Orange San Francisco 2 £99.99
13th Jan 2012 | 15:47
Can Orange replicate the success of its budget San Francisco?
Overview, design and feel
When we reviewed the original Orange San Francisco, little did we know that the handset that wowed us for its great capabilities at a low cost would become the benchmark for other low-cost smartphones to emulate throughout 2011.
Now we're firmly in 2012 and Orange's follow up, the San Francisco 2, has popped into our hands. Its name might sound dull, but does the handset have what it takes to be a worthy follow-up?
The Orange San Francisco 2 can be yours for as little as £10.50 a month on a 24 month contract o£99.99 on Pay As You Go. (The original San Francisco is still available at £89.99).
The extra £10 for the updated Orange San Francisco 2 model gets you some updated specs, but to be honest, the updates might not wow you, because the original was so very good.
So, replacing the original's Android 2.1 we now have Android 2.3. The Qualcomm 600 MHz processor of the Orange San Francisco has been upped to an 800MHz option, and the camera can shoot still photos at 5 megapixles, up from 3.1MP.
There's 512MB of RAM, which isn't a huge amount, and the same as that of the original, although internal storage has been bumped up from 150MB to 512MB.
The screen hasn't changed size or resolution, it's still a 3.5-inch panel and it still delivers at 480 x 800 pixels. Really, we didn't expect a higher resolution in a budget smartphone, and this is another testament to how far ahead of the game the original San Francisco was rather than how behind the times the follow up is.
Of course you've got Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and HSDPA on board, and, as we'll see later, Orange has skinned the handset within an inch of its life.
The screen size is a clue that overall this is a fairly pocket friendly phone. It measures 117 x 58.5 x 10.6mm and weighs 120g. It is a shade lighter than the 130g original San Francisco and ever so slightly different from the original's dimensions of 116 x 56.5 x 11.8mm. The real difference is in the build materials and general look.
The chassis is all plastic and makes no bones about being so. The shiny backplate is a finger-smear danger zone, and the upper and lower curved edges have a Sony Ericsson-ish look about them.
The top edge houses a tiny on/off button and headset slot, the bottom is clear apart from a tiny notch for removing the backplate. On the left there's the microUSB connector, and on the right a teeny volume slider.
Three (non-backlit) buttons beneath the screen give you Menu, Home and Back functions, and there's a front-facing VGA camera (absent from the original). The speaker adds a flash of silver to the black chassis of our review sample. Watch out for a white version of the handset too.
One of the things we really liked about the original San Francisco was its solid, impressive build - great for a budget phone. Those values are gone on the Orange San Francisco 2, which is a pity. And it's not because Orange has changed manufacturer - the San Francisco 2 is made by ZTE just as the original San Francisco was.
The upshot of all this is that the Orange San Francisco 2 doesn't immediately grab our attention as its predecessor did.
Orange just loves putting its own skin onto Android, and as we said earlier it has skinned the Orange San Francisco 2 within an inch of its life.
Unfortunately Orange doesn't seem to understand how to do skinning well. The default wallpaper is dour, and we aren't fans of Orange's icon design either. Yes they use the orange colour, but they just look staid and old-fashioned.
On the main home page, Orange drops a clock with a handy alarm icon. Tap that and you can immediately set up an alarm. It's great for those of us who like to use our phone to wake us up in the morning - and the Quick Snooze feature enables you to configure how long you want your lie in to be.
Move around the five home screens and you come across more Orange efforts in the shape of widgets. We have to admit here that Orange has often done a nice job. Take the Orange San Francisco 2's Gallery widget, for example. It has nice large thumbnails of your shots, plus a quick share option and a link into the camera.
When it comes to personalising things, Orange has separated its own widgets from the Android ones. We like this because there's some duplication of functions, and the separation could save Android newcomers from some confusion.
Each home screen has a bar of four shortcuts running along the bottom edge. These take you to the main apps menu, messages, the dialler and contacts. Tap and hold on this bar for a screen that shows all the home screens in thumbnail view, making it easy to get around.
Contacts and calling
Unlike more sophisticated Android handsets, the Orange San Francisco 2 doesn't offer to automatically pull in your Facebook or Twitter chums into its contacts app. In fact, the accounts you can add to the system are rather a miserly bunch - corporate, Yahoo!, Work, Windows Live Hotmail and Google.
In fact, Orange hasn't bothered to install any apps for Twitter or Facebook. Getting something from the Android Market is no bother, but it is odd that Orange offers no help in this respect.
With that situation, you're left to draw contacts in from your Google account, SIM or an SD card, or add them manually.
The usual import/export option works well for SIM-based contacts - you'll find it on the menu in the Contacts app itself.
Alternatively you can really go to town and enter contacts manually. There's scope for plenty of data to be added, including multiple phone numbers and email addresses, of course.
The Orange San Francisco 2's dialler supports full smart dialling. Just start tapping in either a name or number and matches are shown on the screen. Rather nicely, the letters/numbers you type are highlighted in red.
Calls themselves we found to be fine in terms of quality. The Orange San Francisco II incorporates HD Voice, which helps to improve call quality – but only if you are placing a call to another Orange handset that also supports it, and we didn't do that too often during testing.
The usual Android in-call screen makes it easy to add additional people to a call, use the loudspeaker, mute calls and, of course, end a call.
There are plenty of messaging options on the Orange San Francisco 2, and prime among these for some people will be mobile email. You can set up accounts using a range of different presets, or add the date for account types that aren't covered from scratch.
If SMS is more your thing, then the Orange messaging widget might appeal. It takes up half a screen, but gives you a good view of incoming text messages and a shortcut through to writing your own.
In addition, incoming text messages are shows as alerts on the Orange San Francisco 2's notifications bar, and if you pull the bar down you can read the full message. Tapping the message then takes you to the editor where you can craft your response.
To compose your own messages, whether SMS or email, you'll need to use the on-screen QWERTY keyboards in portrait and landscape mode. There's a smart dialling system that helps you enter phone numbers to send your SMS to - just start tapping away in the To box and it kicks in.
The keyboards themselves are a bit squished into the 3.5-inch screen, and you'll need especially nimble and small fingers to work efficiently in portrait mode. However, the predictive text system helps a little with achieving speedy text entry.
When you switch to landscape screen mode you've got a bigger keyboard area to type with, but you can't see as much of the text you type - or any of the message you're replying to.
We've a couple of other gripes. The Orange San Francisco 2's touchscreen isn't overly responsive to key taps - we felt we had to consciously press each key to make contact, and this slowed our typing down somewhat. Orange has implemented a Swype type text entry system too, and you may prefer this dragging system to prodding at letters.
The keyboard itself is rather rudimentary in use, with no long presses for secondary characters. Instead you have to hit the '123' key for a range of alternate characters.
Now, the Orange San Francisco 2 is a budget Android smartphone, so we can't expect the Earth. But we felt let down by the somewhat lacklustre touchscreen and rudimentary keyboard.
The Wi-Fi and HSDPA 3G internet capability in the Orange San Francisco 2 are nothing special as far as Android smartphones go, but they do mean this is a handset you can use for web browsing.
Be warned, though, that the small screen can make this a bit of a chore, and if you're a fan of watching embedded video then forget it. The Orange San Francisco 2 doesn't have Flash support, although with Adobe planning to stop support for mobile Flash, this is soon to be a standard spec.
Web pages don't download all that fast. Working over Wi-Fi it took a full 39 seconds to load the complete TechRadar home page. The Orange San Francisco 2's small screen means you'll need to start zooming in to read most web pages, too.
A double tap zooms you in to the point where reading is usually possible, and text reflows nicely so that all you need to do is vertical scrolling.
However, if you zoom in further, using a pinching action, reflow goes out the window. You have to use the zoom bar that pops up on the phone's screen to retain text reflow, which you can do to a high level.
You can have multiple windows open at once, and switching between them is a simple matter of using the Menu button. But visually, the windows layout feels stale. No thumbnails here, just a boring old list of web pages.
The browser itself isn't the fastest thing under the fingers, and zooming action is more jerky than silky smooth.
But the high resolution screen, at 480 x 800 pixels, is the saving grace of the Orange San Francisco 2 in web browsing terms. Text and images are clear, crisp and sharp.
The Orange San Francisco 2 actually has two cameras, which is quite a coup for a budget smartphone. The one on the front is up to shooting VGA pictures, which might be useful if you like taking shots of your own face.
The main camera has a dinky little flash that's not up to much of anything, and it shoots 5MP stills. Camera controls are on small touchscreen icons to the left of the main panel, so they're easy to get to and use.
The Orange San Francisco 2's range of shooting modes isn't vast, but considering the low cost of this handset, the phone's camera is a reasonably good performer.
The scene modes run to the usual black and white, sepia and negative, and there are auto white balance settings for incandescent, daylight, fluorescent and cloudy conditions, but not really many settings to twiddle with.
AUTO FOCUS:The camera did fairly well indoors in well-lit conditions without the flash, and the auto focusing in this sample shot shows that it has a fairly good grasp of what it is doing.
INDOOR:In less well-lit indoor conditions the camera still did its best, and this photo was taken at a level of ambient lighting that can cause problems for mobile phone cameras.
DULL OUTSIDE:Whenever we took the camera outside, we weren't blessed with great weather conditions. And this photo, taken on a dull stormy day, really does struggle with light levels.
LOW LIGHT:Light levels are a problem again in this outdoor shot, with the ground lacking definition and colour depth.
BLACK AND WHITE:Moving in to black and white mode the camera again has difficulty, because the vast expanse of sky means it can't let enough light in to deal with the low level detail.
SEPIA: When pushed into sepia mode the camera performs a little better.
NEGATIVE MODE:When we move to negative mode, the Orange San Francisco 2's camera makes a nice job of the cloud scene, producing a rather eerie result.
Just as with the stills camera, outdoor movie shooting needs good ambient light if the Orange San Francisco 2's video camera is to perform well.
Our video of a moving train is sharp and clear - this was taken on a bright day. On a dull, rainy day, though, the camera struggles to capture enough light to take a photo. And, because the lens sits flat on the backplate rather than being recessed, we found it often got splattered with rain, producing shots we couldn't use.
There's an FM radio on board the Orange San Francisco 2, and this has a rather nice look and feel that's certainly an improvement over that of the radio on the original Orange San Francisco.
There are 10 presets you can save on the main screen, and then you just jump between them with simple screen taps.
However, there's no auto tuning, no RDS and no way to edit channel information, so you can't rename the frequencies to remind yourself what channel each represents.
In addition, just as with the original Orange San Francisco, we couldn't find a way to play music through the loudspeaker. And the sleep timer from the original Orange San Francisco has gone, which is disappointing.
The music player is basic to the point of boredom. Oh, it plays tunes reasonably well, and can manage playlists, shuffle tracks and set tunes as ringtones.
But it didn't manage to pick up album art from the SD card on which our sample music sat, and there's no equaliser for you to fiddle with sound quality.
Orange provides a reasonably good pair of headphones, although they are the flat in-ear type that are often the least comfortable to wear. There's an inline pause button on the headphones, but no forward or back option.
The handset speaker has high volume, but crank it up and the sound quality breaks up rather too much for our tastes.
Video playback support runs to MP4, H.264 and H.263, and we were pleasantly surprised at the way the handset coped with our samples. Playback wasn't jerky, colour rendition was good, if a little on the dark side, and sound quality, provided we didn't push the speaker to full volume, was fine.
If you want more video, there's the standard Android YouTube client on offer.
It's nice that Orange provides a 2GB microSD card, particularly since right out of the box our review sample was only able to offer 130MB of storage.
You might guess from this that media playback isn't a high priority for this phone, but at least there's no faffing to get music on and off the handset. It drops into USB storage mode nicely, and you can just drag and drop files across to your computer.
Battery, connectivity and apps
The Orange San Francisco 2 is equipped with a 1200mAh battery, and that's about what's to be expected from a budget smartphone.
Orange says you'll get 250 hours on standby and 280 minutes of talk from it, but of course, we all use our phones for a lot more than chatter. We got about a day and a half from each full recharge we did while testing the Android smartphone, with a fairly frugal usage pattern, involving minimal 3G data browsing while on the move.
Higher-end connectivity such as DLNA and HDMI are absent, but then you wouldn't expect to see them in a budget smartphone such as this, would you?
The basics are present and correct on the Orange San Francisco 2, though, with Wi-Fi and A-GPS both here. You can use the handset as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, and Bluetooth is also on board.
Mapping is catered for by both Google Maps and Orange's own Maps application. Google Maps is so good that we can't really see why Orange still bothers developing its own offering, and since Orange Maps refused to run for us, it rather shot itself in the foot by not letting us experiment with it.
Orange includes its nifty Orange Wednesdays app on the Orange San Francisco 2, as well as its own weather app and a Wi-Fi app that can help you find local hotspots.
There's also an Orange app store and an Orange games store to buy further apps, in addition to the Android market.
The rather excellent Signal Boost app is included on this budget model - likely to entice a LOT of people that suffer from poor signal who can simply connect to their Wi-Fi to enjoy perfect signal in their homestead.
Orange also adds a Gestures app so that you can use screen gestures to unlock the handset or run specific applications.
Add in other extras such as a Tetris game, stopwatch, Documents to Go for viewing but not editing Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF Documents and you have an eclectic mix that can be easily augmented further from the Android Market.
We really, really liked the original Orange San Francisco, and it became out benchmark for budget mobile phones throughout 2011. We thought the Orange San Francisco 2 might become the one to beat in 2012. But having spent time with this sequel, we aren't so sure.
Budget smartphones such as the HTC Wildfire S, Samsung Galaxy Y, BlackBerry Curve 9300Huawei Blaze and Motorola Atrix 2 have proliferated over the last year, and to lead the pack a phone has to be really special. The Orange San Francisco 2 does move things on from its predecessor, but not hugely, so it doesn't sit head and shoulders above the rest as the original Orange San Francisco did.
The touchscreen is sharp and clear - 480 x 800 pixels in a 3.5-inch screen are bound to deliver well.
Battery life is pretty good, although as ever we temper that comment with the fact that your own pattern of use might drain it relatively quickly.
We wanted the Orange San Francisco 2 to be more of an upgrade than it is, so we feel a bit let down overall.
The build isn't as great as we'd have liked. The Orange San Francisco 2's shiny black plastic is so-so, although we haven't seen the white version, so that may be a nicer-looking handset.
The absence of Twitter and Facebook clients and the lack of integration of their contacts is a big chasm in functionality.
The Orange San Francisco 2's touchscreen feels a little unresponsive to us, especially when entering text.
Small, neat and affordable, the Orange San Francisco 2 is far from being a bad buy. But Orange set the bar very high with the original San Francisco, and this follow up just doesn't represent a giant leap forward.
That's got to be good news for the competition, whose budget Android handsets have been overshadowed by the Orange San Francisco for many months. So come on, everyone, the field is now wide open.