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Orange San Francisco review

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When it comes to Android devices, there are some beautiful handsets at the top of end of the market. The Desire, Desire HD, Desire Z, Galaxy S and Streak to name but a few, all pack specifications to lust over but sadly more often than not a price to match. Android isn't just winning people's hearts and minds in the realms of power devices however, also taking place is a subtle yet concerted attack at the lower end of the market, with devices such as the Pulse, Pulse Mini and ZTE Racer from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE instrumental in the battle. Manufacturers of the aforementioned power devices are also targeting the entry level - HTC with their 'Mini Desire' the Wildfire, Samsung with the Galaxy Portal / Spica and a host of similar devices at knock down prices not to mention Sony Ericsson with their cute and strangely appealing X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro.

So what constitutes an entry level / low end / budget device?

Everyone's definition is likely to vary a little, but for me the segment is defined by the device being on sale either SIM free or on prepay for under £200. The HTC Wildfire and Galaxy Portal can be purchased on 3 for £199, the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini and Mini Pro retail for £169 / £179 respectively at phones4u / O2, the Pulse Mini and Pulse (Maxi?) are sold by T-Mobile for £79 / £99 and the ZTE Racer will set you back £99, again on 3.

The Orange San Francisco is an 'own-brand' version of the ZTE Blade. The San Francisco brings the Android OS to Orange's own-brand city-themed range for the first time, priced at £99 on prepay (plus a mandatory £10 topup) - putting it very much in the bargain basement section of Smartphone ownership.

Now, saving a few pounds can easily be a false economy if it comes at the expense of important aspects of the Smartphone experience (Pulse Mini - i'm looking at you here!) so is the San Francisco another 'miss' or an unexpected hit?

Read on to find out!

In the box

Predictably, the box contents cover 'what you need' rather than including any extra niceties! You can check out my unboxing video below, but in the box you'll find..
  • The handset itself, in a plastic bag with a thin plastic transit screen protector on
  • a 2GB microSD card (in the phone itself)
  • your prepay topup card
  • your SIM card
  • a 'read me first' quick start guide
  • a microUSB to USB cable
  • A 1250mAh battery
  • a 3.5mm headset
  • a very comprehensive paper user guide
  • a guide to what you can do on your san francisco 'once you're up and running'
  • a UK mains to USB plug
There is no carry case in the box, and no screen protector.

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Hardware - overview

Specifications are as follows...
  • Android 2.1 Eclair
  • Qualcomm MSM7227 600MHz processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • UMTS 900/2100 MHz
  • GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz
  • HSDPA (3G+)
  • 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus
  • 3.5" WVGA (800x480) OLED capacative touchscreen
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • FM radio
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • Digital compass
  • Light sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • 116mm / 56.5 mm / 11.8mm
  • 130g
  • 4 hours talktime (lol)
  • 9 days standby (lol)
Hardware - around the device

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Let me walk you around the device.

The front of the device is dominated by the 3.5" WVGA OLED screen. Above the screen sits the primary 'San Francisco' branding and below the screen sit the Home, Menu and Back buttons. The buttons are physical buttons (as opposed to capacitive touch buttons) with a very positive click and are backlit in white. The back button also has a green / red flashing backlight. The screen surround is shiny black and flows into the soft touch grey finish that covers the bulk of the device. The front also houses the proximity and light sensors.

The left of the device has a silver strip accent and the microUSB port (into which the microUSB cable goes 'upside down'). The right of the device also has a silver strip accent, the volume up / down buttons and the speaker.

The top of the phone has the power button (which again depresses with a positive click) and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The base of the phone is home to the battery release cutout and the microphone. The 3.2 megapixel camera is on the back cover, which removes in one piece and also includes the top of the device. There is a small Orange logo on the back.

The microSD slot is underneath the battery cover.

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Note: You can view full resolution versions of the device photography in my Flickr set.


The San Francisco is packing a fairly basic Android 2.1 Eclair build with some Orange customisations thrown in for good measure. You won't find a UI overlay in the style of HTC Sense or Sony Ericsson *scape here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing... the standard Android UI is pretty decent nowadays.

We'll talk more about the various applications that Orange have added / changed later in the review, but there is also one notable omission from the San Francisco - Google Talk. I'm not sure if this harks back to the bad old days when Orange used to pull MSN Messenger from Windows Mobile devices but it does seem rather strange.

In use

So far so good, but now the acid test... what's it like to use?

First the hardware.

When you buy a budget device you expect it to be cheap and plasticky. And in some ways the San Francisco is - there is obviously little metal in the construction and the entire device has a 'soft touch' plastic finish. That said, I really like it! It feels good in the hand, is noticeably lighter than my Nexus One / Desire but still feels like it's well made. While it doesn't feel as 'premium' as the aforementioned HTC devices, the exterior looks like it will wear better than the shiny all plastic finish of my Galaxy S. If you've ever held an Acer Liquid, you will have witnessed one of the worst examples of plastic construction ever - it twists, creaks and generally feels like it's going to fall apart. Not so on the San Francisco - if I hold one half in each hand and twist there is zero movement. This thing is SOLID.

So, the finish is decent and the weight is good (as is the size and general shape)... let's move onto what is arguably the devices 'pièce de résistance' - it's 3.5" WVGA AMOLED screen. Of course, to get a WVGA screen on a sub £100 device is impressive. At 3.5" and OLED it's nothing short of miraculous and the quality doesn't disappoint. While it gives away a little in crispness of it's whites to my OLED equipped Nexus One, the screen is still exceptional - coupled with the high resolution and good size it makes using the San Francisco a pleasure. The capacitive screen means that only the softest of touches is needed to elicit a response... although capacitive technology does mean it can't be used with gloves (a worthwhile tradeoff imho!)

Screen aside, the design is pretty well thought out. The top left wouldn't really by my first choice for a microUSB port (I prefer them on the bottom), but it's not a huge issue. The power button is sufficiently difficult to accidentally press but effective when you do (with a short vibrate from the device to tell you the press has been registered) and the volume rockers too have a nicely defined click. The 3 buttons on the front also have a decent action, although the fact they are completely flush with the case / screen makes them a little awkward to press instinctively... the positive side of this being that they are harder to press accidentally. The San Francisco is devoid of dedicated notification LEDs - the 'back' button flashes red and green for some notifications, although i've yet to work out the logic to this exactly! :lol: Having a 3.5mm jack (and on the top of the device too) is a real positive point, although with the stock headphones at least some users have reported the volume output as a little quieter than they'd have liked.

The microphone is positioned well and i'm glad to see a speaker that isn't on the back of the device, I could never understand the logic of designs where the speaker was covered when the device was sat a table. The speaker is loud and clear, providing decent music playback and also making the San Francisco a very good speakerphone. Call quality in general seems very good.

The San Francisco includes the full complement of technology... GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, Accelerometer, Digital Compass... gone (thankfully) are the days of compromising in these areas. I have found the GPS lock speed particularly impressive, Bluetooth has happily hooked up to my car and my wireless headphones and the WiFi hangs on to my Fritz!Box router with no problems at all. Interestingly, some users in the forum are noting problems with WiFi (and have had to swap units in store to get their WiFi working) - we'll keep an eye on this as it develops and flag here if it becomes a serious issue. The accelerator and compass performed as one would expect in our tests, with very good response times.

The San Francisco features proximity and light sensors, which I would normally class as premium features. The promixity sensor turns off the phone screen when you put it to your ear (and turns it on again when you take it away) and the light sensor can be used to auto adjust the brightness of the screen. Both features work very well, although strangely the auto brightness feature is disabled out of the box. Some devices I have seen with auto brightness change the level so frequently and bluntly that it's really not worthwhile, but the San Francisco implementation is very good.

So all good so far... where are the inevitable compromises on this budget device? Well, there are two really (aside from the somewhat cheap headphones included in the box), and the first one is the camera.

Put simply, if you're not in good light, the camera on the San Francisco is a waste of time. I've included some sample shots below, but imaging is definitely not the phones forté. That said, it depends on how important the camera is to you as to whether it's a showstopper. If the camera is bad, then the camcorder is pointless. Again, i've included some samples below, but the quality is SO poor that I can't see it every really being used in anger. There is a chance that ZTE may be able to up the recording bitrate in a future software update... we'll keep our fingers crossed.

The second compromise is the processor speed. In a world where lots of devices seem are shipping with 1GHz Snapdragon processors, the San Francisco makes do with a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM 7227. This is not a disgrace - the same CPU is employed by HTC in their 'Legend' Android phone - it just means that in general use the device is not quite as snappy as the Snapdragon equipped devices. It's a bit slower, but not unusably so.

If I had to sum up the hardware experience of the San Francisco, I would describe it as very good. The CPU speed is not an issue for the majority of users, the camera is the main weakness if that is important to you.

How about the software then?

ZTE / Orange have taken a very straightforward Android 2.1 build and attempted to strengthen a couple of it's weaker points, then loaded it up with a bunch of Orange crap. I'm not really a fan of 'operator customisations' (who is?) and the San Francisco hasn't done anything to change my mind.

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First of all - the good software tweaks.

The standard Android keyboard is OK - but not great - so I'm very pleased to see one of my favourite input methods, TouchPal, bundled on the device. TouchPal provides a very good qwerty as well as great 12 and 20 key layouts, hats off to ZTE / Orange on that one. Interestingly, fellow Chinese manufacturer Huawei also bundle TouchPal on device.

Another area of weakness IMHO in stock Android is the dialer. I LOVE the feature we see on Windows Mobile and now on HTC Android devices where you can 'predictive dial' people by name on the number pad... and thankfully ZTE have built this into the San Francisco. Somewhat bizarrely the UI is a virtual carbon copy of the HTC implementation but it works... so i'm grateful.

A fairly basic FM radio application is included and has something of an oddity in that you can only listen to it via the headphones. On most devices, if you have the headphones connected (to work as an antenna) you can configure the application to output the sound via the internal speaker. Not so on the San Francisco - it would be great to see this application improved in a future release. There is no RDS in the application.

The standard Android email application has been removed (Gmail still remains of course) and replaced by 'Orange Mail' which is a rebranded version of the excellent 'Seven' email software... allowing push mail of just about any email account including HoTMaiL, POP3 and IMA4 and many more.

A simple Task Manager is included, a useful addition.

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Now for the not so good software.

Orange have included their own App / Games / Ringtones stores (an attempt to monetize the platform in the light of no 'operator share' in Android Market earnings) and in another example of unnecessary duplication of existing functionality, Orange Maps is preloaded. Orange Maps - like Google Maps - uses offboard map storage (meaning a data connection is necessary) but unlike Google Maps it isn't free... in fact it's quite expensive. I can't see anyone using this (or the Orange stores).

Other additions include a replacement alarm clock application (which offers only a couple of extra features over and above the original), Orange Contacts Backup, Orange Photo Upload, Global Time (a somewhat counter-intuitive world time application), a Homescreen selector (Orange have included their own customised launcher but thankfully have also included the stock version), Orange Wednesdays and Your Account (both already available via the Android Market) and a very poor Weather application.

A few demo applications are included on the device, including 'Documents To Go' office viewers from DataViz and 'Guitar Hero 5' and 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' from Glu games.

Every cloud has a silver lining (apparently), and in this case it is the face that the Orange customisations are easily removed. This can be achieved either with some nifty file explorer work after rooting or by installing a custom ROM. I won't go into these options here, but suffice to say both are exceptionally easy, so don't be put off by the orangification of the device. B)

Summing up again the software on the device, I would say that it is solid (reliable - I've not had any crashes with the exception of the 'Sound Recorder' bug as yet and no real slowdowns) starting point. The beauty of Android is that you can very easily customise your device via the Android Market and the San Francisco makes an awesome blank canvas. It has bags of space, not too much pre-installed junk slowing it down and you can easily tailor it to your perfect device... providing you're not lusting after a comprehensive UI overlay like HTC Sense of course.

Note that the San Francisco has 512MB of RAM - this is very generous and on par with the highest spec devices... this helps prevent slowdowns as applications are less likely to be switched out of memory.

To view all 74 images in full, visit the Orange San Francisco Screenshots Flickr set.

White is right

If you watched my unboxing / overview above... you'll have noticed that the box is actually designed for either the grey San Francisco (as we have here) or the white model! Nothing is known about the availability (or indeed price) of the white model yet... but as a sucker for white devices, i'll be first in line when they come to market! :lol:

Battery life

Battery life for me is absolutely on par with my other devices - I generally eke a day of pretty decent use (push mail, browsing, tweeting etc.) out of the device. Off the charger in the morning, back on needing charge at bed time. Effectively, i've not found the San Francisco either great or horrible in the battery life stakes.

In conclusion

If you hadn't guessed already... i'm pretty comprehensively blown away by the San Francisco. Even ignoring it's price, this is a device that I would be happy to own and happy to carry around as my everyday phone (in fact i've been doing just that and i've rarely missed my more 'prestigious' devices). Factor in that this phone is just £99 and it is just incredible. This is £300 cheaper than a HTC Desire. Food for thought!

A new benchmark has been set and I can't WAIT to see what handset comes out that eclipses the San Francisco on price vs performance. I have a feeling that it won't happen for a while, such is the accomplishment here.

There are two things that concern me a little. The first is that Orange will see the huge success of the San Francisco and increase the price. While the phone would still be great value at double the price, that would be a real shame considering the extent of the achievement here. The second concern is that the San Franciscos will become very hard to buy... I hope Orange ordered a lot - these are going to sell by the truckload. :lol:

Paul's Orange San Francisco Pros and Cons

  • Price
  • Price
  • Price
  • Stunning screen
  • Lots of RAM
  • Full complement of specs
  • Near vanilla Android 'blank canvas'
  • Poor camera
  • 600MHz processor can't keep up with the latest Snapdragons (but it is good enough!)
  • Orange junk (albeit easily removed)
  • FM radio can only be played through headphones and not through the speaker

The San Francisco is available to buy from Orange Stores or via Orange online. Visit Quidco to potentially earn up to £12 cashback. NHS staff, local council staff and students may be eligible for discounts, call 0800 079 2000 for further information;

SIM unlocking

The San Francisco can be unlocked for only $4. Visit this topic for further details.



The San Francisco can be rooted using our Superboot image. Visit this topic for further details.


Peer comparison photos

From top - T-Mobile Pulse, HTC Hero, Orange San Francisco, HTC Wildfire, HTC Desire

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Have your say

Thanks for reading my review... i'd love to hear your thoughts! Whether you agree or disagree with what i've written, please reply below. B)

Sample camera pictures

Click on the images for the full size version, additional images to follow. You can find more user contributed pictures in this topic.

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Sample video

Videos to follow.

About the author

PaulOBrien's Photo
Paul O'Brien founded MoDaCo in 2002 as a site focused on Windows Smartphones and has grown it since then by concentrating on providing a friendly community for both experienced and beginner mobile enthusiasts.

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@ paul
after unlocking u had that no service problem???as in that unlock video.....
how did u rectify it????

use the orange card and do the phone 0800 bit , this will enable the card and does some registration trick with the phone.

if you just go straight in and use non orange sim and unlock code then the phone won't see just any sim.

p.s. you dont need to use the orange card after this proceedure. B)
    • 0
my first posting since getting my first Android phone ....

for Paul,

your superb review led me to the San Francisco and I am mightily impressed with it !
however I cannot find the Touchpal keyboard you mention in any of the apps ...
if anyone can help here itwould be appreciated.

and for those folk strugging to link it to PC, the following worked for me after some 'googling'

1. download and install to your PC the Android SDK kit from here:
2. then use the SDK manager included to download the USB drivers to PC
3. Now go to your Android phone. Open Settings. Touch Applications. Touch Development.
Tap USB debugging to enable it … Then back out to the home page.

4. Connect your phone to the PC via the appropriate USB cord.
Windows will open its New Hardware Wizard,
Check that you will tell Windows where to find files, and browse to the usb-driver folder.
OK will ungrey and if you click it, the correct drivers will at last, be loaded.

5. Now disconnect the phone, and repeat going to Settings>Applications>Development.
Tap the debugger again to disable it. Back out to the Home Screen.
Now connect your phone to the PC.
It will be recognized, but in order to see and manipulate the SD card files, there's one more step.

Pull down the little white bar at the top of the Android Phone screen.
You will see a Notification "USB connected".
Tap it and you will be given an option to Mount the phone. Touch Mount.

any File Manager (Windows Explorer, etc.) will then see your phone SD card as a separate drive.
You can copy, move delete, whatever.

hope this is of some help.
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Nov 19 2010 12:24 AM
First of all thanks to Paul for the review. Bought the phone last week and it really is as good as the review states. Rooted and flashed some themes and am really happy. Flying along quite nicely for now.

Just as a note on the last post, you don't need the drivers for Windows to recognise the SD card as it's own entity. Been using the phone from my PC with no drivers installed. Just carry out the very last step and pull down the notification bar, and choose "mount" for the SD card. It will now show on the Windows Explorer as a removable drive.
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... however I cannot find the Touchpal keyboard you mention in any of the apps ...
if anyone can help here itwould be appreciated.

If you tap and hold on any text box that you enter text into, you should get an "Edit text" popup appear with "Input method" as an option.
Tap "Input method" to choose your keyboard.

I only found this by accident playing around after finding you could tap and hold on items like that..
Hope that helps.
    • 0
Nov 19 2010 03:25 PM

Enjoy! :)


hey paul i so your video rotting the sf and i saw that you was rooting it on your computer not presing the volioum up button can you please tell me were can i get that pragram on my laptop B)
    • 0
Great Review, yes I'm waiting on the white one as well!
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Hello all!

I am almost certainly going to order one of these on Monday (sick to the back teeth with my INQ phone on 3, and in the last week of my contract). Been planning on moving to Android for some months now, and this seems almost too good do be true! Fantastic price (Aprox £99 and a £10 rolling contract from Tesco Mobile) with nothing else closer to the sprecs and revies of things like the Galaxy, and the Desires.

My main question is how does it handle 'smartphone' typical features. Is GPS as good as on a higher end phone, what about things like sensors all working as quickly as they should?
This may sound silly, but i hope you know what i mean!

My dad has a Galaxy S, so obvioulsy i'll feel a little annoyed if the Sf feels like a step backwards!
    • 0
Great review paul

im gonna definitely get this phone
great specs for the price. i was considering the htc wildfire but everything on the net says that this is better

although i use orange, im gonna debrand it and root it. all the orange apps i need i can download from orange world.
but the only thing im actually gonna download is the account app. its about the only handy app orange have made after wednesdays B)
    • 0
So what is generally thought of as the best sim only deal out there at the moment?

Calling up tmobile, or buying THIS from TescoMobile?
    • 0
Great review, got mine yesterday B)
Put clockwork and r4 rom on there too :) thought I'd messed it up a few times too lol

great phone for the money
    • 0
Ordered mine earlier in the week from play, everything lined up to unlock for vodafone straight away and load up the R4.

My HTC magic is getting on a bit now and my contract isnt up until Feb.

Plan is to either take out a sim only deal or upgrade and sell straight away, tbh I have been happy with the Magic so the SF should be perfect.

Some of these newer android phones are a little on the large side! Would rather have a dedicated Tab and a phone not something inbetween!
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this phone could replace my t-mobile pulse.

is the headphone jack better than the one of the pulse? static noises? is it louder?

kind regards
    • 0
Nov 29 2010 10:39 AM
Got one for my wife on advice from a different forum, which incidently pointed me here as another excellent android read.
So got on Friday for my wife, next day back to Orange where my tight with money son also snapped one up...Rooted my wifes one yesterday with your r4 custom Rom...Brilliant bit of kit.
Thanks for the forum
    • 0
I really want this phone! I found it on Play.com but they were sold out on the Grey version then removed it today, only the white one is available for pre-order, don't really want that one, far too Essex style, and could show up dirt.
Anywhere else that sells the grey version for just £99, possibly free £10 topup too?
    • 0

I really want this phone! I found it on Play.com but they were sold out on the Grey version then removed it today, only the white one is available for pre-order, don't really want that one, far too Essex style, and could show up dirt.
Anywhere else that sells the grey version for just £99, possibly free £10 topup too?


use code SUB613 to get 10% off

no idea when it'll be back in stock however
    • 0
I decided to get it straight from the Orange site, it comes with a free gift box also my dad says he can get the VAT taken off so it's more like £90 instead of £109, also able to choose a delivery date for free. I can't wait!
    • 0


use code SUB613 to get 10% off

no idea when it'll be back in stock however

Taken off prepaywizard.co.uk - ? what? are they not stocking it anymore.... :P
    • 0

Taken off prepaywizard.co.uk - ? what? are they not stocking it anymore.... :P

eh? that link still works and it's on the front page of Pre Pay Wizard (?)

I e-mailed them and they said Orange had trouble sourcing them.... they'd been told they'd get more Q1 of 2011, but are trying to get some before christmas
    • 0
Ohh and after reading the review i want one now :/
Sad thing that i do not live in UK

What bugs me is the camera and battery stand by, its so damn below of my standard.

Do you know that if you order a phone to another country not to UK, do they deliver it?
    • 0
Dec 02 2010 02:41 PM
I just got my SF for 119 pounds with a christmas gifts pack. I don't know why, but they didn't want to sell the 10 up top, so I had to get the 20 up top. However it still is a great price :P Thank you Paul for the review it really removed any doubts from my mind about that phone :D
    • 0
hey guys, can someone confirm to me if in the SF's original box, is written OLED ?
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Your review made me take the plunge and get my first Android device. So far I am very happy with the ZTE Blade.
I bought mine in store at £119 on the 29th Nov. They said I had to top up £20 but told them that on the online Orange store
you could get it with £10 top-up for £119 total. They then agreed to do it with the £10 top-up saving me a tenner on the in store price ;)
The xmas gift pack was not impressive tho, the outer cardboard packaging probably cost more than the contents :P

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EDIT: Moved to another topic.
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Getting my OSF on Monday! Looking forward to upgrading from my HTC Magic - the severe lack of RAM in it has been so frustrating, as it will often have to reload the home application after I quit an app ¬_¬ Was great getting the 15% discount and free gift box! :) Thanks for the review - definitely made my decision final!
    • 0
Well, so far all good with the handcent app for text improving he stock one - BUT do any of you guys know how to add your own words to your dictionary on the SF? I've asked Orange, no reply; asked them on Twitter (@orangehelpers) - still no reply. I've posted on here - no reply!

According to the manual, it's: "menu key > add" - pretty poor description; I don't know if the magic "add" option appears once u highlight the required word or what, cos it certainly ain't there just by pressing menu key - no-one seems to know, this is just crazy!
    • 0