Orange San Francisco II review -

4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati, 2/2/2012 3:14:08 PM

8out of 10
Performance
8 out of 5
Look and feel
8 out of 5
Ease of use
8 out of 5
Features
7 out of 5
Battery life
Pros:

A Gingerbread Android for less than £100, with good build quality

Cons:

Only 512MB of shared storage, but a microSD card will sort that out

Just over a year ago, Orange launched the San Francisco, a budget Android smartphone for the princely sum of £99 on pay-as-you-go. The 'droid community went mad for it and it won a clutch of shiny things including our very own gong for Best Value Phone in the 2011 Mobile Choice Awards. So it feels a bit like Groundhog Day as Orange has just unveiled the San Francisco II for exactly the same price tag.  But is it The Godfather II or The Phantom Menace?  We put the San Francisco II through its paces to find out.

Soft key switch

Orange has stuck with Chinese manufacturer ZTE for the San Francisco II, this being a rebadged Blade S.  Side by side, the handsets are the same size – give or take a millimetre – with the new version measuring in at 117x58.5x10.6mm. They've shaved 10g off the weight too, the new model coming in at 120g and the chassis layout is identical – power button and 3.5mm jack on top, volume rocker on the right and a Micro USB slot on the left.

The matt, rubberised case has been abandoned with the favoured black high-gloss finish bringing the San Francisco II back in line with the rest of Orange's range of fingerprint magnets. The chrome accents have gone too, which actually makes the San Fran II look more sleek and worthy of more than its meagre price.  Beneath the 3.5-inch screen, the three standard Android soft keys have been given a raised profile so they're more user-friendly. If you're a first time user, you'll be more than happy but if you upgrade from the original San Fran, expect initial frustration as they've swapped the Home and Menu keys around.

Bang for your buck

Your £100 is going to buy you an 800MHz processor with 512 MB of internal storage and a 480x800 pixel TFT display running Android Gingerbread.  As with its predecessor, connectivity is first-class whether you're using Wi-Fi, 3G (HSDPA/HSUPA), GPRS, Edge or Bluetooth. The camera on the rear has been increased from 3.2 to five megapixels and they've even added an LED flash. It's not the best available but it's commendable for this price.  They've even added a second camera around the front for video calling. The display is sharp and responsive but lacks some of the vibrancy of the original San Fran's AMOLED screen when you see them alongside each other.

As far as the OS is concerned, we've no problems with Gingerbread at all.  It bounds along nicely with no glitches and there are more than enough apps in the Android Market to keep you happy. With only 512MB of storage space you'll need a microSD card as history has shown with the San Fran it won't be enough. While Orange should be applauded for the pricing of this handset, they lose points for the sheer amount of modifications they make to the OS.  Some of it like the Launcher is easily swapped for vanilla alternatives but when you start filling up the memory, you'll wish there was less bloatware.

Conclusion

The Orange San Francisco II is a budget handset.  We say that because you need to keep reminding yourself.  Orange (or ZTE) has taken the impeccable original and improved it within certain financial constraints. It's not dual-core and doesn’t pack a Retina display, but you're getting change from £100 SIM-free.  Expect to hear a lot more about the San Francisco II, especially around awards season.

Michael Wilson