We'll forgive plenty in a phone that costs a mere £99 on a pay as you go deal, especially if it's running Google's feature-packed operating system. But the San Francisco really tested our patience due to all the crud that Orange has covered Google's little green robot in. It's still a phone worth checking out, but you'll have to do some tidying up before it's at its best.
Dreamy capacitive screen
The San Francisco looks pretty good for the price. The buttons on the front are slightly wobbly and the chrome trim along the sides is naff, but it's slim and easy to hold, with a rubbery case.
The phone's 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen is its best hardware feature, offering good contrast and brightness. It's not quite as zippy and responsive as that of a more expensive smart phone with a faster processor, but it's still very usable. Websites are readable, and multi-touch support means zooming in and out is as easy as pinching your fingers together. The multi-touch functionality isn't as smooth as it can be on a high-end phone, but it's still decent, and a spectacular feature on a phone this cheap.
In our tests, battery life proved average for this kind of phone, lasting about a day and a half with normal use. The camera performs well for the price, taking decent snapshots in good light, despite packing only 3 megapixels. Starting up the camera and taking a shot can be a slow process, though. That's a reflection of the San Francisco's sluggish processor.
The best thing about the San Francisco is that Orange has slapped Android onto it. It runs version 2.1 of the operating system, which makes the San Francisco slightly behind the times, since a new 2.2 version is already out. But you won't , especially since it's unlikely that the San Francisco has the power to take advantage of 2.2's flagship feature, Flash Player 10.1 compatibility.
Google is packing more features into its mobile-phone software with each release. For example, Google Maps now offers maps and Street View photos of almost everywhere in the UK, so you'll never get lost again. There's even asat-nav mode that gives you free turn-by-turn driving or walking directions to your destination. The only downside is that Maps, and most of Google's services, require an Internet connection to work.
The San Francisco includes built-in Wi-Fi so you can surf the Web at home or at work. Otherwise, you'll have to look out for a tariff that doesn't have a dangerously low Internet cap. Even Orange's Dolphin plan, which it flogs as its 'free Internet' option for pay as you go customers, only allows 100MB of data per month. With the wonders of Android sucking down data at all hours, it can be easy to use that amount in a couple of weeks. At least the San Francisco makes it easy to keep track of your data use, by bombarding you with messages every time it wants to go online. The downside is that a phone like this is much more fun to use when you can surf without worrying about the cost.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, some users have spotted a bug that keeps their phones from automatically reconnecting to their wireless networks. In our tests, we had no trouble staying connected to our test Wi-Fi network, but it's something to watch out for. We hope that Orange will get stuck into fixing this bug sharpish.
There are a couple of Android apps that could help if you do have connection issues -- try searching the Android Market for 'Blade Wifi Fix'. In fact, the Android app store is your best source for hundreds of great apps and games with which to trick out the San Francisco. Check out our list of theto get you started.
Bay area bloatware
Like a new laptop that's caked with unwanted programs you have to spend the first hour uninstalling, Orange has put its mark all over the excellent Android 2.1 software on the San Francisco. It's a real pity, because, although a couple of Orange's apps are useful, like the Orange Wednesdays app that scores you two-for-one movie tickets, they're also ugly and potentially confusing.