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Orange San Francisco II review

The next generation version of the popular Orange San Francisco Android smartphone is an equally budget-minded product. But is it equally as good? Find out in our review.

The Orange San Francisco was one of the smash hits of the last year. For under £100 Orange managed to release an Android handset with some superb features, and quite rightly it sat at the top of the budget Android handset pile for most of the year. Now the follow-up has been released.

The San Francisco II is a similarly low cost handset, but we don’t think it has quite the same cachet or appeal as its predecessor.

In many ways this is simply down to the fact that the original San Francisco was so ground-breaking. For example, the new Orange San Francisco II has a 3.5 inch 480 x 800 pixel screen just as its predecessor did. Where that specification was very welcome in a low cost phone a year ago, now it is much more commonplace and so less of a surprise.

The processor has been upped from 600MHz to 800MHz, but there’s no Flash support. We are used to seeing an absence of Flash in low cost Android handsets now, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy about it. Web browsing can be hampered without Flash, and we’d have liked to see Orange up the stakes here.

The camera has had a boost to 5 megapixels up from three in the original, and there’s a front camera too this time round. But the flash unit is small and relatively inefficient, and while the camera is good, it isn’t great.

Then there’s the build. Opinion will be divided on this, but for us the shiny plastic is not as attractive as the duller looking build of the original San Francisco which was much more original in appearance.

Admittedly, the new Orange San Francisco II does have curved upper and lower edges that give it something of a look reminiscent of the much more swanky Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, and that means it looks like a more expensive handset than it actually is. This may appeal, but be warned, the shiny backplate attracts grimy fingerprints very easily.

While we are grumbling, we found the touch screen a little less responsive than we’d like. It needed firmish presses rather than simple taps when we were entering text for SMS or email use and we had to type relatively slowly.

However, there are some great plus points too. We found battery life to be good giving us about a day and a half between charges. And while not everyone will like Orange’s rather over the top Android skin, we do think that some of the widgets Orange brings to the Android party are quite good.

The Gallery widget, for example, gives a large thumbnail of the most recent photo taken with scrolling to previous images, a quick link for sharing photos, and a click through to the camera itself for shooting more. Another widget we like shows the last few SMS messages to come in and drops you into the messaging tool for creating more.

And another plus point is the presence of Orange Gestures, an app that lets you open other applications by drawing assigned shapes on a home screen with a fingertip. It’s a great little shortcut tool.

In the end things like these widgets and the Gestures App are what differentiate the Orange San Francisco II from the rest of the budget brigade, and they are real plus points. There’s no Facebook or Twitter integration into the contacts area, or, indeed any apps for handling these two useful services, but you can at least get the latter from the Android Market.

Coming in at such a low price, you can’t expect top notch features from the Orange San Francisco II. But we have to say, we don’t think version 2 of this handset is quite the same outstanding phone as version 1 was.

Written by Sandra Vogel