It’s been a while since a budget Android phone made a huge impact in a UK market obsessed with more brawn and more screen space on smartphones. Has the San Diego got what it takes to change that? Read on to find out.
Network-branded means cheap and nasty, right? Hmm. Not always, as the well-reviewed, commercially successful Orange San Francisco and San Francisco 2 testify. But can the San Diego repeat the trick?
Glance at the spec sheet and you’ll be pleasantly surprised for a handset going for a shade under £200 when you go pay as you go. An eight-megapixel camera, Intel processor – a first on a European handset -, generous 16GB of memory and a large 4.3-inch screen mean it’s much better equipped than most phones at this price point.
At 9.9mm thick, it’s fairly slim too. And while the San Diego's adherence to the modern-day black slab school of phone design won’t win it any awards for originality, it’s unlikely that anyone expects that from a budget phone.
As we’ve already hinted above, the San Diego doesn’t stray too far from the Android smartphone template, except for a metallic strip that rings the side of the phone that recalls the iPhone 4 and 4S.
Offsetting its monolithic look are four buttons at the foot of the screen, a volume rocker, dedicated camera buttons on the right, a 3.5mm headphone jack and at a power key at the top.
If we were being picky we’d flag up that the camera button felt a bit too stiff for our liking, as did the power button. That’s something that could easily have been solved by ensuring they were a bit taller and didn’t require so much purchase.
The San Diego’s eight-megapixel camera with burst mode for sequential snapping and 1080p resolution video sounds pretty good on paper. But the reality is a little different.
We found the still images the San Diego served up a bit washed out and less crisp than we’re used to from snappers of same resolution on most other phones. And video was pretty indistinct too.
That’s a shame because the screen on which you view them isn’t half bad. It's pretty expansive at four inches across, and with its resolution of 600 x 1,024 pixels, makes for impressively clear images. There's also a pleasing realism about its more lifelike colours, which is nice to see on a phone that costs so little.
The San Diego runs the Gingerbread version of Android out of the box rather than the up to the minute Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) iteration. On the plus side, though, an update to ICS is on the way.
But as is too often the way with network-branded blowers, Orange has seen fit to smear the phone with its bloatware, including proprietary apps and a very, very Orange wallpaper and branding. That means it doesn’t run with the kind of zip you’d expect from a phone rocking a pretty powerful 1.6GHz Intel Atom x86 processor.
With HD voice calling technology on board, you can’t fault the San Diego for call quality. We also found that augmented by the Intel chipset, web browsing was uncommonly fast.
However, it’s not all gravy. The over-fussy custom skin makes using the phone a bit cumbersome, to say the least. But that’s the payoff whenever you go for an inexpensive, carrier-branded kit, we suppose.
The San Diego is a curate’s egg of a smartphone. Although we’d prefer it if Orange had exercised some restraint when slathering the operating system with its custom user interface, the impressively quick browser and sharp screen there are definitely things to recommend here.