The Android operating system is making its way across the full spectrum of handset prices. You’ll find it in phones that cost the better part of £500, and also in those that come in closer to £100. In the latter camp sits Orange’s new San Francisco which costs £99 on ‘pay as you go’ and is free on contract.
You’d think that at this kind of price there has been some severe cost cutting, and you’d be right. But the San Francisco is a superb handset considering its price, and shows just what can be achieved when aiming at the budget end of the market.
Android 2.1 is an obvious drawback for some, with version 2.2 supporting the desirable Flash and therefore able to play a lot more embedded video, as well as having numerous other tweaks. Some features of 2.2 are probably not that important to anyone after a handset at the San Francisco’s price though: the ability to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot springs to mind. The main smartphone necessities are here with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G all present.
The screen might be a bit small at 3.5 inches across diagonal corners, making it a squint to look at web pages and watch video, for example. But it delivers 480 x 800 pixels and that is the same resolution as you’ll find in very high end Android smartphones like the HTC Desire HD and Desire Z as well as in the current crop of Windows Phone 7 devices. Cram those pixels into a smaller area and the result is a clear, crisp, sharp display.
A big plus point is the capacitive screen. This is very responsive to finger presses and is a highlight of the phone. We’re not used to seeing a high quality screen like this on a lower end smartphone.
Orange hasn’t gone too far wrong with the chassis design and build either. There are both grey and white versions available. We tried the grey one and the build was solid and felt tough. The chassis design makes the San Francisco look like a more expensive handset.
There are even plus points to be had for the positioning of the 3.5mm headset connector on the top edge of the chassis, right where it should be. In terms of operating system, the Orange skinned version of Android has some special widgets which we rather like, but you can easily switch to the basic Android look and feel if you prefer.
So far, so great. If you want a good camera, though, you should look elsewhere as the 3.2-megapixel one on offer here is acceptable but not wonderful – and it lacks a flash. The 2GB microSD card and 150MB of on board memory are a bit mean too, but you can easily buy a larger microSD card to bump the memory up. Battery life seems average for a smartphone and we’d recommend you factor a charge into your daily routine.
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