Last year orange in conjunction with ZTE released what in the end became a huge success, the San Francisco. Now judging by the success of that device it is no surprise that this year the companies have brought out another Orange branded device, which is called the Monte Carlo a massive beast of a phone with a 4.3 inch display.
So the obvious question really is can the Monte Carlo build on the huge success of the San Francisco and make a name for itself?
The 10 second review:
- Product: Orange Monte Carlo
- Price: from free on an orange contract and £149.99 + £10 top up
- Summary: A refreshing change from other devices in this price range, very smooth and easy to use. Very impressed overall.
- Best of: Screen, video playback, price, weight
- Worst of: Might be a little large for some, camera, orange overlay.
- Buy from: Orange.co.uk or orange stores.
- Also consider: Orange San Francisco, ZTE Skate (Sim Free version)
What’s in the box?
- Orange Monte Carlo
- Travel charger (uk 3 pin plug adapter)
- Micro USB to standard USB sync/charge cable
- User guide
- Warranty information.
Orange Monte Carlo specification:
- 2G Network: GSM 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
- Dimensions: 125.9 x 67.8 x 10.4 mm
- Weight: 120 g
- Display: TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 480 x 800 pixels, 4.3 inches (~217 ppi pixel density)
- 3.5mm jack
- 512 MB RAM
- microSD, up to 32GB
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Wi-Fi hotspot
- v2.1 with A2DP, EDR
- microUSB v2.0
- Camera: 5 MP, 2592 x 1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
- OS: Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread)
- CPU: 800MHz processor
- GPS with A-GPS support
- Digital compass
- SNS integration
- Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1400 mAh
On the top of the Monte Carlo is the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The left is where the up/down volume rocker and the rest is just smooth.
On the right of the handset at the top is the power/lock/unlock button, further down the right side is the microUSB socket.
There is nothing on the bottom of the Monte Carlo apart from a tiny gap in the build so that you can get your finger nail in to remove the back cover and a little hole for the microphone.
On the back of the device there is a 5 megapixel camera with an LED flash right underneath, then directly underneath is what looks to be a second microphone probably for the HD voice. To the right of the camera is the loud speaker, and finally at the bottom there is the Orange logo.
Then finally underneath the back cover you will see the battery, SIM card and memory card slots and the IMEI information etc underneath the battery.
- Beautiful screen
- Very smooth and simple to use
- Latest version of android
- Video playback
- Size could be an issue for some
- Cheap feel
- The little bit of Orange overlay is annoying
- Orange apps require a mobile network connection
Looking back to the year 2010 it was a really great year for the underdog, of course when talking of Orange there is one clear success story…the San Francisco! This handset was one of the few new phones that made people go ‘wow such a good phone for the money!’
So the question on everyone’s lips once 2011 came along was ‘what next from Orange?’ well first there was the Barcelona and Stockholm which were 2 devices under £100 that packed an ok punch, but now i have here the daddy of the orange branded phones! The Orange Monte Carlo, a completely different kind of phone to the San Francisco because for one thing it is massive due to its 4.3 inch display but also due to it having the newest version of Android- Gingerbread.
Build quality and design
Smartphone manufacturers are becoming more and more conscious of build quality as well a design, but with some there is still a long way to go before they match up to the likes of Apple and HTC. With the Monte Carlo the build quality is what you would call OK, te entire handset is made from plastic, this would be ok if it wasn’t so finger print happy and cheap feeling to boot. The overall feel of the phone is much like the original Samsung Galaxy S, which felt cheaply made but was definitely a premium device as it was fast and looked good and to be honest it’s the same with the Monte Carlo, it feels cheap but looks good i suppose the only real difference between the 2 is 200Mhz of processing power and the brand name.
As for design I cannot fault the device, I love the curved edges as it makes it sit lovely in the hand and the fact that it’s gone a little old school and re introduced physical buttons is something that I really like. The size is just amazing! I have relatively large hands though so it feels natural for me to use a device of this size but for anyone with smaller hands it could be nightmarish to handle.
Now onto the software on the phone, on the Monte Carlo there is the newest version of android gingerbread which is 2.3.4. Now this is a massive selling point in my opinion because of the sheer quality of the operating system, it is the best version of android so far. There is however another plus and that is the fact that the phone is running a vanilla version of android which i know is a lot of people’s favourite choice because at times an overlay of any mind can totally ruin the overall look and feel.
Below is a screenshot of the lock screen, its your standard vanilla android lock screen whereby you swipe the screen from left to right using the side with the ‘lock’ on it and you will have unlocked the screen.
Although the handset is running a vanilla version of android it does have an annoying bit of overlay from Orange that you can’t remove. On the home screen there are 4 shortcuts that can’t be customized or removed unlike any other version of the software. The shortcuts are- App tray, messages, phone dialler and contacts. Personally speaking I think that there should be an option to remove these just like there was on the San Francisco last year.
To show you what I am talking about below are screenshots of all 5 home screens with my personal set up instead of the default one, this is because the default home screens leave 2 of them totally empty.
There is also another frustrating thing that orange have added to the OS and that is the inability to simply add app shortcuts to the 5 home screens, the way that you have to do that is go into the app tray and hold on an app then drag and drop it on the home screens. You can add things to the home screens however but even the way to do this has changed for the worse, when you hold on an empty area of the screen you should usually get an option to add widgets or shortcuts etc well you sort of get that option but it has been all Oranged up, you get the option to add orange widgets, orange shortcuts, android widgets, android shortcuts, folders and wallpapers. Now yes that seems like a decent level of personalisation yes? Well it isn’t really as there is really only a couple of things that I would add and they are what I’ve downloaded from the market anyway.
There is though something that all of the manufacturers who produce smartphones seem to be doing, a copy of HTC’s Leap view. The version on the Monte Carlo though is different from all of the others and hopefully you will notice why in the below screenshot.
Internet and e-mail
As smartphones are rapidly becoming the biggest selling type of product ever quality should be a major factor in deciding which one to go for. One thing that is most important for a lot if not all people who own or want to own a smartphone is the web browsing and how good it is.
On the Monte Carlo with the huge 4.3 inch QVGA display you would expect web pages to look brilliantly clear and bright? Well another selling point to this handset is its 800 x 480 QVGA display with high brightness, so when browsing the web there’s no problem at all reading text etc.
Web pages load quite quickly on the device considering it only has an 800 MHz processor but you wouldn’t know it most of the time. The web pages only seem to load swiftly though when using a decent Wi-Fi connection as when using a 3G network with awesome signal the pages take an absolute age to load properly, which if you want to find something quickly it doesn’t really cooperate.
One huge problem that i have found during my time using the device is its sluggishness when a page has loaded, the scrolling up and down is very laggy and the pinch to zoom action is also very laggy especially when you introduce the browser to a flash based site or even a site just with a few still images. I think though that the SIM free version of the phone, the ZTE Skate with its 1 GHz processor will fix the sluggishness almost completely the significant difference in price means that you have to think whether you could cope with the Monte Carlo as it is? I will be completely honest with you, i can easily look past the sluggish browsing etc because I really like the phone, it feels epic in my hands and it’s just lovely to use so maybe you guys my think same when you have seen it for yourselves? Screenshots below.
Onto the email side of things now and to be honest if you have seen a vanilla android device before then this will be nothing new for you as the applications for emailing are the same.
There are 3 email applications out of the box, Gmail, Email and orange mail. The first 2 are basically identical only the Gmail app is strictly for googlemail or Gmail accounts and the other is for any other address type such as hotmail.
As this is android a googlemail or Gmail account is required in order to access the android market for purchases etc so as you would expect you are prompted to sign into your account during the setup. If you don’t have an account however don’t fret as there is also the option of creating an email account also, once created or signed into your account the application is very basic and very simple to use as all you have to do to fetch your emails from the online server is press the menu button and then refresh and away you go.
Below you will see a picture of the interface.
As with the Gmail app this one is very basic but also simple to use, the same process applies to this app when adding an email address to the app, all you need to do is type in your address and password and the rest is done for you! Simple eh? In both applications there is an options menu where you are able to sort your emails into folders etc, also if you have any contacts in your list and have also added an email account to their information their addresses will show up in the email applications to send mails to.
Below is a picture of this interface and you will notice distinct similarities between the 2 apps, good thing or bad thing? I personally don’t like using them as they are a bit boring and slow to fetch mails.
As I mentioned earlier in this section there is another email app called orange mail, but because the android email app is so simple and easy to use I haven’t had a look at this one, I did try to set an address up but the application says that it requires a 3G connection first of all, so I thought I would leave that due to be using a pay as you go SIM card for the review.
As with any other android smartphone this one has access to the android market where there are many social networking applications to download and use, I mention this to you guys because the Monte Carlo doesn’t come pre installed social applications other than the expensive Orange Messenger. So what I did was download Facebook for android and the official Twitter apps because I prefer them and to be honest I have been impressed with the way that the handset deals with social networking applications. It reacts very much like a speedy phone when to be honest it shouldn’t because of its relatively low powered processor, I have to say I’m afraid though that you will be disappointed by the familiarities of the 2 apps I used compared to other devices running android. These apps are quite basic and boring but they do their jobs very well, better on this phone than almost any other vanilla android phone I’ve used, which is obviously very good.
I thought that I would show you how the apps look on the Monte Carlo anyway as I liked using them so much. First of all Facebook and just below that will be Twitter.
Now for something that I have always been impressed with on every android device, YouTube of course! The app on android is just somehow so much better than on other platforms, it looks nicer and makes YouTube a joy to use. Video playback via this app is nothing short of awesome! and trust me I’m not exaggerating either, because of the size of the screen and the 800 x 480 display high quality video is actually exactly what its meant to be…High Quality!!
Below are a couple of screenshots just to let you have an idea of what it looks like.
Smartphones these days are expected to play music and play music well, from my point of view anyway so when I tried music playback on this handset I had an open mind. What I found out though is that music playback through even the best most expensive headphones (Monster beats) it absolutely sucks! I have literally never heard poorer sound from a phone of this type ever! A £30 feature phone that my grandma has plays music better through headphones. There is a kind of light at the end of a small tunnel though because the phone has Dolby mobile built into it to enhance the sound quality, it obviously doesn’t work for headphone playback but it sure does for playback through the loudspeaker. Its one of the best speakers on a phone I’ve heard, it is as good if not better than the iPhone 4 speaker it is that clear and loud with no hint of tin whatsoever! Brilliant on that front ZTE but shame on you for the headphone bit!
Moving on now to video, this was probably my favourite part of the testing and I think that is due to the awesome quality and sound combination when playing any kind of video, whether it be a feature film to a TV show this device absolutely shone! The problem that I had at the beginning though was figuring out what video file type the phone was compatible with, it turns out that the answer to this is quite a few but there was only really 1 choice I was going to make MP4. I found a very good video converter freeware on the interweb called Freemake Video Converter, very simple to use and has a convert to Android button which is very handy.
Below are a couple screenshots of the interface including the gallery and whilst playing a video.
As well as the standard android Video ‘Application’ I found a flipping brilliant application in the market for playing music videos, funnily enough James found the same application in Blackberry App World for the Playbook. The application I am referring to is called VEVO, and all it is a mass library of music videos for your viewing pleasure, the application has many of the top bands and artists from around the world in its database and I was impressed by the vast amount of videos for each artist as well.
The app is also very simple to use and is presented really nicely, the app is similar to YouTube in its application but is also very different if you get what I mean? They both have large databases of videos but one is dedicated to music videos and the other is on everything else.
I would definitely recommend downloading this one from the Android Market for anyone who loves music, one other plus is the fact that the app is totally FREE! That’s always a plus for me.
Finally in this little section I thought I would mention something a little different that this phone has compared to other phones. An application called Media Share is pre-installed on the device out of the box, what this application allows the user to do is access other media servers from their phone to then play videos, music and to see photos. An example of this in action is when I used the app and my dad’s PC upstairs was on and every folder shared, I could access all of his media content to either play or to download to the phone itself.
Overall it worked really well, it is really picky with file types though but all in all for a free app its really cool to see it in a phone of this type, especially seen as though phones are essentially nowadays just pocket friendly media centres anyway.
A screenshot of the initial interface is below.
Camera and Camcorder
Just lately I have been using the camera on my iPhone 4 a lot more, and I am impressed with the photos most of the time but then the question I would like to ask you guys is…Should a mobile phone/smartphone camera be really good or just good enough for a quick snap now and then??
The above question is something I ask myself quite a lot, I ask it due to the amount of different phones that I look at each week and each phone review I do for the site. The answer I usually give to myself is that a camera on a high end expensive device should be really good but on a phone let’s say £150 or less I don’t think necessarily requires a brilliant camera but it would be nice to have one that can take a decent enough photo when required.
The Monte Carlos’ camera falls well short of expectations though I’m afraid to say, because it is just plain awful to be honest! It’s a 5 megapixel camera with an LED flash but you wouldn’t know it half of the time when you look at the quality of the photos taken, I will mention to you guys reading this review that to take a good photograph the amount of megapixels generally doesn’t matter, what does matter is the quality of the lens inside the hardware and if that is below par well you are in for a bad time unfortunately. The Monte Carlo has this exact problem, the quality of the photos is well below even a HTC Wildfire S or HTC ChaCha and even they aren’t superb.
I think the main problem is the auto focussing is very poor and very slow to respond, it is as if the photo is taken when the focus hasn’t even finished focussing properly, you will hopefully be able to see the problems clearly in the photos below.
The camera interface is very much the same as any other Android Device, it’s simple and easy to understand what everything does which is obviously a good thing to have.
Below are some screenshots of the camera interface to show you what I mean.
Now I will show you a few different photos taken from my garden to give you an idea on the quality (or lack of it) that the Monte Carlo has to offer.
So having seen the photos above what do we think? Good bad or ugly?
The camera also has an option to do a video recording with the press of an on screen button, unfortunately the Monte Carlo isn’t capable of recording in 720p HD which is a real shame as I would have liked to see what it is capable of but never mind. The highest resolution possible is VGA (640 x 480) and other resolutions possible are QVGA (320 x 240), CIF (352 x 288) and QCIF (176 x 144). As you can see these resolutions aren’t very good at all, this is the reason why I haven’t added a video from the device to the review because I don’t think it is worth it. I took a few video recordings during testing and the recording itself was ok but the video was sluggish and it seemed to have major issues following movement, which defeats the object of making a recording don’t you think?
Below is a couple of screenshots just to show you how it looks.
Messaging and Voice calls
There is one thing that we must not forget, anyone know what it is?
Of course, the Monte Carlo is in fact a MOBILE PHONE! So I think you now know that I’m going to talk about the handsets’ calling and texting abilities.
First of all Calling, the handset has Oranges’ HD Voice built into it which is meant to do something similar to the transition between a Standard definition TV picture to a High definition picture, only with HD voice it is meant to enhance the clarity and clear more of the back ground noise than other techniques used. I have to be honest with you guys now, I didn’t notice a single difference the whole time I used the phone is that how it is meant to be? I have an iPhone 4 and I am on the Tesco Mobile network which uses the O2 network and I found the call quality to be miles better than on the Monte Carlo with HD voice, I’m not sure if it was the antenna or just because the iPhone 4 costs a trillion pounds more but I definitely noticed a difference.
Now don’t get me wrong I am not in any way saying that call quality was poor on this device but it’s maybe not as good as should be.
Moving onto messaging now and here is where the device won me over! I am what you could call a textaholic, I could text for England to be honest so I needed the Monte Carlo to be able to cope with that sort of abuse and do you know what it did it really well! Texting is exactly the same as any other Vanilla Android device but this has a much larger display which means that the keyboard is larger too.
Talking of the keyboard here is a screenshot.
There are a total of 2 different keyboards to choose from on this device, the standard Gingerbread keyboard and the one shown above. The reason I am only showing you the one is because this is the only one I used during my whole time with the phone. It is larger, has a much nicer interface (It’s white instead of dark grey) and it also has a lovely little feature which is very similar to Swype from Samsung devices where you drag essentially draw a line to type words. This worked so well that I found myself using that function all of the time! I even surprised myself!
Battery life and overall performance
Onto the battery life first of all and to be honest with you how long a smartphone lasts is very much down to the way that you use it, for example a heavy user wouldn’t get 6 hours out of this device but a moderate user could easily get a day and a half which if you think about it is about right for most smartphones these days so overall it isn’t too bad really.
The overall performance of the device is much better than I expected when I first heard about the hardware, using the interface is very smooth with little or no lag all of the time, the only qualm I did have was the fact that games such as Angry birds and Fruit ninja played but they had loads of lag which is annoying really.
To allow you to gauge what the performance is like for this phone I have provided a Quadrant Standard Benchmark result just to give you an idea, I personally was very happy with the result because when you look at the price you are going to be paying for this phone, you are getting a proper bargain!
On the whole I have been really impressed with the Monte Carlo, it does the little things brilliantly and only really falls short on things that you could live without such as HD voice and the music player being pretty pants, for that problem there is a little company called Apple with their iPod range so I wouldn’t worry too much.
If I wasn’t such a git wanting the best of the best all of the time I would seriously consider buying one of these as my main phone because I just think that for the money it is the best phone around and I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen this phone already goes to an Orange shop to have a look and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
I hope you have enjoyed my review of the Orange Monte Carlo, feel free to ask me anything about it and I will be happy to reply over on the tracyandmatt.co.uk forum.
Reviewed by: Chris