Orange San Francisco II review
Android 2.3, 3.5in 480x800 display
The successor to the Orange San Francisco, the San Francisco II is also a re-branded ZTE handset. It's available on prepay for only £100, while on contract you'll pay £16 a month for a basic plan with 100MB of data per month, which should be fine for basic email and occasional browsing. It's a decent upgrade, with Android 2.3 replacing 2.2, an 800MHz processor replacing the original's 600MHz chip, and a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash replacing the flashless 3.2-megapixel snapper on the San Francisco.
There are also a couple of behind-the-scenes upgrades that are even more compelling: Signal Boost and HD Voice. The latter is an upgrade to the GSM protocol that takes advantage of better compression algorithms without increasing bandwidth - the result is better-quality calls, but it'll only work when calling someone else with an HD Voice-enabled phone.
Signal Boost, also called UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), lets Orange route your calls via Wi-Fi over your home broadband connection, which means you don't have to worry if you live in a remote valley and can't get a signal. Unlike Vodafone's Sure Signal service, which links a 3G home femtocell to your home broadband connection and routes your calls over the internet, Orange's service requires no extra hardware. You pay for the calls at the standard Orange rate.
One of the things we liked about the San Francisco was its clear and bright screen, and the San Francisco II's screen is just as good. Colours are vibrant and contrast is excellent, while the capacitive touchscreen interface is smooth and responsive. The edge-to-edge glass on the fascia looks smart, and overall we liked the phone's smooth, rounded edges and glossy black case - it looks far better than its budget price might suggest. Its size and reduced weight make it comfortable to carry in your pocket, too.
The improved camera takes colourful shots, but there's a fair degree of noise and a haze to shots that makes them look a bit washed out. The addition of an LED flash is welcome, as is the front-facing camera that lets you make Skype video calls. We were impressed by the camcorder's options, which let you choose between 3GP, H.264 or MPEG4 video and AAC or AMR-NB audio encoding, so you can find a format that suits your playback device. Videos can now be shot at 640x480, and are clear and colourful.
Alongside the standard Android apps, there are some extra Orange ones for email and mapping, but these aren't as good as the standard Android versions. Also, Orange has installed its own App Store, but it's pretty rubbish, so you should stick with the standard Android one. Unfortunately, because these apps are pre-installed, you can't remove them unless you hack the phone. Worse, there's only 162MB of total app storage space, so they are actually taking up valuable room.
On paper, the San Francisco II looks like a worthy upgrade, and it's an attractive, light and fast handset, as long as the large amount of Orange customisation doesn't bother you. There are good alternatives available, though - If you need a decent phone on a budget, the Huawei Blaze has a lower resolution screen but is £40 less, while the excellent Motorola Defy+ review is available for free on a £20-per-month contract.