Product Type: Orange Smartphone
Newest Review: ... up. The phone had become almost completely useless and I had no come back with Orange to get it fixed or replaced. Worst still, I was s... more
The futures bright... the futures a San Francisco
Orange San Francisco Smartphone
Member Name: BlueStreak
Orange San Francisco Smartphone
Date: 04/03/12, updated on 04/03/12 (29 review reads)
Advantages: Nice price for an Android phone, great touchscreen, loads of apps
Disadvantages: Low end hardware, battery could be better
OK, that was a terrible headline.. but still.
The Orange San Francisco, also known as the ZTE Blade, is an entry level Android smartphone. It's the cheapest Android phone you can currently buy, and is very good value for money.
I'll be referring to the phone as the Blade in this review, as it's easier to type the San Francisco. Over here in the UK, it's known as the Orange San Francisco.
Starting with the looks, the Blade does look very nice and sleek. It's pretty thin for a smartphone, at 11.8 mm thick, and slides in and out of your pocket with ease. The Blade comes in two colours: black (greyish) and white. I chose the black one. On the outside of the phone, you have the power button on the top, which also locks the screen when pushed, and when held, opens up the Profiles menu and allows you to turn off or reboot the phone, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. On the left side, you have the Mini USB connector, on the right you have the volume rocker switch, and the bottom, a tiny hole with the microphone. Under the screen you have 3 buttons: Home, Menu and Return. Home will take you straight to the 'desktop', the menu button takes you to the Main Menu where you can view and load all the apps you have, and return takes you back one screen. The back panel is easily removed, as it's held on with small but pretty strong clips. Form here, you can access the battery, the SIM card slot, and the MicroSD card slot.
Hardware wise, the Blade uses a 600MHz AMRV6 processor which, compared to more expensive Android phones isn't the best, but it's certainly fast enough to run many applications, and an Adreno 200 GPU, which provides very nice 2D and 3D graphics.
It also has 150Mb of on-board storage, 512Mb RAM (memory) and 512Mb ROM (for OS installation). The Blade includes a 2Gb MicroSD, and accepts MicroSD cards up to 32Gb, allowing a substantial memory upgrade, for videos, music etc.
The Blade has a very nice 3.5" AMOLED (or LCD) touchscreen with multi-touch capabilities, with 256k colours onscreen and a decent resolution of 480 x 800, which provides plenty of detail. It's very bright and vibrant, and reacts to touches very well.
The Blade, as with every other phone, comes with a fairly decent 3.2Mp rear facing camera, but no front facing. The camera has a resolution of 2048x1536 and has an auto-focusing lens.
Every smartphone has accelerometers, and the Blade is no exception. I'm sure you all know what the accelerometers do, but if you don't, they detect the orientation that the phone is in, rotating the screen accordingly. They are also used to play accelerometers-enabled games, which on the Blade works very well.
I think the ONLY weakness of this phone is the OS... it came installed with Googles' Android 2.1 'Eclair' OS, which was out of date when the Blade was released. I think at the time, Android 2.2 'Froyo' was released. Orange/ZTE had announced that, by the end of June/beginning of July, an updated to 2.2 would be available, but by THAT time, 2.3 'Gingerbread' was released... so the Blade was even further behind. Nevertheless, the 2.2 upgrade never happened, so Blade users were left way behind.
However, unofficial Android ROMs were being created by members of the public, designed to work on phones not originally intended to have an upgraded OS, such as the Blade. One of the more popular ones is the CyanogenMod 7 ROM, which comes in Android 2.2 and 2.3 flavours, so you can install a version of Android 2.3 on your Blades, despite them not having the official upgrade. I'm using CyanogenMod 7 Android 2.3 on MY Blade at the moment, and it's awesome. Very smooth, very fast... it's great. CyanogenMod are currently working on getting Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' working on various Android phones. Once they have a stable ROM, I'm installing it on my Blade ASAP.
Obviously, there are downsides to using a third-party ROM, such as it can void your warranty, and a failed ROM flash can completely brick your phone, rendering it useless. The benefits are, you remain up to date if the phone will never get an official OS upgrade, and if it's branded, like the Orange San Francisco variant, it will come installed with many branded apps, which take up space. By installing a third-party ROM, you will remove EVERYTHING that's branded, freeing up space. Now, other than the Orange logo on the back, there are no apps on my phone that relate to Orange. Thus, I also have more space for ROM storage and the like. If you DO install a third-party ROM, MAKE SURE you know what you're doing and MAKE SURE you install the one designed for your phone.
Like the iPhone, there are thousands of apps and games on the Android Market. Some free, some paid.... the best thing about the paid for apps, is that they are very cheap. I bought the full version of Fruit Ninja for about 70p or so. Apps and games can range between 50p to £5.00, which is very cheap. The purchase is tied to your Google account, so you only need to purchase the app/game once. If you need to download it again, you can with no extra cost. There are some apps and games that aren't compatible with all makes and models of phones, which is a shame. I wanted the FireFox browser for my Blade, but it isn't compatible. So I had to do without.
File transfer is easy. Just attach the supplied USB cable to your phone and your PC, select 'Turn on Storage' and the Android logo goes from Green (not connected) to Orange (connected) and the MicroSD card will show as a regular drive in My Computer. Just copy and paste your files as you would normally. When connected via USB, the battery will also charge. You can chose NOT to connect to the PC, and just have it charge. I have had a problem with this, though. When I try to mount the phone to my PC, it will go through the motions, say it's connected, the Android will turn orange, but will then instantly turn back to green, un-mounting itself from the PC. I have no idea if the phone is at fault, or if it's my USB ports. I've had this fault for some time now, sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. I end up having to unmount the SD Card from the phone, remove it and insert it in a MicroSD card adapter, in order to get files on it. Very tedious and time consuming, but I have no other choice.
Connectivity is available via the USB, Bluetooth or wireless (802.11 b/g) connection. I always use wireless at home and connect to my router. Speed is fast and the connection is very reliable, it has never lost connection on me yet. I haven't used the Bluetooth yet, so I'm not sure how good the connection is. You can also use the HSDPA connection, for on-the-move internet. I have used this method, and it works great. Since mobile internet uses credit on your phone, make sure you keep an eye on the duration of your web browsing. While we're on the subject of connectivity, unless you're on a contract, always disable mobile data, so the phone isn't always connecting in the background. I did this by installing an app called APNDroid, which disables the mobile data until you re-enable it. Leaving the mobile internet connected, means you'll use credit without knowing. I think this varies between the phone provider and what apps are running in the background. I found this out the hard way, after going from £20 credit to 90p credit over night, because my Blade kept connecting to the mobile internet while I slept. A WORD OF WARNING!!
Customization of the Blade comes in the form of custom wallpapers. You can select any photo from the gallery and display it as a wallpaper. You can also get Live Wallpapers which are basically animated wallpapers. I'm currently using a Slideshow style Live Wallpaper, where you can select a folder of photos to display as a slideshow, a la Windows 7. While the Live Wallpapers look very nice, they do drain your battery life. You can also choose an audio file as your ringtone, SMS alert or alarm. You can also download 100's of themes for Android. I'm sure you're all aware that themes change the overall look of the OS, changing things such as fonts, icons and colours.
The Blade comes with a basic media player for audio and video playback, but there are many third-party media players on the Marketplace you can try. The built-in media player is more than adequate for your media needs, though, and does what you need. Videos will need to be converted to an MP4 file before they will play on the Blade. MP3s and WAVs will play on the Blade without a problem. The single speaker (not stereo) is pretty loud and very clear, as long as the original media track is clear. If it's too loud, the audio will sound distorted. Just turn the media volume down on the Blade, and you should be OK. You can also link any MP3 or WAV to a contact, so you know who's calling before you look at the screen. You can NOT link an audio track to a contact for SMS, but this can be done through a third-party SMS app, such as GoSMS.
Moving onto messaging. I have no problems typing out messages with the on-screen keyboard. When flipped horizontal, it turns into a full-sized QWERTY keyboard, and it's far easier to type since the keys aren't as small. Using the keyboard while the phone is vertical is OK, but not ideal. For some reason, the character indicator is only visible when vertical, so if you're typing while horizontal, you can't see how many characters you've typed and how many messages you've stretched to, so you either have to keep flipping between vertical and horizontal, or just type in horizontal. As mentioned above, using an app like GoSMS allows you to customize certain aspects of the message, such as adding a signature and choosing a custom ringtone as an SMS alert, which the built-in SMS app can't do.
The home-screen has 5 'desktops' on which you can add shortcuts to any app or game. Sliding your finger across the screen left or right will move to the next screen, where you can add more shortcuts. You can add more home-screens if you want, should you run out of space.
The camera, as mentioned above, is a 3.2Mp camera. Not the best, but it does take really clear and sharp photos. The better the environment and lighting, the clearer the photo will turn out. If it's too dark, the photos appears blurred and pixelated. Unfortunately, there is no flash. The camera has 2x digital zoom and auto-focus. If you hold the camera button down, the camera will auto-focus first. Once you let go, the camera will take the photo. There is no dedicated camera button on the side, and is instead on-screen. This makes it tricky to take photos with the camera facing you, since you have to bend your finger around to the front of the phone. The way I do it, is hold down the camera button, move the phone in front of me, THEN let go. Annoying, yes... but it's the easiest way. The camera also acts as a digital video camera. While it won't replace your 15Mp HD camera anytime soon, the video quality is clean and clear and the audio is great, so the Blade is also enough for general video capturing.
The Blade comes with Google Maps, which also means it has GPS capabilities. I'm not 100% sure if you are charged for this, since it uses mobile internet, so best check before you use it for a 3 hour journey, otherwise you could end up with a hefty credit bill.
You get a basic web browser with the Blade, so you can obviously browse the web. Again, it does what you need it to do, but there are third-party browsers available, such as Dolphin and Opera. The built-in browser doesn't support Adobe Flash, meaning you can't watch YouTube (or any other) Flash based videos. I believe the same goes for other browsers, but don't hold me to that. However, there is a free YouTube app you can install, which allows you to watch YouTube videos (only YT) without the need for a separate browser. Browsing on the Blade is only as fast the connection you're connected to, but some heavy sites can take longer, as the Blade has to cache the files as they download. But all-in-all, with the nice, big, multi-touch screen, web browsing is a pleasant experience.
The most important thing about the phone is using it AS a phone. And I'm pleased to say... as a phone... it's brilliant. The calls are always clear and crisp, I've never had a problem hearing the caller speak and they say they can always hear me clearly. There are no problems with using the on-screen dialer as the keys are nice and large, and impossible to push the wrong key. Or you can always chose via a contact, which is just as easy. Like other phones, you can turn on the internal speaker so you can use it hands free, without having up against your ear. The phone also features a proximity sensor. When you have the phone up against your cheek, to make sure your face doesn't press any keys, the proximity sensor turns off the screen once the phone is next to your face. Sometimes, you may have to recalibrate the sensors, as they may end up keeping the screen off, even after you've moved it away from your face. I've had this problem once, but after the recalibration, never happened again.
I guess the last thing to talk about is the battery. While the battery lasts a fair amount of time, it can go dead within a few days. Turning off all connectivity (wireless, bluetooth, data), setting the screen brightness to Auto and haivng a static wallpaper (not Live Wallpaper) will help increase the battery life. At it's optimal performance, you'll get up to 192 hours on stand-by and up to 4 hours talk time.
At £100, the Blade/San Francisco is the cheapest Android smartphone you can buy.. and still IS the cheapest Android phone you buy. The Blade is packed full of decent hardware and software, loads of apps to choose from, a good camera, a crisp LCD touch-screen, wireless/bluetooth, and a lot more besides, you can't go wrong. There are better Android phones out there... more EXPENSIVE Android phones... but for the price of the Blade, you really can't go wrong. I personally recommend this phone to anyone wanting to enter the world of smartphones, but doesn't want to enter it too high, or too expensive.
BUY IT! :)
Summary: One of the best entry level Android smartphones you can get. Highly recommended!
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