For all their dominance in the PC space, Intel were somewhat in the wrong place at the wrong time for the explosion of mobile devices. As a result, the mobile space is unquestionably dominated by ARM chips which offer great performance with low power drains, a combination Intel simply hasn’t been able to match before now.
Announced last year, Medfield is actually the fourth generation of Intel’s Mobile Internet Device platform, built around a 32nm Intel Atom CPU with the XMM6260 modem (also seen on the Galaxy Nexus incidentally). The arrival is timely - as well as being a potential platform for Android (as we see here), Medfield is perfect for challenging ARM when it comes to Windows tablets which we will soon see arriving en masse with Windows 8 / Windows RT. The platform (and the San Diego as it’s first consumer product) is massively important to Intel.
The San Diego, previously known as the Santa Clara (the location of the Intel HQ, San Diego is the home of Qualcomm - a dig at the competition?) is actually a pretty unusual product in that it is a reference design that has made it to market - a very rare occurrence. The device is produced by Gigabyte to Intel’s specifications and in many ways it is testament to the quality of Intel’s work that the product is worthy of reaching consumers’ hands with effectively no changes.
That said, it’s not just Intel ‘going big’ with the San Diego. With the undoubted additional brand cachet of having ‘Intel Inside’ (not to mention some of Intel’s marketing dollars), Orange are making a big thing of the device too. The San Diego has a marketing budget of over a million pounds, it will become the first ODM (i.e. Orange branded) device to feature in TV advertising and the handset will get pride of place in in-store marketing for a whole month - something that’s previously unheard of.
The Orange San Francisco showed that ODM devices can be massively popular. If everything lines up - specifications, cost, performance etc., the fact that the device has the Orange brand on isn’t a show stopper. The San Francisco was a sales success and far exceeded projections (of course, MoDaCo played a not insignificant part in that) and while sales of it’s successor have not matched the original, there’s a hope within Orange (off the record at least!) that the San Diego can become the new ‘value champion’.
Does it deliver? Read on to find out.
My review device is a full retail unit, bought in an Orange store - it is not a press unit. The phone you’re reading about here is the phone you’ll get if you buy one! Unfortunately Orange were unable to provide us with a review unit 'for a couple of weeks' - we think you deserve better than that.
In the box
The San Diego box contains the phone itself, a microUSB cable, a USB to mains adaptor, a SIM tray pin, a white headset with volume control and various size ear bits, a quick start guide and an Orange services guide.
I have posted an unboxing of the device over at YouTube, and also embedded it below!
Hardware - overview
First of all, a quick overview of the specifications:
- Intel Atom Z2460 processor at 1.6GHz (single core) with HyperThreading
- PowerVR SGX 540 @ 400 MHz GPU
- Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- 16GB ROM
- 1GB RAM
- GSM bands 1900/1800/900/850 MHz
- HSDPA Cat 14 (21.1Mbps)
- HSUPA Cat 6 (5.7Mbps)
- UMTS bands 2100/1900/900/850 MHz
- GPRS / EDGE Class 10
- Bluetooth v2.1
- A-GPS support
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- 4.03" 600x1024 screen with Corning Gorilla Glass
- 8 Megapixel camera with LED flash, 10 pictures per second burst capture, image stabilisation, scene detection & tuning, advanced high dynamic range, ultra low light capture
- 1.3 Megapixel front camera
- 1080p video capture
- HD voice
- HDMI out
- Dual mics for noise cancellation
- 5.4 Whr battery
- 123mm x 63mm x 9.99mm
Lowlights on the list are the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system (more on that later), the lack of microSD slot (sort of, again, more on that later) and the 5.4Whr non-removable battery.
Hardware - around the device
Let me give you a little tour of the device starting with the front.
The entire front of the device is glossy black and coated with Corning Gorilla Glass, which means the device should be very scratch resistant. Top left is the front facing camera, top centre is the speaker and top right are the proximity and light sensors. Below these sits the 4.03” screen and the bottom of the front has the capacitive keys - back, menu, home and search. The keys have a white backlight (which is slightly lighter on the 2 outer keys).
The device has a matte silver strip around the whole edge (yes, a bit like an iPhone but more rounded). On the left side is the microHDMI port. On the right side sits the volume rocker, the microSIM tray (which requires the included pin to eject) and the 2 stage camera button. The top of the device has the power button, secondary mic and the 3.5mm socket. The bottom of the device has the stereo speakers and the microUSB port.
The back of the device, which is non-removable and coated in black soft touch plastic, has the 8MP camera and LED flash at the top (which is very bright!), the Orange and ‘Intel Inside’ logos in the center and the various certifications (CE and the like) at the bottom. Also printed at the bottom is the model number - ‘AZ210’.
The device actually feels very nice in the hand. It’s a good size, relatively thin and the materials feel pretty premium for the segment the San Diego is targeting (certainly far more premium than the San Francisco or Monte Carlo for example).
As mentioned above, the San Diego ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread (specifically 2.3.7) with an Ice Cream Sandwich update to follow later. Orange executives wouldn’t commit to an official date, but October was mentioned, which seems rather a long way away. <img src='http://www.modaco.co...default/sad.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='' /> When the update does arrive, it can be installed either OTA or manually.
That’s the bad news... the good news is that the Gingerbread build on the device is relatively unmodified from stock!
A custom Orange setup wizard takes the user through the initial configuration of the device. This configures timezone, shows a guide on how to use the capacitive buttons, lets the user test the keyboard (and switch to Swype if desired), helps the user configure an e-mail account with a raft of e-mail providers, optionally imports SIM contacts and finally configure the data connection to use WiFi only or WiFi and cellular data. It doesn’t encourage the user to set up a Google account.
Upon completing the setup wizard, the user is presented with the Orange customised Launcher. This is unashamedly in the style of a HTC Sense device - a two row flip clock sits above a tips widget, under which icons for Browser, Mobile Mail, Your Orange and Play Shop live. The bottom row has an apps icon, a messaging icon, a phone icon and a contacts icon. A homescreen page indicator sits between these two rows. It’s not a bad look - very ‘Orangey’, but quite smart. The homescreen has 5 pages with a zoomed out overview accessed by pressing the home button. The app drawer itself scrolls vertically, definitely my preferred layout! The lockscreen is stock Gingerbread, as is the notification pulldown.
One interesting feature of the launcher is gestures. Orange Gestures allows you to open your favourite applications and services by drawing simple shapes directly on the homescreen. These work extremely well. You can assign apps, contacts, actions (in fact, just about anything you could add to the homescreen) to predefined gestures that are common shapes and letters. Unfortunately you can’t add completely custom gestures, but with 27 predefined options, you shouldn’t run out. One downside potentially of the gesture implementation - it won’t function with 3rd party launchers.
Upon first starting the device a blue ‘N’ icon is visible in the notification bar, next to the data connection. This is the NFC indicator, indicating that NFC is enabled. A little bit annoying and unnecessary imho.
So - on to the apps!
Gmail, Google+, Mail, Maps, Music, Navigation, Play Books, Play Movies, Play Store, Search, Talk, Voice Search and YouTube are all included on the device and are standard Google experience applications.
‘Assistant’ is an Orange application that helps you get your phone set up (the startup wizard is part of this app).
‘Browser’ is the stock Gingerbread browser with an Orangified icon. Adobe Flash support is included.
‘Calculator’ is the stock Gingerbread calculator.
‘Calendar’ is the stock Gingerbread calendar with an Orangified icon.
‘Camera’ is a very fully featured Camera application, we talk more about this later!
‘Clock’ is the stock Gingerbread Desk Clock.
‘DailyMotion’ is the DailyMotion app that is also downloadable from the Play Store. Orange has a 49% stake in DailyMotion, hence the inclusion!
‘DoubleTwist’ is the iTunes sync application that is also downloadable from the Play Store.
‘Gallery’ is the stock Gingerbread Gallery.
‘Gestures’ we have talked about already!
‘Messaging’ is the stock Gingerbread MMS / SMS application with an Orangified icon.
‘Mobile Mail’ is an extensive email application that is provided by Seven and supports a large number of services.
‘Navigon’ is an onboard navigation application. It appears to require ‘Navigon Select’ as an account option in order to function (this, for me, is the very definition of unnecessary bloat!)
‘Orange Plus’ is the stock Gingerbread SIM Toolkit application with an orangified icon.
‘Orange Wednesday’ is Orange’s free cinema tickets application.
‘Phone’ is the stock Gingerbread Phone dialler with an Orangified icon. As the stock application it does not support smart dialling or the like.
‘Quickoffice’ is the lite (free) version of the office suite which supports viewing of office documents / PDF files only.
‘Sound Recorder’ the stock Gingerbread sound recording application.
‘Tags’ is the stock Gingerbread NFC tag management application.
‘User Guide’ is a shortcut the opens the PDF version of the device user’s guide.
‘Weather’ is Orange’s own weather application, powered by AccuWeather. It’s fairly basic.
‘Your Orange’ is Orange’s account management application.
And that’s about it. As you can see, it’s very much a simple Gingerbread stock build with a sprinkling of icon changes and additional applications. The key additions are the Camera application and the Mobile Mail application from Seven.
Which leads us on to...
A de-bloated device for me would have stock launcher, stock icons for the various applications with Assistant, DailyMotion, DoubleTwist, Gestures, Mobile Mail, Navigon, Orange Wednesdays, User Guide, Weather and Your Orange uninstallable.
Unfortunately at the moment the only thing we can achieve is reverting to a stock launcher (by installing from the Market or manually). Until we get root access, we can’t uninstall the additional applications nor update the icons on the various stock apps.
Thankfully, the San Diego IS pretty bloat free so it’s not as bad as on some devices!
One big question around the San Diego and Intel based devices in general has been software compatibility. The concern was that lots of applications would be incompatible due to being designed for ARM and that using an Intel device would result in swathes of applications not being available from the Android Market.
I’m pleased to report that this is not the case! <img src='http://www.modaco.co...fault/smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='' />
There are three ways that applications run internally on the San Diego. The first way is that an application doesn’t have native libraries, in which case it runs absolutely fine just as it does on ARM. The second is where an application has NDK libraries and the developer has included a binary for x86 (the NDK makes this extremely easy). The third is when a developer uses native binaries but they are not optimised for x86 but only for ARM - in this case, a process called ‘binary translation’ takes place... which effectively converts ARM instructions on the fly to x86. This is what’s going on behind the scenes, but what does that mean in reality?
It simply means this - every single applicaiton that I use in the ‘standard build’ of my devices was available to, installed fine and performed great on the San Diego. That’s quite a few apps spanning lots of different types - utilities, games, social clients etc. etc. - they all just worked. In fact, the ONLY application I wasn’t able to install when an #askmodaco request asked that I try it (it didn’t appear in the Market and a manual APK install also failed) was Temple Run. The only applications where the architecture actually seemed to matter was video players... video players designed for ARM obviously performed poorly (probably due to the translation layer), but installing a x86 optimised player (thankfully such an app exists on the market) solved this problem.
As x86 devices become more prolific I expect developers to become more savvy to providing binaries for Intel equipped devices and even the small incompatibilities at the moment will disappear.
Strangely, software compatibilities or oddities on the device that I did come across were more likely to be related to the screen resolution. Some applications (e.g. the Amazon Appstore) assume that a 1024x600 screen is on a 7” device and UI elements are rendered smaller than is appropriate. I envisage issues such as this will quickly be resolved.
The San Diego has a 8MP camera and Orange / Intel have made much of it’s speed, particularly the burst mode which snaps 10 pictures in under 1 second. So what is the application like? Fully featured is the answer!
Clicking the icon opens up a camera UI that is pretty simple - only 3 buttons appear as standard... one to switch between front and rear cameras, one to switch from still to video recording and a shutter button. The shutter button is supplemented by a dedicated camera hardware button which is a 2 stage affair for focusing and taking the picture.
Clicking on the left hand side of the frame pops out the camera menu which has a LOT of options. I’ll run through them for you.
The top button reveals the main settings. Burst Length can be set to 1, 3, 5 or 10 frames, burst FPS can be set to 1, 3, 5, 7 or 15. Camera resolution can be set to 8MP, 6MP, 5MP, 3MP, 1080P, 720P, VGA or QVGA. Picture quality can be set to Superfine, Fine or Normal. PostViewTime can be set to 0, 1 or 2 seconds. Capture Bracket can be set to None, Exposure or Focus.
And that’s just the first button!
Next comes Scene mode, which can be set to Auto, Sports, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Night portrait, Fireworks or Text. Focus mode can be set to Auto, Infinity, Macro or Touch. White balance can be set to Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent or Cloudy. Exposure can be set to +2, +1, 0, -1 or -2. Flash mode can be set to Auto, On, Off or Torch. Zoom (digital of course) can be set between 1x and 8x. Colour effect can be set to None, Mono, Sepia, Negative, Grass, Sky, SkinLow, SkinMedium and SkinHigh. ISO can be set to 100, 200, 400 or 800. Shutter can be set to 1s, ½, ¼, ⅛, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 or 1/500. AE Mode can be set to Auto, Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority. AE metering mode can be set to Auto, Spot or Center. AWB Map can be set to Auto, Indoor or Outdoor. XNR, ANR and HDC can be toggled on and off. Antibanding can be set to Off, 50hz, 60hz or Auto. Store location can be toggled on and off. Back Lighting Correction can be toggled on and off. RAW Data can be set to none, YUV or Bayer. Rotation mode can be set to Header or Image.
Finally, when you screw up all these settings, there is a ‘Reset’ option. <img src='http://www.modaco.co...ult/biggrin.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='' />
When in video mode, there are are fewer options. Video quality can be set to 1080P, 720P, 480P, High ‘30m’, QVGA, Low ‘30m’, MMS or YouTube (720P max when using the front camera). Flash mode can be set to on or off. White balance can be set to Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent or Cloudy. Colour effect can be set to None, Mono, Sepia, Negative, Grass, Sky, SkinLow, SkinMedium and SkinHigh. DVS can be set to on or off, as can NR. Zoom can be set between 1x and 8x. A reset option is again present.
So, there’s no shortage of options... but what’s the application actually like to use? Far better than the standard Gingerbread fare we see on most budget handsets is the obvious answer.
Aside from the wealth of options, the application performs well and takes photos quickly. The focus options mean you can have touch focus with infinity and macro modes when you require them. The flash is very bright and is used intelligently, illuminating the scene to focus before then flashing to take the picture for example, resulting in good shots in dark conditions. The ability to record 1080P video with the rear camera and even 720P with the front camera is a nice inclusion.
The burst mode works very well (even if it does sound a little strange) and it really can take 10 pictures in a second!
I’ve included some sample pictures below - in my experience the software is a very good implementation and any weaknesses in the output are down to the optics used rather than the software implementation.
In general use, the device continues to impress. It’s fast (no doubt helped by it’s ‘stripped back’ stock Gingerbread OS). When I say it’s fast, I mean it’s probably as fast as any device i’ve used! Navigating around the device is stutter free, fast and a very impressive experience. The 1024x600 resolution of the 4.03” screen means the display is incredibly crisp. It’s a decent display too - very bright (although slightly washed out at narrow viewing angles) with no discernible gap between the display and the Gorilla Glass coating also helping to accent the premium feel. The capacitive panel picks up the lightest of touches - it is excellent.
After i’d used the device for a few days, I started to wonder exactly how much t matters that the device ships with Gingerbread rather than Ice Cream Sandwich? Only the buyer can answer that question... but I think it’s definitely a shame for me personally, if only because going back to Gingerbread means going back to the old Gmail client and not being able to use Chrome Beta, 2 of the applications I use more than anything else on my device!
One ICS feature does seem to have sneaked into the San Diego - screenshots can be captured by holding down the power and volume down buttons simultaneously!
There are a few key areas I wanted to test on the San Diego as the first Intel device. The first was Adobe Flash support / performance. I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed - although Flash doesn’t appear as an application in Android Market as yet, support is preloaded on the device and worked great in my tests with BBC iPlayer, something I know is important to a lot of people and is often poor on budget handsets.
The second area that concerned me was video playback. Most of the video players in the Market are optimised for ARM and while x86 optimised players will certainly appear, I think it’s important that users are able to play video on the device today. Again, I needn’t have worried. I tried a few applications (with varying results) but the winner was Moboplayer, which has a x86 optimised version. I pushed a MKV movie (‘Paul’, of course) and a MP4 movie (‘The Snowman’, Lucie’s favourite?!?) to the internal SD card and both played flawlessly. In the free app. Excellent! They also played fine over the HDMI connection.
I tested the HDMI connectivity in a few apps with no issues at all. Predictably, the home screen appears in portrait, but I tested the web browser and YouTube application and they output just great to my TV... perfect for watching ‘Annoying Orange’ episodes (no offence Orange)! <img src='http://www.modaco.co...ult/biggrin.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='' />
The speakers on the device are as loud as one would expect from such a device and lacking bass as one would also expect. That said, I was pretty pleased with their performance in both music, video and speakerphone conversations and have no complaints. In general I found Phone usage very good (and callers were also impressed with call quality, helped by the dual mics and background noise suppression).
It’s difficult to test NFC on Gingerbread devices really - they don’t do much yet - but, it worked... I scanned my Passport OK!
Radio performance on the device seems very good (WiFi and Cellular that is, there is no FM radio). The San Diego held onto WiFi signals better than any other device I have around at the moment and had no problems with sniffing out mobile service either, very impressive. The device supports Quad Band 2G and Quad Band 3G, potentially quite useful when roaming or using SIMs from foreign networks. GPS performance is similarly excellent, acquiring a fix and holding on to it very well indeed.
The final area where Intel is the great unknown is battery life. People will tell you that Intel chips don’t power phones because they use too much battery. This has been true in the past, but i’m happy to say that this isn’t really the case with Medfield and the San Diego. While the battery is pretty low capacity amongst it’s peers at only 5.4Whr, i’ve seen battery life that is on par with it’s competitors. In line with a lot of devices now it sips power when in standby, only becoming more thirsty when worked harder. I can happily go through a weekend day of using the phone frequently - my benchmark - and still have a little juice to spare at the end of the day. Interestingly the screen on the San Diego seems to use less power - relatively speaking - than other handsets i’ve tested recently.
Rooting, hacking and locking
The San Diego is something of an unknown quantity when it comes to rooting, due to it’s different architecture. Work is progressing of course... we have dumped the system image, got hold of a boot image, extracted a boot image etc. etc.. Initial signs are encouraging in that the device seems to support ‘fastboot’ in the conventional way and also has a normal recovery mode, so if we can ‘get in’ hopefully we can open the device up for custom ROMs as usual. We don’t know yet if the bootloader is locked or whether there is some low level checking going on, time will tell.
That said, at the moment there is no working root solution, so if this is important to you... you may want to hold fire. The situation is the same with the SIM lock - at the time of writing the only unlock option is the official Orange route.
The SIM lock configuration on the San Diego accepts both Orange UK and T-Mobile UK SIM cards, with the ability to correctly set up the APN configuration for either.
Internals - microSD...?
The San Diego does not officially have microSD support. However... if you remove the non-removable back cover, there is a microSD slot nestling under there! I have opened my phone and put a microSD in there... but it doesn’t do anything. Yet. Hopefully when we have root we might be able to get this working.
See the video below to learn more!
Pricing and availability
The San Diego is available to buy now from Orange online and instore, priced at £199.99 on Prepay (plus a mandatory £10 topup) or FREE on a £15.50 24 month contract. Extremely competitive pricing!
The Orange San Diego is a great phone. At the price (particularly on contract) it’s almost a steal - a premium feeling product amongst low end peers. The specs are very good, the implementation is excellent, the design is extremely impressive for a product derived from a reference platform and most importantly of all, the use of a ‘new’ architecture should make no different when it comes to deciding whether this phone is for you.
For those looking for a budget entry to Android, it’s hard to think of another device that offers such price vs features / performance. The only fly in the ointment perhaps is that the device ships with Gingerbread, which is starting to feel somewhat antiquated in places for anyone who has spent time with Ice Cream Sandwich... the caveat here of course is that outside of the geek community, that’s not many people!
I strongly suspect the San Diego will be a good seller for Orange. Not only for the reasons above, but also because it has genuine shelf appeal. The average consumer in an Orange shop - perhaps drawn in my the big advertising push and Intel co-branding - can pick up the device and be instantly impressed by the design, feel and the bright and sharp screen.
If the phone gains the ‘hackability’ of the San Francisco too, it’s a worthy successor as the ‘enthusiasts plaything’.
So, I best crack on. <img src='http://www.modaco.co...fault/smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='' />
Pros and cons
- Competitive pricing
- Great all round specifications
- Premium design, good overall size
- Great screen with a high resolution
- Great radio performance and call quality
- Unexpectedly good application compatability
- Fully featured Camera application
- Shipping with Gingerbread
- No way to remove operator customisations (yet)
- No microSD expansion
- Fixed battery
- Root situation TBC
- No 3rd party SIM unlock
I have included below the benchmarks from the popular benchmarking applications. Bear in mind that these applications may be using ARM libraries or be ARM optimised at this time.
Have your say
Do you have an Orange San Diego? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
Click here to view the item