Way back in the latter part of 2010, Orange launched its San Francisco smartphone. The £99 handset was designed as a budget smartphone in the days when such things were a relative rarity; since then, Android has colonised the budget sector.
With the San Francisco II, Orange hopes to build on the successes of the San Francisco — which became for many the flagship budget Android handset. As it turns out, the new San Francisco II, which costs £99 on pay as you go and from £10.50 on contract, is a good, but not great, budget smartphone.
For the price you can't expect miracles, although the 3.5in. 480-by-800-pixel screen, 800MHz processor and 5-megapixel camera are all solid features. HD Voice — Orange's service that enhances call quality if you're calling another HD Voice-compliant handset on the Orange network — is also a plus point.
However, the need to meet a low price point results in some obvious corner-cutting. There's no backlight to the buttons beneath the screen, for example. This might sound like a picky criticism, but if you need to use your phone in murky or dark conditions, you'll want the backlight.
Then there's the absence of Flash. Arguably a much more important issue, this means embedded video in many web sites won't play — and for me that absolutely ruins much of the web browsing experience.
I also found the handset somewhat sluggishness in response to screen presses. This particularly affected text entry, and even my slowish fingers had to rein back a little to ensure accuracy.
The overall experience isn't enhanced for me by Orange's rather lavish skinning of Android, which includes duplicating some widgets and applications that Android offers as standard. Why use Orange maps when Google Maps is present? Why use Orange's app store when the Android Market is on board?
There's a memory issue too, with just 130MB free for data and applications. Orange does provide a 2GB microSD card, but that's no improvement on what it provided with the original San Francisco, and I think this is a clue to the real disappointment with the San Francisco II. The original handset offered a relatively large amount for the money. And nearly eighteen months on, I'm not convinced that this update delivers a whole lot more.
All this criticism should be tempered by the fact that the Orange San Francisco II is a reasonably efficient, reasonably solidly built smartphone with the usual Android smartphone features including mobile email capability, GPS, Wi-Fi, HSDPA and so on, and anyone who doesn't need the more 'fancy’ smartphone features may well find it suitable.