The term “smartphone” has long been attached to the Android OS. It’s meant that many have perhaps classed the device as a business tool or a high cost handset. Now, with Android appearing in a wider range of
devices in various shapes and sizes, we’re seeing cheaper handsets on the market. Sometimes, especially in tablet form, Android can find its’ way into cheap handsets that fail to perform and perhaps give a bad impression of the OS. The Orange San Francisco, aka the ZTE Blade, has entered the market at a very low price – just £99 with a £10 top-up on Orange. Surely it can’t compete on the same level as more expensive devices? Or can it?
Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
Google Android 2.1
3.5″ 480×800 screen OLED
3.1 Megapixel camera
1250 mAh battery
These videos give you a look at the phone and how it works. It’s also a quick way of soaking up this review 😉
This is just the right size for a phone. It has a good feel and, although the built quality isn’t perhaps as good as a HTC or
Samsung, it’s a decent looking phone. Three buttons sit on the bottom – no dedicated search button though.
Those buttons sit on a thin strip. Each key is backlit in white with the back button showing red when there’s something you need to look at like a message etc. Below the button “bar” the phone slopes off to meet the rear of the phone.
On the right there’s a small external speaker on the lower right and, on a polished silver bar, the volume up / down buttons.
Then on the top, on a section that sticks out a little, there’s the power button for waking the device and a 3.5mm audio port for your hands-free kit or headphones.
On the left side there’s a microUSB port for connecting to your computer or the interesting charger. The charger, which is pictured below, is shaped exactly like a standard UK plug. It has a short cable with a USB port, then it’s just a matter of plugging in your sync cable. It’s a bit of a shame that the USB plug isn’t integrated somehow into the plug, but still, it’s a good design.
The phone, apart from the silver strips, is a matt grey colour and feels good in the hand. It’s got Bluetooth, so you can attach your wireless headset and there’s WiFi of course too.
Around the back there’s a 3.2 megapixel camera. It lacks a flash and sits behind a plastic screen.
One thing we should mention here is that this is a heavily branded handset. There’s an Orange App Shop, which sits next to the Android Market (the Google application store), Orange Contacts Backup, Orange Homescreen, Orange Internet pages, Orange Mail, Orange Maps, Orange Wednesdays app, Orange Photography, Orange Ringtones, Orange TV, “Your Orange”, Orange Clocks, Orange Headlines, Orange Music Store and Orange Weather. Yes, there’s a lot and most won’t work when you’re on WiFi – it’s an Orange data zone only. You can reduce the amount of “Orangeness” to an extent but, that said, a lot of these apps are very useful.
One of these Orange Apps is Orange Wednesdays – a promotion by Orange that’ll let you get two cinema tickets for the price of one at cinemas. The Orange Wednesdays app will show you what films are available, where they’re showing and it’ll give you a chance to watch the trailer too. Neat.
Another app we liked from Orange is the Contacts Backup system – a life-saver if you ever lose your phone. It’s simple to get going so, if you don’t want to sign up to a Google account and get your details stored in “the cloud” you can use this system instead
We also like the Orange “My Account” app which gave you access into your Orange account and showed how much credit you have, plus the option of getting online help.
The Android interface is pretty cool. You may know by now, but there’s the ability to create shortcuts, add widgets, shortcuts and folders. These can be dragged around the screen and dropped where you fancy. There’s five screens to use and you can change where everything lives. There’s a huge range of widgets including all the Orange ones plus more
from the Android Market – the Google app shop. There’s clocks, a picture frame for your favourite snap, YouTube and more. You can change the backdrop of both the main screen and your lock screen, so if you have a favourite picture or you’d like a different live homescreen (live homescreens move).
Under the main screen you can hit go down into all the apps you’ve got installed. In addition to all those Orange apps you get an easy-to-use calculator and a calendar which will sync with the online Google systems. The latter is great because you can add appointments and reminders either on your computer or on the phone and everything will
sync together. The same goes for the Contacts system – this will be sync’d online so you can add, edit and create contacts.
The internet browser is, as usual for Android, fantastic. Multi-touch and text reflow when you double-tap so that text fits neatly onto the screen. You can use tabbed browsing, bookmark pages, search for text on pages and play YouTube videos in the dedicated YouTube player by tapping on the previews. Your finger will let you glide around the page
and, when you use two fingers, you can zoom in or out.
Below you can see me browsing to our site, then double-tapping to zoom in – the paragraph is automatically shifted to fit on the screen. Then I click to open a new tab and browse to the Orange website. There’s not a lot you can say about the browser because it works so well. Pretty much any page you can view on your PC is viewable on the San Francisco
browser, but hey – if it’s not to your taste there’s other browsers available for free in the Android Market.
The YouTube player will let you view and upload videos to the online video sharing site. It’s great for showing your mates that latest cool video when you’re down the pub, or filming yourself and your mates having a beer and adding it to YouTube before you even wake up with a hang-over the next day.
Business-style apps are on the Orange San Francisco too though, with Docs to Go letting you view PDF and Office documents on the go.
Other apps worth mentioning are the voice recorder and the FM radio.
The camera is a fairly standard affair. It stuggles quite a bit in low light but, for day-to-day stuff and quick snaps, it’s OK. Pictures can be shared via Bluetooth, Google Mail, POP3 Mail, MMS, Picasa or whatever program you’ve added in for sharing (Seesmic or the Facebook for example). You an also set the pic as your backdrop from here or delete. I kinda wish there was a dedicated camera button though.
We’ve taken some example shots from the on-board. The gallery system is great and really slick – it’ll bunch your pictures up into date format and you can slide through each picture easily. From there you can share images (which you can also do the second a picture is snapped) on Twitter, email and other social networking sites, plus there’s a simple interface making it easy to go up and down through pictures and perform other tasks.
For the money this is a crackin’ handset. Sure, we wanted a better camera and perhaps a trackball of sorts for editing text easier but, for the money, this is a great phone which packs a tonne of features for not-that-much-money. We were impressed by the little touches, like how well the 600Mhz CPU performed even with Live Wallpaper running and widgets updating on the main screen. The main benefit of Android is the thousands of apps that are available and how easy everything is to customize. Within minutes you can drag icons around to have the phone looking as you want, then a few seconds later you’ve changed the ringtone and messaging tones, then after a day or two you’ll have probably installed stack of apps and games to truly make the phone your own.
So, overall, this is a stand-out device for the cash. In years past we’ve seen devices that fall short in several areas – they could have had resistive screens, perhaps also lacking screen resolution too. However, this is a very, very good handset at less than £100 on Pay As You Go – heck, it’s even got an OLED screen. Amazing.
Link – Orange San Francisco