The Android operating system is as well suited to budget priced smartphones as it is to those at the top of the tree, but sometimes the budget handsets scrimp and save in all the wrong places.
That criticism can’t be levelled at the Orange San Francisco, which, quite simply, sets the standard that others need to emulate when trying to build a low cost Android handset.
At £99 on Orange Pay As You Go you might not expect a lot from the San Francisco, but in fact this is a very well made and well featured handset. The build is superb.
The chassis is solid, nicely curved and thin with overall measurements of 116mm x 56.5mm x 11.8mm that make it feel very comfortable in the hand.
The screen measures 3.5 inches, is capacitive, and delivers a superbly high resolution 480 x 800 pixels ensuring that web pages, while perhaps a little cramped, are clear and sharp.
The screen takes up almost all of the front of the chassis, so that the buttons beneath the screen are quite cramped. Home, Menu and Back functions are catered for by small, thin buttons very near the bottom of the chassis.
There’s no Search button, but it is no problem to put a Google search widget on one of the five home screens.
Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G are all here, of course, and the 3.5mm headset connector sits on the top edge. However, the Orange San Francisco runs Anrdoid 2.1 rather than the current top end Android 2.2, and consequently lacks support for Flash and some other features.
We’re not the biggest fans of Orange’s proprietary Android skin – it just doesn’t look all that fancy to us. But you can easily swap it for unskinned Android. The Orange skin has four fixed position icons on every home screen offering quick access to the apps menu, messaging, dialler and contacts, which are handy.
The standard Android music player does a reasonable job, but what impresses us particularly in this respect is that the earphones included with the handset have an inline pause/play button.
There’s an FM radio on board and it has a sleep timer so you could conceivably listen to something that you enjoy last thing at night without worrying about turning the radio off afterwards.
Social networking fans will be nonplussed by the inability to bring contacts in from Twitter and Facebook, and there are no pre-installed apps for using either service. The Android Market can supply what you need, though.
One of the compromises Orange has made in order to get the San Francisco out at its price is with the camera. This shoots stills at just 3.2 megapixels making it pretty much entry level these days. And there is no flash so that shooting photos indoors is not very rewarding.
The camera didn’t cope too well with wide variations in lighting, and it is best regarded as OK for quick snaps but not for photos you want to keep.
So yes, there are compromises, but overall with think the Orange San Francisco shows what can be done when trying to meet a budget pricepoint, and we rather like it.