To produce a smartphone for under £100 you must surely have to cut some corners. That’s the assumption that Orange has gamely challenged with the new addition to its pay-as-you-go smartphone range, the San Francisco. The hardware has actually been developed by ZTE, well-known purveyor of cheap but competent devices, so that bodes well.

Bright screen and Android 2.1

The first impression on turning the phone on is that the screen is not one you will find on your average phone. A beautifully bright 3.5in OLED lights up to display Android 2.1 in all its multicoloured glory. With an 800x480 resolution, anyone that says they can tell this display apart from the likes of a Samsung Galaxy S or a Google Nexus One is having you on.

The capacitive screen copes well with the gesture based-interface, and though you’re never likely to reach 40wpm using the onscreen keyboard, the large screen area gives you a fair chance of writing something intelligible.

The menu, home and back buttons are melded into one unobtrusive button bar at the bottom of the screen. Overall the build quality is good – the phone is mainly plastic, of course, but it’s nice plastic.

Orange Wednesdays

Pre-loaded apps from your service provider usually range from thinly veiled attempts to part you from more cash or annoyingly complicated ‘utilities’ that make you wonder if the programmers have ventured into the real world since the 90s. Orange’s efforts are a mixed bag – there doesn’t seem a lot of point to the remixed Android Market, but on the other hand, the Orange Wednesday cinema app is really useful and compares favourably to paid-for cinema finders and listings apps. Onboard storage for your own choices is limited, but you can add up to 32GB of microSD.

Using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS will hasten the demise of the 1250mAh battery, which might be considered sufficient for a smaller screen, but on the San Francisco it will still need a nightly recharge if you use it to its potential.

One thing in its favour at this point is the 600Mhz Qualcom processor. Yes, that is where some of the costs have been shaved, but unless you’re planning on running benchmarking apps, you probably won’t notice the difference. Part of the reason for this is that Android 2.1 (and more so the 2.2 Froyo update, if it ever appears for this device) is just way more efficient.

Poor camera

The Achilles heel is the camera. Even in good light you’re only likely to capture a vague impression rather than a sharp and detailed image – in dim light you might as well leave it in your pocket.

Does it really matter if photos and video are not what you want from a phone? Only in the respect that a new wave of augmented reality apps rely on the camera, and even barcode-reading software might struggle with the images served up from the San Francisco.

Stuff says... 

Orange San Francisco review

Camera and battery aside, this is simply the best hardware for the money