The original Orange San Francisco was the UK’s biggest selling smartphone for the year 2010/11. And it’s honestly no surprise - Orange really hit the nail on the head between optimum performance and price for consumers, at a mere £109.99 launch price.
Obviously, when you have the perfect recipe for a success, you will aim to achieve the same success time and time again. Maybe, just maybe, Orange have cooked up a better recipe that perhaps has the perfect ingredients to repeat history and really hit the sweet spot for another round.
Introducing the Orange San Francisco II. Quite similar to it’s older brother in design, software and specification, the Orange San Francisco II really tries to tweak upon perfection. Manufactured by ZTE, the Orange San Francisco II launches at £99.99 - £10 cheaper than the original.
It’s certainly a nice touch whenever a company bundles a few much needed accessories with your brand new phone. Included are a pair of earphones + microphone, a USB cable, mains charger, and of course the phone itself along with a battery and Orange SIM card. There are also two manuals - a quite starter and detailed guide.
Straight out of the box, the Orange San Francisco II a resembles a pose that is quite similar to the original. The form factor is almost identical, measuring in at 117 mm in height, 58.5 mm in width and a mere 10.6 mm in depth. Compared to the first edition, the phone is 1.2 mm thinner. The Orange San Francisco II is also 10g lighter at 120g, but if we’re honest, you won’t notice the difference at all.
The phone in entirely constructed from plastic, which is quite a disappointment. However, given the small form factor and weight, the Orange San Francisco II does seem fairly robust and shouldn’t be prone to easy damage when dropped onto a hard surface.
One major change is the new glossy finish over the previous matte finish. Unfortunately, the phone does feel a whole lot cheaper and plasticy over its predecessor, and will be completely covered in fingerprints within a few hours of use. Given such a glossy finish, I for one would have preferred a small cleaning cloth over the unnecessary bulky manuals included in the box.
The front of the phone is covered by a 3.5-inch TFT screen, with three hard buttons at the bottom - menu, home and return. Strangely enough, Orange decided to swap the home and menu button, which may initially confuse those who are upgrading from the previous edition. There is also an identical logo at the top of the phone with “San Francisco II”.
A micro USB port is located on the left hand side of the phone for charging and connecting to a computer. On the right is a volume rocker, and the top features a 3.5 mm jack for your earphones with the phone’s power button. The back of the phone features the 5.0 megapixel camera with LED flash towards the top left, with the loudspeaker located at the bottom left. Again, there is an Orange logo at the bottom of the phone. We understand not everybody prefers a network logo on their phone, however with a bit of scrubbing we’re sure it can be removed without much hassle.
The entire backplate can be removed to reveal the battery, SIM Card and microSD card. One major complaint with the original San Francisco was the lose backplate, which could be removed without a lot of force. We can confirm that the Orange San Francisco II has improved upon the situation, with almost double the amount of locks in place with an overall sturdy feel. Once in place, the cover should not come undone without force.
The Orange San Francisco II features the same 3.5-inch TFT screen with a 480 x 800 resolution. Side by side, there doesn’t seem to be an improvement, but we certainly felt a better responsiveness with the touch screen. There also seemed to be less screen lag between transitions and scrolling, but this may be due to the slightly beefier specs.
Unfortunately, there is no OLED screen with the Orange San Francisco II. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, the first batch of the original Orange San Francisco phones were shipped with OLED screens, which are considered better over the traditional TFTs. However, a few months after launch, there was a huge shortage of OLED screens in China. This resulted in new batches of the Orange San Francisco shipping with TFT screens. This has had a knock on effect for the Orange San Francisco II, as supply and demand for OLED screens have still not met.
However, that doesn’t mean the Orange San Francisco II display is bad. Out of the box, the display is set to automatic brightness, but you can easily change the settings and and crank the brightness right up. The overall result is nothing short of brilliant, and does a pretty good job at replicating an OLED display.
Colours are bright and vivid, however they are not oversaturated in the slightest. Deep blacks provide a good contrast, with no real noticeable screen lag. Overall, the display provides an accurate, natural picture and doesn’t add any artificial colours.
Viewing angles are fantastic. In fact, we had to double check the specs to see if the phone did in fact ship with an OLED display. We were able to tilt the screen up to 60 degrees for a clear view, without losing focus. Outdoor viewing was good, however we did need to turn the brightness up quite a bit in direct sunlight.
It really is a pleasure to view pictures and movies on the Orange San Francisco II. Text is also clear and sharp. We didn’t have any problems when reading eBooks or browsing the internet, however the screen is slightly on the small side for long sessions.
Orange have definitely improved the first boot experience wizard over Google’s default wizard. Useful and important settings are prioritized, with clear and easy options to make the experience as straight forward as possible. Upon first boot, we were presented with a welcome screen to start the wizard, which also has two options to change the language or make an emergency call. Once we started the wizard, we were asked to enter the time and date settings. We ticked the automatic box settings, which used the time and date from Orange’s network. Of course, a SIM card needs to be present in the phone in order to use the automatic settings.
The second page provided and clear and simple explanation of the bottom three buttons on the phone. I’m sure this will be appreciated by those who are new to Android.
To our surprise, we were given the option to test and choose another keyboard on the third page. By default, the Orange branded keyboard is chosen, however you can switch and test the Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread keyboard too. This is certainly a nice touch, and we wish more manufacturers would include a number of keyboards to test and choose from upon first boot. We will go into detail on the keyboards included in the software section of this review.
The fourth page asks you to add an email account(s), however we skipped this page and recommended you do to. There’s honestly nothing good about the Orange Email App - they even charge you for “premium features”. You can add your Gmail, Yahoo, etc email accounts after the setup.
The final page asked whether we wanted to connect to the internet through the Orange network and Wi-Fi, or just Wi-Fi. Again, a really nice touch by Orange. There’s also an option to setup your Wi-Fi network.
The Orange San Francisco II runs Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Apart from the custom launcher, the experience is pretty much Google stock Android without a lot of visible interference or customization. Orange have thrown in a few extra widgets and wallpapers, plus some of their own apps. It’s a nice effort, but the apps aren’t as good as the alternative Google apps. For example, there are two apps named “Maps” which are pre-installed on the phone - one by Google and the other by Orange. The Google Maps apps in completely free, and of course Google Maps is the most popular free map service available online. There are no hidden fees or unwanted extras - simply launch the app and view all the maps you wish. On the other hand, the Orange Maps app is something you should stay well away from. Apart from the poor sluggish interface and buggy software, there are additional hidden charges just to use the service. Luckily, Orange have provided you with a choice between the two, so they do make up for their poor app.
One of the most intuitive and praise worthy app included is Orange Gestures. Gestures allows you to launch an app or complete a specific task by drawing a shape from the home screen. There are 27 shapes or “gestures” to choose from. One of the preset gestures launches Messages whenever you draw a square on the home screen. We found that the shapes did not need to be 100% accurate to work, even if they were off by quite a bit. The overall experience with Gestures was very responsive, and tasks were instantly carried out upon completing a specific gesture / shape. It certainly will prove handy in every day use, and is not an unnecessary gimmick.
The Launcher itself is a slightly modified version of Google’s, but to the untrained eye the changes are almost unnoticeable. There are 4 icons at the bottom, which cannot be modified. There are a total of 5 different home screen pages, however you cannot add or remove any. The app drawer is identical to Google’s, except for the removal of the 3D effect. All in all, there is not a whole lot of customizing you can do with the Orange launcher, apart from changing the wallpaper and widgets. As we mentioned earlier, Orange did include a few additional wallpapers for the launcher, as well as a few handy widgets. We’ve seen similar widgets on the Android Market that sell for a few quid.
All the usual Google apps are pre-installed, such as Android Market, Gmail, YouTube, Google Search, Music, Maps and Navigation.
Apart from a different icon and the addition of a few Orange bookmarks, the browser is a stock version of Google Android. Load times were exceptional over 3G and Wi-Fi, with fast renders and good responsiveness. Over the Orange network, we were able to find 3G coverage pretty much all over London. We were surprised at how smooth scrolling was, considering the phone is running on a single core ARM11 processor. In addition, responsiveness to pinch and zoom was very fast.
As expected with an LCD display, text is sharp but smooth, regardless of zoom levels, and is suitable for long reading and browsing sessions.
It’s quite obvious that Orange has put in a lot of optimization into the browser in order to achieve such performance on an ARM11 processor. Overall, the Browser provides a pleasant browsing experience for everyday use with good speeds and smooth, responsive scrolling with snappy gestures. It’s a step up from the Orange San Francisco, however it doesn’t quite have that premium feel and smoothness you get with higher end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and iPhone 4s. Regardless, it does a very respectable job for the price.
As mentioned in our First Boot section, Orange have included two keyboards - their own branded keyboard and the stock Google Android 2.3 keyboard.
The Orange keyboard has a similar layout to the Google keyboard, but with a lighter colour scheme and a trick up its sleeve. Some of you may be familiar with the keyboard “Swype”, which allows to to drag your finger from one key to another without letting go, in order to type out a word. Well, we were shocked to find that the Orange keyboard has such a feature. But don’t get too excited yet - it isn’t really that good. It does a decent job and replicating Swype, but falls short in reliability and prediction. However, you can use the Orange keyboard as a normal keyboard if you choose.
Both keyboards performed accurately when typing through the traditional way, with good auto-complete and prediction to make life that little bit easier. Keys are evenly spaced and clear, for fast, accurate typing.
Because of the similarities, it’s almost impossible to choose the best keyboard between the two. In fact, it’s down to personal preference - do you prefer a lighter colour scheme or a darker colour scheme? a
The Orange San Francisco II ships with a 1200 mAh battery that promises 4 hours and 30 minutes of talk time with 240 hours when on standby. The battery is actually 50 mAh less than the original Orange San Francisco, however it still improves on both talk time and standby. This could be down to a number of reasons, such as good software optimization by Orange and hardware components with lower power requirements.
Throughout our regular usage, we found the Orange San Francisco II was able to give us a full days performance with a battery life around 15 hours. A full day for us consisted of checking emails, browsing the Internet, listening to music, playing games, making calls and tracking our location with GPS.
In order to stress test the battery, we played a high quality YouTube video over Wi-Fi on repeat, starting with a full charge. The Orange San Francisco II lasted a good 5 hours before shutting down.
All in all, the Orange San Francisco II provides a better than average battery life and improves upon its older brother, the Orange San Francisco. In fact, it easily competes with the premium smartphones, such as the iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus.
The Orange San Francisco II had a lot to live up to. The original edition was an instant hit, becoming the best selling smartphone in the UK for a whole year and some. It seems pretty straight forward that to create another hit, you should improve and listen to feedback from your customers - and it appears that’s exactly what Orange have done. In all aspects, the Orange San Francisco II improves upon from the previous edition, from hardware, software, battery life and most importantly, price. It’s hard to fault the Orange San Francisco II without being picky - it’s certainly not flawless, but it does a pretty damn job at coming close.
Simply put, the Orange San Francisco II is the best smartphone you can buy around the £100 bracket. Sometimes it’s just as easy as that.