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Orange San Francisco 2 review: Orange San Francisco 2

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Not everyone is looking to spend half a grand on the latest smart phone. Many of you simply want a functional phone for a good price and spend all that saved cash on new scatter cushions or soap.

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8.3

Orange San Francisco 2

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Simple operation; Android features; Decent screen; Pleasant design.

The Bad

Poor processor; User interface looks ugly; microSD card slot is stuck inside phone.

The Bottom Line

The Orange San Francisco 2 offers a decent screen, pleasing design and a simple user experience that belies its low price.

If you are so inclined, the Orange San Francisco 2 won't break the bank and offers a decent screen with a simple interface.

It's available now for free on contracts starting at £10.50.

Should I buy the Orange San Francisco 2?

Rather than offer the biggest, brightest screen, the fastest processor and the very latest software, the San Francisco 2 strips back the bling to offer a serving of Android 2.3 Gingerbread to those who don't want to spend top dollar on a high-end smart phone.

Gingerbread may not be the latest version of the Android operating system, but it offers great functionality. Orange has applied a bunch of tweaks to make it straightforward to use. It may not be the best-looking customisation we've ever seen, but it won't leave you with a headache from trying to figure out where your apps are.

The 3.5-inch screen doesn't have the best resolution we've ever seen, but it's bright and handles colours well so photos and YouTube clips will look as good as they can. The processor inside has enough grunt to tackle the essential functions and keep the phone ticking along without too much delay.

You also get a 5-megapixel camera on the back that produces adequate photos. You're not going to replace your dSLR snapper with it, but for capturing the odd hilarious moment, it'll do fine. There's a front-facing camera too for video calling.

With its decent screen, simple operation and cheap price, the Orange San Francisco 2 is a great choice for a smart phone beginner wanting to experience the Android world without decimating their children's inheritance fund.

Design and build quality

In the looks department, the San Francisco 2 is an improvement over the original San Francisco. Gone is the somewhat naff chrome trim and rubbery casing, to be replaced by rather sleek shiny black plastic.

ZTE -- the company that makes this phone, as well as the original San Francisco and various other handsets for Orange -- has clearly been taking style tips from Sony Ericsson. The curved top and bottom, as well as the three curved buttons below the screen, look very reminiscent of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo or even -- if you really squint -- the Xperia Arc.

Orange San Francisco 2 front

There's a definite Xperia style to the new San Francisco and we rather like it.

They're not identical, but you could probably trick someone into thinking you have a much more expensive phone than what you paid, so long as you don't give them a close-up view.

A 3.5-inch screen takes up much of the front of the phone, with the three buttons beneath it. Around the back, things appear less premium; there's a rather cheap-looking expanse of plain, shiny black plastic. It's a shame that Orange hasn't done anything to jazz it up -- even a random pattern in the middle would have given it a little more interest.

Around the edges you'll find a volume rocker switch, a power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer.

Orange San Francisco 2 back

With its big expanse of plain black plastic, the back doesn't have the premium feel of the front.

Budget phones have a tendency to feel very cheap and flimsy but the San Francisco 2 offers a much nicer feel. The plastic casing offers little flex when we squeeze it and the physical buttons feel firm and secure. With a weight of 120g, it's reassuringly sturdy, without making it seem as though you're carrying a lead weight in your pocket.

At 117mm long and 58mm wide, it sits snugly in your hand and you won't struggle to slide it into your pocket, given its 10mm width.

Orange San Francisco 2 size

The San Francisco 2 will easily slide into a tight jean pocket or nestle in a tiny bag.

It accepts microSD cards, which is welcome as you only get 512MB of internal storage. Annoyingly, the card slot is housed inside the casing, which you'll have to remove every time you want to swap out a full card.

Screen

The San Francisco 2's screen measures 3.5-inches on the diagonal, so it's not going to be as easy to browse the web or watch videos on as smart phone goliaths like the HTC Titan or Samsung Galaxy Note. However, it's got plenty of room to show off the essentials and still let you enjoy some app fun.

The 800x480-pixel resolution isn't huge, so be prepared to do quite a lot of scrolling around web pages to see everything. Due to a pixel density of 267 pixels per inch -- which is up there with more expensive phones like the Motorola Razr -- icons and small text were reasonably sharp so you needn't worry about squinting too much. It knocks the similarly priced Huawei Blaze's 180ppi out of the park.

The screen is pretty bright and delivers rich, vibrant colours, which is really great to see on a budget phone. It will make looking at photos or checking out the latest YouTube clips a treat.

It's a capacitive touchscreen so you'll have to run those cake-covered fingers all over it to make it work. It's pretty responsive and accurate so you'll have no problems in swiping around.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread

The San Francisco 2 comes loaded with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It's not the most recent Android phone operating system -- that title goes to Ice Cream Sandwich -- but it's the latest version of Gingerbread and we're impressed to see it packed into such a budget handset.

Like many companies, Orange has put its own skin on Android. It's full of Orange's grey and orange colour palette, which makes everything a little drab. Be sure to put a cheerful wallpaper on it to lift its spirits.

As a Gingerbread device, you get five home screens for you to fill up with apps, widgets showing live information, or shortcuts to folders and web pages. Adding an icon to a home screen simply involves pressing and holding on the screen and selecting from a menu the icon you'd like to put down.

Orange San Francisco screen

The interface is simple, but the orange and grey colour scheme is a little dull.

There's a bunch of live widgets available on Android Market. The Facebook widget updates with your friends' statuses so you don't need to open the dedicated app to see what's going on.

Any apps you don't want cluttering up your home screen will be kept in various pages of apps, accessible by a quick button on the bottom of the screen. There are other buttons too: one for apps, one to open your text messages, one to make calls and one to take you to your contacts. Those buttons are visible regardless of which home screen you're currently looking at so you'll always have quick access to the most important functions.

The three physical buttons below the screen are to help you navigate around the phone. One opens a quick menu, one takes you back a step in whatever you're doing and the middle button brings you back to your home screen when you're in an app or menu.

As an Android phone, you get full access to the hundreds of thousands of apps and games in Android Market so you can join the ranks of all the other Angry Birds and Plants Vs Zombies players across the globe.

Orange San Francisco widgets

When you press and hold on a home screen, this simple menu pops up, allowing you to place widgets or shortcuts.

You also get a whole host of Google's treats including Maps and Navigation, which gives you turn-by-turn driving directions. That's great news if you often find yourself hopelessly lost.

Orange's attempts to customise the Android 2.3 Gingerbread experience aren't exactly ambitious -- and it's not the most visually appealing look we've ever seen -- but it suits this budget phone well and will appeal to someone who's looking for a more simplistic, fuss-free experience.

Performance

Under the hood of the San Francisco 2 is an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM. That's not enough power to bother the smart phone dual-core powerhouses, but it's an admirable amount for such a budget handset.

Navigating around the phone was pretty swift and hassle-free. The processor has enough juice behind it to make swiping around the home screens and opening menus quick and mostly free of delay. Launching apps was similarly nippy with the YouTube player opening with minimal delay. Bear in mind that when your phone is loaded with apps and live widgets, there's more strain on the processor so expect things to slow down a little.

Orange San Francisco 2 buttons

The three physical buttons on the bottom of the phone help you with navigation.

When we ran the Quadrant benchmark test, we saw that the San Francisco 2 just had the edge in the power stakes over the Samsung Galaxy S -- a phone that still offers a pleasing experience, despite being completely overshadowed by its big brother, the Samsung Galaxy S2.

If you're hoping to download demanding 3D games like Blood & Glory, then you'll quickly realise that the San Francisco 2 really doesn't offer enough juice. Running tough tasks quickly slows the phone down, resulting in a less than ideal experience.

Orange San Francisco 2 benchmarks

Performance from the San Francisco 2 is average, but it does the job for the essential tasks.

Battery life on smart phones is never much to write home about. Orange reckons you'll get around 4.5 hours of talk time out of the San Francisco 2, which would be a fairly decent amount. It also says that it'll slumber in standby mode for 10 days, which seems ambitious.

It's lower power processor won't suck as much juice as the dual-core handsets, so in a battery duel, you can probably expect your phone to beat your mate's iPhone 4S, so long as you're not running anything too demanding.

Camera

On the back of the phone you'll find a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. There's various white balance and exposure settings to help you get more creative with your snaps.

Results from the camera were fairly good for a low-end device. Colours were handled quite well and although exposure and sharpness weren't great, we've certainly seen worse efforts from phones before. It's definitely not going to replace a dedicated compact digital camera, but if you just want to grab a few shots of your dog going mental in the park, it'll do the trick well.

Motorola Razr camera test outdoor

The camera's photos aren't really rich or sharp, but it's fine for the odd snap (click image to enlarge).

Getting images from the phone is very easy. Simply plug it into your computer via USB and your phone will ask you if you want to use USB storage. Tap Yes and a folder will open on your computer, allowing you to take out all the photos you've been taking to share with the world.

There's a front-facing VGA camera too, which is great news if you're wanting to video call your friends using services like Skype.

Conclusion

The San Francisco 2 is a great improvement over its predecessor. It not only looks better, but it offers a smooth interface and a decent performance that belies the low price tag.

If you're after smart phone functionality on a budget but don't want to carry around an embarrassing piece of tat, the Orange San Francisco 2 is worth checking out.