. It is perfectly serviceable but as with previous Orange handsets, you get the ocean of (thankfully removable) Orange bloatware. That’s Mobile Mail (in addition to Gmail and the Android mail app), a paid-for sat nav service, and even a premium text message service for daily news messages and, yes, jokes.
We found general performance fast and smooth, with all apps opening quickly and seamless flicks between programs. The browser loaded pages quickly and the phone never slowed down even with downloads going and several apps open.
Movies, games and even the home screens look sharp and brilliant with bright colours and razor lines.
The inclusion of NFC is also excellent, especially as Orange is one of the initiators in getting this tech mainstream – it launched in conjunction with Barclaycard Quick Tap, a mobile payments app for things under £15. You can also get Quick Tap Treats, which gives you a free snack at EAT every week. Both these apps are Orange exclusives and one of the most immediate, easy ways to try out this NFC business. So it’s odd that with all the other, far less useful preloads, Orange hasn’t bothered to either include these apps.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get on with the virtual keyboard, which feels a lot more cramped than on other phones of this size or smaller. It therefore takes more attention to hit the right keys, which wouldn’t be a problem at all if the auto-correct wasn’t completely illogical. Based on its suggestions of ‘Yomi’ when we tried to type ‘you’ and ‘Koralewska’ for ‘know’, we’re guessing that for some reason, its dictionary prioritises address book words over actual words.
There are also quite a few very ordinary words that aren’t in it at all, including ‘closes’, ‘hopping’ and ‘guys’. Things get a bit smoother if you switch to the Swype keyboard, but only if you get on with that method of typing: drag a finger from letter to letter to spell a word versus the usual tap-tap.
But the software isn’t all bad – one useful addition is Orange Gestures, which lets you assign shortcuts to various symbols you draw on the touch-screen. It works in any app and is a really quick, slick way to jump to your most-used programs. For example, you can assign Gmail to a ‘@’ symbol, or a favourite contact to a ‘C’, with up to 25 gestures up for the assigning.
On the hardware front, Orange has kitted out the San Diego – the eight-megapixel camera with 1080p video is stuffed with extras, including a burst mode and tons of adjustment settings, from manual shutter speed adjustment to the more standard ISO and exposure tweaks. If you’re a bit of a pro, you may know what the explanation-free XNR, GNR and ANR do – but if you’re not, it’s not too overbearing and auto mode is generally decent anyway. However, with the proliferation of pre-editing possible, we think some post-production effects – vintage filter anyone? – would probably have gone over even better.
In daylight, colours are not particularly vibrant, but reproduction is decent. Clarity is excellent.
The macro mode in particular is excellent, as you can see from the picture of us crushing raw garlic into our bowl of ramen. In lowlight, the flash does a good job of lighting the scene without overexposing.
While night mode takes a blurry but decently lit nightscape. Here’s our attempt to capture the recent light show at London’s Shard building.
Burst mode lets you take up to 10 shots in a couple seconds – great for action photography, particularly as the camera takes very clear images as one off too. Our single gripe is that there is no way to turn off the shutter sound – not even on Silent mode. And it is loud.
You can tap on-screen to switch to the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, which takes clear, sharp pictures too. HD video works for both cameras and delivers smooth, sharp video. The mic picks sound up very well, with clear voices and hardly any background noise indoors. Outdoors the ambient sounds make audio quality a bit scratchier but in general, it’s a fairly resilient little mobile video setup.
Expectedly, audio playback on the built-in speakers is crackly with almost no low-end but the bundled ear buds offer much better sound.
Battery life is about average - the San Diego will last you through the day and into the evening just before beddy-byes with carefree use of 3G, Wi-Fi and GPS. However, 3G drains its battery very quickly.
On paper the Orange San Diego looks impressive, and for the most part, its buttery smooth, high-speed performance lives up to the hype. However, a lacklustre keyboard is hard to deal with, particularly when there are similarly priced competitors offering similar features. Orange is still delivering great value on its smartphones, but it’s definitely no longer the only one – and the San Diego has just enough minor glitches in core use to make this one more of a question mark.