The Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade offers an extremely cheap entry into the world of Android. Priced around £99 (with a mandatory top up of £10/£20), it offers excellent value for money, and is one of the higher spec phones available around that price. Offering a large 3.5″ screen with a high resolution of 800×480, a 600mhz cpu, and 2gb of Micro SD ram.
Another big feature of the phone is the community support for the phone, allowing it to be unlocked for free (found via Modaco), and upgraded to Android 2.2 (Froyo), and potentially newer versions when they are released, it has it’s own dedicated forum here at Modaco.
The “SanFran”, as some people affectionally call it, has 3 physical buttons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Menu, Back, one power button at the top, and volume buttons at the side, there is no dedicated camera button or unlock button. To unlock you press the power button and slide something on the screen based on what version of android (or screensaver) you have. Considering the whole touch screen ethos of the android operating system, it seems strange to have to use physical / moving buttons to navigate – it would make more sense for these to be soft touch buttons (as I’m sure other android phones do).
Box Contents: Phone, Battery, Orange SIM, Earphones with microphone (earbuds, NOT in-ear earphones), Wall charger (Plugs into wall and has USB socket), USB Cable (used to charge phone with wall-charge or plug into computer), User guides (quick start guide, printed 133 page manual, plus 2nd manual for orange software), 2GB MicroSD Card.
Phone quality – Making and receiving calls, the audio quality is very good, the speaker is loud and clear, and quality seemed very good with no feedback or echo noticeable. (Although you network coverage may alter your experience)
Music playback – full volume is still on the quiet side of things. The music player app is fine, nothing seems to be missing, but nothing stands out as particularly interesting either. It does the job, but only seems to work in portrait mode (and not landscape). Music playback is interupted by other app notifications!? (Could just be my OS build, 2.2, and even when the other notifications are set to silent!?)
Web browser – this is quick, responsive, and works well.
Android market (app store) – this has very nice integration with websites, you visit the site, click the link to download from the store, it takes you there and you click install, it then takes you back to the website and downloads and installs the app in the background. Very swish, very un-intrusive, very simple, very easy, the way it should be done. (I’m looking at you Nokia) It’s also ironic that you can get Snake free for the android – but no official version from Nokia for Nokia phones…
Expansion – Under the one piece back cover (made of plastic), you’ll find slots for the MicroSD card, SIM card, and battery. Small hole next to the camera lens – could be a reset button?
Battery – a 1250mah 3.7v battery.
Build and size: Slim, compact, the back cover covers the power button, and needs to be taken off / put back on carefully as, like the Nokia N95, it could cause problems if not treated with care or over-used. The plastic is coated with a rubbery texture, making the phone feel like a higher quality / higher price handset than it actually is, and internally the circuit boards seem very thin. The use of philips head screws make it very tempting to take apart…
There’s a hidden screw under a white dot, so no doubt taking it apart will void your warranty, there’s also a moisture detector dot under the battery, as shown above, and there are 8 screws in total holding the phone together, after taking these out, the phone then unclips with some encouragement – although you can help it along by pushing the clips surrounding the battery area – I didn’t want to go further than this as the rest looked like it needed the ribbon cables disconnecting, and this is often fiddly.
To remove the front glass / case, you need to remove / disconnect the top ribbon cable that connects the *something* (don’t know what). The ribbon cable connections are held in place with plastic that “pops” up, and the wi-fi aerial also pops-off. The screen is quite firmly glued on to the main plastic “chassis” in the middle of the phone, and there is also a ribbon cable behind the main board connecting the top led and light sensor, and the volume control ribbon cable is soldiered on, and the buttons are glued onto the chassis, making it very difficult to disconnect / remove – it quickly becomes very fiddly.
Identifiable chips / components: (Click images above to enlarge, or to view additional images!) Top: Samsung SWB-A23 (Wifi, bluetooth), Qualcomm (hidden from view), Qualcomm PM754, AH56714, C1034003 (Power management), Underneath: Samsung 040, KA1000015M-AJTT, YK10338E (RAM), Qualcomm MSM7 (CPU, hidden from view), TriQuint 7M5012H, 1037, KORE, AT9366. Camera module: Made by MCNEX MC_32A2_48, 2010.06.04, the chip on the front of the phone, above the screen: 1KAAV0QW, Z1A0AD09.
Camera – 3.2 megapixel AF (Auto-focus) lens. Photos are awful. Terrible. Horrible. Utterly crap. Seriously substandard.
Other features? Impressions? The top bar shows you your notifications, things like texts, twitter or app notifications, and battery / connectivity status etc (3G, Bluetooth etc), but doesn’t actually let you interact with the notifications on the right of the bar… you can’t click the battery, for example, to see how much remains (like you can on Symbian ^3), instead you seem to have to go through the phones setting menu to get the information.
Updated conclusion: 6 months later: (10/07/2011) Some have said, in the comments that this review is overly negative, and somewhat lacking in it’s conclusion, and I agree. In retrospect, the ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) is still, to this day, 6 months later, one of the most fully featured, and lowest priced android phones available, and the good screen, and low price make it very apealling, especially with such a huge homebrew community of support. I bought it as I wanted to see what all the fuss about Android was, and I wasn’t as impressed as I felt I should have been, especially considering all the hype. There are areas of weakness such as the poor camera software (camera is poor on this phone, but may suffice in great weather, outdoors), and generally android isn’t as polished as I think it should be (this may have changed with newer versions, I tested 2.2). The ZTE Blade with a lower spec processor than most, won’t do flash, which is a huge drawback for me as I need iPlayer on my phone. Another big weakness is the high SAR levels (1.35 W/kg) – enough to give some users enough of an issue that they’ve seen a GP (Doctor) about it… Another big issue is the fact that everyone feels the need to mess with the google version of android, and try and add their own skin, apps, and money making programs to the phone. Very annoying. Anyway, to try and conclude this as quickly as possible, the ZTE Blade (OSF), is a great phone considering the price, and if well worth looking at if you’re on a limited budget and don’t mind the various issues the phone has.
+ High resolution 3.5″ capacitive screen (responsive)
+ Extremely good value for money
+ Easily unlocked, for free
+ Upgradable to Android 2.2
+ Tons of apps, good app store experience
+ Notification of app updates, and “Update all” button (not just OS)
+ Full screen PDF viewer (in QuickOffice)
– Home screens don’t work in landscape mode (see Symbian ^3, or Launcher Pro for Android)
– Music playback is interrupted by other app noises! (even when the phone and notifications are silent)
– Limited memory as standard (only 2gb MicroSD provided)
– AWFUL camera (see Nokia N8!), lacks even basic LED flash
– Fragmented OS / Features ie BBC iPlayer is supposed to work on 2.2 (using Flash*) but wouldn’t for me, 2.1 it just isn’t available (see Nokia / Apple)
– Poor battery life (8 hours)
– No strap loop / wriststrap mounting hole
– Camera shutter sound on, even when all sound muted.
– Default install location is the phones memory, not MicroSD, easy to fill the 512mb built in.
– Difficult to use one-handed (back button awkward – and pressing the background of the screen doesn’t take you back so you have to press the back button – easier on Symbian ^3 to just press the screen behind the pop up menu)
* Flash 10.1 is needed, which isn’t available for the ZTE Blade due to the ARM6 processor.