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    Orange San Francisco review




    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

      <object width="853" height="505"><param name="movie" value="

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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)


        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.



        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.

        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.

        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'
        • Cons:

            [*]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



            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.

            sfsample1.jpg sfsample2.jpg sfsample3.jpg sfsample4.jpg

            sfsample5.jpg sfsample6.jpg sfsample7.jpg

            Sample video

            Videos to follow.

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    I guess my only question would be regarding the lack of directional controls - i find i use them a fair bit on my i5700 but i'm assuming that multitouch compensates for it in the browser, how about text editing? If you want to go back, does it work in a similar way to the iphone? Or is there a way to get it to? Because i find it incredibly difficult to get the cursor in the right place using my finger, which will be in the way.

    Thanks! Very close to sticking the Spica (with stock 1.5, damn no Linux support) up on ebay in favor of one of these!

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    I guess my only question would be regarding the lack of directional controls - i find i use them a fair bit on my i5700 but i'm assuming that multitouch compensates for it in the browser, how about text editing? If you want to go back, does it work in a similar way to the iphone? Or is there a way to get it to? Because i find it incredibly difficult to get the cursor in the right place using my finger, which will be in the way.

    Thanks! Very close to sticking the Spica (with stock 1.5, damn no Linux support) up on ebay in favor of one of these!

    It's a bit cumbersome, but in the bundled TouchPal keyboard you can long press the button to to left of the space bar (the one with a pen and a dot on it) to bring up directional keys (among other keys). I'm a bit annoyed by this, as I'm used to the trackball on my old phone (HTC Dream), but at least I don't have to tap like five times every time I want to place the cursor exactly where I need it to edit text.

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    How long is everyones device taking to charge from empty? Myns 3hrs and the whole phone gets a bit warm for the 1st part of charging then cools down towards the end. Just wondering if thats normal?

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    Excellent review, has pushed me over the edge to buying one of these. Just one question (and an important one for me) - what is the "'Sound Recorder' bug"?

    EDIT: Never mind, watched the video again and saw it. Thanks.

    Edited by Squidy

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    I should be unwrapping my ZTE Blade today, and am rather excited ;o)

    But is the educated opinion that Android 2.2 will be made to work on this phone?

    Or might there be some reason not, and that is why the price is so low?

    Thanks ;o)

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    Theres a 2.2 Chinese ZTE Blade Rom floating about already, not ready for general use though. I'm sure it will be hacked on eventually, may even see an official update who knows?

    Just got my blade today, cracking device, amazing for the price. Just contemplating whether to try and flash the custom rom, definitely recommend though, actually prefer it to my HTC hero already.

    Things I've noticed.

    Multitouch implementation is smoother than my hero

    Speaker is seriously loud! Even has a touch of bass!

    Good web browsing speeds over wifi.

    Screen is amazing.

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    Good review - I took the plunge and upgraded from my Nokia N86. Before that I had the HTC Touch HD.

    The screen is amazing for the price - as good as my Touch HD in my opinion.

    As is the speed. Compared to both it wins hands down. I was looking at upgrading next month to the Desire Z but I may stick with this for a few months to see how I get on. It can always become the fiance's phone when I do upgrade.

    As discussed before, the buttons on the side and front show you that it's a cut price phone but the screed, speed and specs say otherwise.

    Now all I need is a screen protector and rubber case for it.

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    Anyone worked out what the back button light flashes does

    When charging its red/green when charged

    Other times when not charging it flashes red for no obvious reason ?


    I've put it down to being a warning of "no signal"

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    How long is everyones device taking to charge from empty? Myns 3hrs and the whole phone gets a bit warm for the 1st part of charging then cools down towards the end. Just wondering if thats normal?

    I reckon mine was fully charged in under 2 hours (yesterday, first charge...using "mains", not PC)

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    SF by a country mile because of EVERYTHING. :)


    Seriously? Even in light of the recent Android OS upgrade of the LG GT540 from 1.6 to 2.1?

    Forgive my newbie nature, but is it the hardware or the software of the Orange San Francisco that makes it much better than the LG GT540? I'm seriously considering ditching my LG GT540 as her sluggish nature is causing my to bang my head against a brick wall - constantly.

    The truth is I'm rather impatient and when I press a button or slide my finger I want her to respond instantly. My LG GT540 apparently doesn't care for my impatience and instead she prefers to irritate me by lagging.

    How responsive do you find the San Fran? Does she respond when you want her to, or does she make you wait? I hate waiting.

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    The resistive screen on the LG is pretty weak... the SF screen is gorgeous. That alone would be enough to sell it to me. :)

    The SF isn't as responsive as my Desire or Nexus One, but I don't find it frustrating to use.


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    The SF isn't as responsive as my Desire or Nexus One, but I don't find it frustrating to use.

    Is she laggy though?

    Another thing, how is typing on her? I find typing on the LG GT540 incredibly frustrating. It's not like I have fat fingers or anything. It's a chore and a half just to send a short text. How do you find the San Fran?

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    I find typing fine, in par with other devices, there's so many keyboards in the market now, i'm surprised you've not found one you liked.

    A capacitive screen will help a lot with the typing experience in fairness.


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    Hi people,

    My first time posting on here and I just want to get some thoughts on the phone by users if that's okay. Would this phone be good for a first smart phone? I have a Samsung Jet I did like it until Samsung decided to leave the Jet behind and stop doing apps for it. Is the camera really bad indoors/night time? And I heard that there's a hissing sound with the music on the speaker and earphones is that with all the phones or just a random fault?


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    It would appear that this phone is only available for purchase directly from Orange, either through their direct sales channel (phone / web) or from Orange Retail stores. Is that right?

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    I think so, its a orange exclusive phone.

    Got mine this morning, unlocked it. lovely little phone, flogged my wildfire to get this. The wildfire is ok but the screen is too small, this has a better screen and 512mb ram rather than 384mb the wildfire has.

    Nice review paul, these will sell themselves. The guy in the hull orange store even said these phones are creating quite a stir.

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    Thanks for the great review, I bought one as a iPhone replacement for my mrs (she lost hers with no insurance)

    Would slightly disagree with usb port loaction also, as i find ports on the bottom get clogged with trouser pocket fur etc, but as this will be in a the ladies hand bag i guess it dont matter!

    I got mine from orange for £88.99 - i had a payg orange sim laying around, registered it, called orange went to sales team, said i was payg existing customer so i did not need the mandatory sim and £10 topup so they gave me the discount! When I got the phone, it said £30 free payg credit if you port your number to orange. It even came with a orange 3g sim anyway, even though i didnt need it as i unlocked mine from ebay for £1.50. im a android noob but so far love it bcos of this phone, although we are getting wifi issues atm and whilst i have got mms working, i cant get 3g internet working on o2? anyway will play later! :)

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    • I too have received a reply from tesco to my Emails. Here is that exchange. I feel we need a converted campaign here.     Dear Mr Phillips Thank you for your patience while I contacted our Technical Support team and asked them for an update advising what action they would be taking with our support for the Hudl Tablet. Unfortunately, the Android operating system that Hudl runs on is no longer supported by Google and although we have previously been able to temporarily resolve this issue, we are unable to do this again.  Without the necessary updates the device and its apps cannot be appropriately protected with the latest security software. I can understand how frustrating this is for you and so say sorry for the disappointment I have now requested for a £20.00 Digital Moneycard to be sent to your email address this morning with my best wishes. Kind regards, Fiona Kitching Customer Service Specialist On behalf of the Chief Executive’s Office Tel: 0800 072 6685     Dear Ms.Kitching,   This is not a question of security updates not being available. It is a common occurance that devices are not upgradeable to newer android versions and no longer are provided with updates.   It is not a common ocurance for suppliers to  make devices unusable in such a malicious manner.   I see no reason why you cannot provide users with a last update to a stock android version that has no connection to tesco servers and does not contain any tesco applications.   How many Hudls did you sell to the public, that you have effectivily bricked by turning off a server that you have deliberately made those hudls dependent on.    The deliberate consignment of many (hundreds of) thousands of perfectly good hudls to the immense scrap heap of electronic goods does not reflect well on tesco as a company.   I feel a concerted media campaign by disaffected hudl users in the making. I shall be joining that concerted effort to achieve a solution to this tesco problem.   Kind regards, Owain Phillips BSc Computer Systems Engineering Warwick University Hide quoted text       On Mon, 3 Aug 2020, 08:36 , <[email protected]> wrote:    
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    • Hi, If I've read it right, it looks from Wardrin's Tesco response as though they are trying to pass the buck to Google for failing to support earlier versions of Android, and using potential security issues as an excuse to duck out of their responsibilities....  This really doesn't wash - if you took their reasoning to its logical conclusion, all versions of Android no longer 'supported' by Google would be considered null and void, and it wouldn't be possible to use, let alone reinstall firmware for,  any Android device running OS versions released before this point. We know this isn't true - there will be literally millions of android tablets and phones still in regular use with early Android versions. The responsibility for any security issues with these earlier versions lies squarely with the user, so there is no justification for Tesco withholding a 'clean' update to Android 4.2.2 for HUDL1s and appropriate HUDL2s without the obligatory Tesco server visit for bloatware installation. All it would require on Tesco's part to rid themselves of the HUDL 'curse' (as I'm sure they will see it) for good would be to commission a small investment in IT time from their 3rd party providers to re-package the existing update on the existing server. They could then publicise the need to download the update within a certain time before closing the server down permanently (I think 3-6 months would be reasonable).  Sadly, I feel a media campaign coming on again.....will they never learn ? Viv
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