Intel’s first smartphone, the Orange San Diego review: first look

Intel has finally unveiled its first foray into the smartphone market. It’s been a long time coming, but the first Android phone to run on an x86 processor – the Atom-powered San Diego smartphone – will be launched on 6 June, in partnership with UK mobile network Orange.

It won’t be a premium handset. The first Medfield smartphones will target the cost-conscious end of the smartphone spectrum, and will be available initially for free on a £15.50 per month contract, or £200 on pay-as-you-go, with a 250MB per month data allowance thrown in for the first year.

We tried out the San Diego at a low-key launch event at London’s Centre Point building. Initially, it feels every bit a budget handset: it’s extremely lightweight, with a soft-touch plastic rear panel with silver trim, and is square-ish in profile – a bit like a slightly smaller, thicker Samsung Galaxy S II.

That’s where the budget feel ends though. It has a 4in screen with a resolution of 1,024 x 600, and it looks very good for a phone at this price. The camera boasts more surprising stats: an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash and a burst mode that will fire off ten frames in under a second, plus the ability to shoot 1080p video. Storage runs to 16GB, and to cap it all there’s also an HDMI output.


That all sounds impressive for the money, but it’s what’s under the hood that really counts with this phone: the San Diego has an Intel Atom Z2640 inside it, paired up with an XMM 6260 modem delivering HSDPA and HSUPA speeds of up to 21.1Mbits/sec and 5.7Mbits/sec respectively.

The Atom Z2640 is a a single-core processor, running at 1.6GHz with Hyper-threading, and it’s seriously quick. We had the chance to run the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark at the launch event and the phone achieved a score of 1,436ms – right up there with the fastest flagship phones we’ve ever tested. Intel’s claims of  rapid browsing speeds appear well-founded too, with the BBC full desktop home page rendering in just over four seconds.


The phone currently runs Android 2.3.7, and regular Android apps can be installed via the Google Play Store. Not all of them will work, though: a binary translator is used to provide compatibility with the x86 architecture, and Intel estimates only around 70% of apps will run. We’ll investigate  this in more depth when we get our hands on a review sample.

The biggest issue, however, may be battery life. It’s no secret that the Medfield architecture doesn’t deliver “best in class” longevity – Intel’s own marketing materials acknowledge that battery life for the platform is is merely “competitive”. It’s for this reason that a shrink to 22nm is planned for Atom processors in 2013, with a 14nm shrink following just a year later.

Even with this current-generation 32nm chip, though, the San Diego probably won’t be a disaster. Dedicated on-die audio and video decoding hardware means media consumption shouldn’t demand too much power, and Intel’s obsession with sleep states should translate to a respectable standby time: the spec quotes up to 14 days, with eight hours of talk time.

It’s only the most active pursuits such as playing games that threaten to really burn through the power – especially if the binary translator has to be used to provide compatibility, meaning extra work for the CPU. But of course there are plenty of other factors that could affect battery life: we’ll have to wait until we have a San Diego in our hands to see how it really performs.

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