28
Oct
IMG_1872_wm
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Introduction

Since the advent of Android in 2009, the family of devices running Google's mobile OS has grown from one handset to now hundreds and possibly thousands of unique models. In recent months, Android has seen an explosion of devices coming from lesser-known Asian manufacturers, with one of the main selling points being price. The manufacturers realized that with Android they had a readily and freely accessible operating system, a large market of potential customers, and all they had to do was put together a cheap device to capitalize on Android's continued growth. Unfortunately, these devices often cut corners where things mattered the most - poor displays, resistive touchscreens, bad build quality and a litany of other crimes against the gods of consumer electronics.

One phone has stepped forward and separated itself from the rabble. The ZTE Blade, unveiled to but a murmur of interest at MWC2010 in February, has now made the existential leap from China to the United Kingdom, assuming a new identity as the Orange San Francisco. It is unclear what the relevance of the Californian city's name to this device is, but Orange have established a pattern of naming their rebranded phones after American cities. Retailing at a mere £99 ($160) on pre-pay, you would be forgiven for lumping in the Blade with a whole host of other must-try-harders and moving on. However, take a closer look at the Blade's spec sheet and your interest may be piqued...

Hardware

The most striking thing about the Blade is its OLED display. In a time where manufacturers are being forced to switch to alternative display technologies such as Super-LCD, it is a miracle to see a device released with an OLED screen, let alone one at this price. At 3.5", the WVGA (800 x 480) resolution provides an exemplary 270 DPI pixel density, making text and images nice and crisp. Detractors of the PenTile screen matrix technology will be disappointed to find that it is employed on this screen as it has been on previous OLED Android phones, and if you look very closely you may see some fringing around white pixels. A certain pink-tinge can also be detected on whites and greys when coming from another device, but after extended use the tinting is not noticeable. Despite these negative points, the screen is very impressive overall, and is a welcome high-spec feature when a lower quality display could have easily been included.

 IMG_1889_wm IMG_1908_wm

The touchscreen is capacitive, with support for two points of contact. While it did display some issues with fingers crossing axes, the issue was infrequent and seemed related to the speed of movement - it only happened if you paused at the intersection on the axis. The occurrence frequency was certainly less than on the Nexus One's infamous panel. Multitouch actions such as pinch-to-zoom were smooth, but occasionally the device took issue with fast typing - a particular issue was the screen not registering the very first letter of a word. Below the screen are three hard buttons - Home, Menu, Back - which have a nice clickiness and work well in their intended capacity. Unfortunately the search key was omitted, which mandates the Google search widget on your homescreen and means a bit more digging for search in applications. The lack of a trackball also makes terminal work difficult, and users may have to resort to third party keyboards with on-screen arrows if they find themselves using the command-line frequently.

 IMG_1888_wm IMG_1902_wm 
IMG_1875_wm IMG_1900_wm

The device itself feels nicely made, with the body being made from soft-touch matte grey plastic, solidly constructed and lacking in tell-tale creaks. Inside we find the usual array of sensors and communication modules - WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, FM Radio, Accelerometer, Proximity, Light, they're all there.

The foundations of the device seem quite solid, then. Except for one thing: the processor. The Blade uses a previous-generation 600 MHz ARM1136EJ-S CPU, Qualcomm's venerable MSM7227 chipset. Despite its age and low clock speed, the CPU still powers the Blade fairly nicely. Coming from a feature-phone, the Blade is still quite zippy. Former Snapdragon users will notice some sluggishness, but that is to be expected.

 2010-10-25 15.25.23 IMG_20101024_175656 IMG_20101023_144451
2010-10-21 19.07.23 2010-10-22 11.21.07 2010-10-22 09.55.35 2010-10-25 15.18.59

Another problem presents itself when using the device as a day-to-day phone: the camera. "The best camera is the camera you have with you", as the tired, over-used smartphone cliché goes. Well in the case of the San Francisco's 3.2 MPx Auto-Focus camera, having a digital SLR with you might also be handy. While the photos themselves are of acceptable quality, the photo taking process is painful. The camera application takes too long to start, and this is matched by slow focus times. Attempts at macro shots were denied with frustrating stubbornness. Video, at QVGA, doesn't bear mentioning. It may improve with future updates, but don't hold out hope for a 720P hack any time soon.

Software

Another culprit for the aforementioned sluggishness is likely the software. Orange have released the San Francisco with their own flavour of Éclair. An Orange flavour. Sound nice? Thankfully the customization does not go quite as deep as MotoBlur or TouchWiz, and stock Android still appears throughout the device's menus. The main grievance is with the Orange homescreen and the included Orange apps. Still, there is an included Homescreen Selector application that allows you to change back to the standard Éclair desktop, and as for the bloatware - Universal Androot helps splendidly in that regard.

Besides the useless Orange applications, the San Francisco does not include much beyond the standard suite of Android 2.1 applications. The dialer is different, with a smart-dialing capability where entering numbers/letters on the keypad presents a list of matching contacts to call. There is also a basic file manager, which is something that has been a noticeable omission in Android since its release.

Due to the slightly lacklustre processor, typing can be an issue if you move too quickly. This seems to be partly due to Éclair bogging down the device, and does not prove to be as much of a problem on the recent Froyo ROM. The phone is also slightly slow to wake, with a perceptible lag between pressing the (rather hard to reach) power button and the screen illuminating.

At this stage, the software is starting to look like a laundry list of little niggles and quirks. You may have noticed mention of Universal Androot earlier. It works flawlessly on the San Francisco, but that is merely a hint at the hacking potential of this device.

IMG_1872_wm

Hacking

The San Francisco rose to attention based on its discovery by the Android forum on MoDaCo - a site full of talented but thrifty Android enthusiasts. Like the T-Mobile Pulse before it, the San Francisco attracted many hobbyists due to its low barrier of entry and surprising feature-set. Before long, there was a version of ClockwordMod for the phone, enabling installation of MoDaCo custom ROMs. Just like that, the Orange intrusion was removed. It was also discovered that unlocking the ZTE Blade was a fairly cheap operation - SIM unlock codes could be had for less than £5. Further, /system was easily remountable as read-write. Suddenly the appeal of the San Francisco grew exponentially.

Not only this, but the actual ZTE Blade, the model intended for the China Unicom network, was due for release with Froyo. Shortly after, a dump of the Chinese model's Android 2.2 OS was leaked, despite the phone still not being released... and the rest is history.

So how is Froyo on the San Francisco? In a word: fantastic. While the upgrade from 2.1 to 2.2 on the Nexus One was pleasantly surprising, the difference was not so enormous as to suddenly validate the phone. With the San Francisco, the improvement is much more apparent. Everything happens noticeably faster. Typing, scrolling, Swyping, and pinching all benefit greatly from the improvements in the Froyo code. WiFi hotspot (infrastructure) is enabled along with several other cool and unexpected features. Despite the Froyo ROM for the San Francisco only being in Alpha at the time of writing, it is still a great beacon of hope for owners who are somewhat frustrated by the stock Éclair or even a customized MoDaCo ROM. There are still plenty of issues to be worked out in the current release, but given the developer support for the San Francisco those obstacles should be overcome sooner rather than later.

In Use

As a day to day smartphone, the San Francisco is very manageable. Battery life under normal use conditions is about 15 hours, which is right about on the average mark with most Android phones. It's not going to be beating your alphanumeric candy-bar any time soon, but the phone should make it through a day of use quite comfortably.

Call quality was good, and no dropped calls were experienced in the time with the phone. Network coverage always seemed reasonable and WiFi connectivity worked as expected. Some custom ROMs have had problems with dropped wireless connections but this did not present itself on the standard Orange version of Android that the phone came with.

Considering the reputation of OLED, expectations were not high for outdoor use. Thankfully the screen proved reasonably legible on full brightness, although you may find yourself wiping off smudges now and then. As mentioned before, the touchscreen can be a little slow to respond. The surface is a durable plastic with perhaps a little too much friction, but that will probably become smooth with extended use.

IMG_1842_wm IMG_1853_wm IMG_1850_wm

One of the use cases most suited to the San Francisco is use as an e-Book reader. While you may scoff at reading on a 3.5" display, the screen's high pixel density makes text quite pleasant to look at. Thanks to the OLED technology employed, white text on a black background is perfect for reading at night, with minimal eye strain due to the black pixels not emitting any light. This improves book reading and SSH alike.

image snap20101026_194814

Gaming is restricted to fairly lightweight, casual games. Abduction! proved to be a great game to demonstrate both the phone's beautiful screen as well as its highly sensitive accelerometer. While Angry Birds was not tested in the review, users of the Froyo ROM mentioned previously have had success with that game also. The recently-reviewed Reckless Racing is just about playable in Time Attack mode, but that is not surprising considering how graphically demanding the game is.

Appeal

So why is the San Francisco garnering such widespread interest? With smartphones, prices have always been a sticking point for the general consumer. Priced less than most feature phones, the San Francisco has removed that barrier to entry and is opening up Android to a much broader market. While it may be slow compared to more expensive smartphones, it is surely a dazzling device compared to the unsophisticated messaging phones that many new users will be coming from. Not only this, but the San Francisco has proven a hotbed of development and this will serve to extend the phone's active lifespan with regular users as well as smartphone-fanciers.

All in all, it looks like Orange and ZTE may have a success on their hands. Considering its relatively impressive hardware for a tantalizing price, the San Francisco is set to be a gateway drug to the greater world of Android, converting new users to smartphones and bringing their friends along with them. The only problem now is getting your hands on one outside of the UK.

IMG_1879_wm

Credit And Further Reading

A great debt of gratitude is owed to the Android community at MoDaCo.com. Without them, it is unlikely that the San Francisco would have received as much attention and it certainly would not have as much developer support.

In particular, MoDaCo's founder Paul O'Brien did a great job in bringing the Orange handset to the attention of the wider community. Paul also has an excellent series of posts, tutorials and videos with a great deal more information and resources on the San Francisco.

Thank you to Luke Timothy for the loan of the device.

Sources:

The ZTE Blade is available as the Orange San Francisco on the Orange UK network for £99 plus a mandatory £10 top-up. Currently the device is only available on pre-pay, but Orange will also be bringing the phone to contract customers. A white variant of the San Francisco also exists but is not yet for sale.
Brian O'Toole
Having learnt his writing techniques reading e-Books of Sherlock Holmes, Brian now spends his time /kicking, lurking, SSHing and encoding.
  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Great review, Brian!

    • oh!dougal

      Its a fair review. Very fair.

      However, people COULD be misled into thinking that ALL "ZTE Blades" had the same spec.
      They don't!
      The Chinese 2.2 rom came from a Blade with LCD (not OLED) screen and half the ram.
      Seemingly, even the battery from that phone will not fit the San Francisco.

      So, it might be best to call the SF "one version of the ZTE Blade".

      The minor wifi issue isn't so much "disconnecting" as occasional failure to auto-reconnect after sleep (incidence is variable, quite probably router-dependent). And you need to be aware that as-shipped, away from usb/charger, wifi sleeps with the screen, seemingly ignoring a preference setting.) On usb/charge, wifi can be set to sleep "never" and stays connected.

      And there's another annoying as-shipped v1.0 bug when not connected to usb/charger. The absence of "missed call" and other notification. You have to wake the screen but you have NOTHING to tell you that you ought to!
      On charge/usb, there's a flashing LED to say "you missed something", but on battery zilch.

      Both these quirks would seem likely to be software-fixable.
      BTW, there's no way short of waking the screen to tell whether the phone is alive and sleeping or powered-off with the battery totally flat. No 'breathing' LED.

      Perhaps it should be mentioned that the camera's lack of flash guarantees poor pictures indoors or in low light. You really shouldn't buy this phone for its camera!

      Overall, its very good value, and especially if Flash is offered for this processor then the phone should have way more 'android-potential' (and a better screen) than anything else at an equivalent price.

      • http://alsamni alsamani

        355458041309965

        • http://00249919219236 alsamani idres alsamani

          hi my alsamani idres my sudan call 00249919219236

        • http://alsamani90@gmail.com alsamani idres alsamani

          ﺍﻟﺴﻤﺎﻧﻲ ﺍﺩﺭﻳﺲ ﺍﻟﺴﻤﺎﻧﻲ ﻣﻦ ﺍﻟﺴﻮﺩﺍﻥ ﻭ ﻣﺤﺘﺎﺝ ﻟﻲ ﻣﺴﺎﻋﺪﻩ ﻣﻨﻜﻢ ﻳﺎ ﺍﺧﻮﺍﻧﻲ ﺗﻠﻔﻮﻧﻲ ﻋﺎﻳﺰ ﻟﻮ ﺑﺮﻧﺎﻣﻴﺞ ﻟﻐﺔ ﻋﺮﺑﻴﻪ ﺍﺭﺟﻮ ﺍﻟﻤﺴﺎﻋﺪﻩ ﻭ ﺩﺍ ﺭﻗﻢ ﺗﻠﻔﻮﻧﻲ ﻓﻲ ﺍﻟﺴﻮﺩﺍﻥ 00249919219236

  • Vlad

    Looks like a great phone. Anyway to get this for cheap in US (in San Francisco to be more precise)?

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Heh, not at the moment - it's a European phone.

    • Brian O’Toole

      You want a San Francisco in San Francisco?
      Best bet is probably to get a mate in England to post you one, as I did.

  • Kelvin H.

    Nice review.
    I recently got a San Fransisco through a friend on a vacation in London. Next to owning a Nexus One and recently sold a HTC Magic, this phone combined with Froyo still is an amazing experience especially at that price. If not playing games or using flash this can compete with higher priced phone in many areas. Definitely worth having it as second phone.

    Again, Froyo really pushes these "low" powered to a unimagined heights

  • Peter

    Sorry to ask what is probably an obvious question..
    But the phone on display in this post, is it running 2.1 or 2.2?

    • Kelvin H.

      You can't tell the version by these pictures, but you can customize your San Fransisco just as well as shown on the pictures regardless running 2.1 or 2.2.

  • sds

    "Unfortunately the search key was omitted, which mandates the Google search widget on your homescreen and means a bit more digging for search in applications"

    If you hold down the Menu key, it will be the equivalent of pressing the Search key...

  • typhoon

    +1 Kelvin H.

    I'm running a gforums 2.2 Froyo from Mondaco.com and the phones performance has been improved greatly. Video playback is smooth now, having stuttered like hell on 2.1. I'm really pleased with this phone, the first new mobile phone I have bought for 9 years. Interesting that a French company is releasing the same phone for twice the price of the UK release.

  • Thomas

    It will be available in Switzerland in a few days at a price of CHF 100.- (USD 100) with 2 year sim lock

  • David

    Hi,

    i was wondering how you managed to display a percentage text inside the original android battery indicator (see the picture next to the picture of Abduction).

    Kind regards,
    David

    • Brian O’Toole

      Ah, you caught me. I had already sent the Blade back when I realized I'd like a few pictures of apps running, I guess I forgot to correct the battery icon in the screenshots from my other phone. The percentage label is functionality from CyanogenMod, and is theoretically possible on the Blade but I don't think it has been done yet. Apologies for the confusion, and I can assure you the Blade looks identical to that image bar the percentage meter.

  • tara

    hi, I'm another one in Malaysia having someone from the UK to post me Orange san francisco. I used to have pocket pc Dell Axim x51v running on window mobile 6.1. I still miss window mobile though. Quality Android applications seem to be lacking apart from google navigation. Android still has a long way to go to catch up with window mobile.. also a steep researching curve to find good applications for me..

  • Dipsy

    Already own the phone after reading many other reviews and this one just backs it up!

    Now it has been several months since this review it's fair to say the scene for custom ROMs is healthy and active with Cyanogen developing a 2.3 Gingerbread mod as I type.

    Great phone for the price point.

  • Tim Staffell

    I lost my uninsured HD2 and bought a San Francisco to tide me over until my upgrade. I got rid of the Orange crap and I'm running Froyo 2.2. The phone's a marvel! Best phone I've ever owned for all sorts of reasons. The main one is that it's ergonomically superior, and the software rocks!

  • Jan

    All really interesting - BUT I have a problem that is taking up so much time and getting so frustrating- I cant "establish a realiable data connection to the server" so no access to google server - WHO can help??

    • http://androidpolice.com Brian O’Toole

      Are you using WiFi or the mobile network?

  • terminala

    okey, The phone is great. I upgrate to v2.2 with chainees most stable jellyfish Image.
    But have a one problem.
    How can i put proxy for use Wi-fi in my corporate network?

    • Kelvin

      Try CyanogenMod 7 for the Blade. It's just pure awesomeness!
      I know it isn't an answer to your question ;)

  • Tee

    One aspect has been missed in the review, otherwise being good. The aspect is that in Europe, it has also a 5 mpix camera. In Finland, at least.

  • http://koowie.com Koowie

    I'm just curious why they marketed as San Francisco? Real odd to me.

    • Kelvin

      That's because the British carrier Orange markets most of it's rebranded phones with city names.

  • Dhina

    Anyone tell me, orange san francisco display is good???? i taught i want to buy but thinking of china model it having poor display quality.. can anyone help me???

    • Kelvin

      It depends on which version you can get. The first model that came out had the superb AMOLED screen with fantastic colors and contrast, the later models only had a LCD screen. i dont have a side by side comparison, but a normal LCD display is never as nice/good as an AMOLED screen.

      Overall a LCD screen won't make the San Francisco a bad buy. Just make sure you get it at a good price.

  • tallo

    Can i install cyangonmod version nexus one ?

    • Kelvin

      NO!!!
      Never flash a ROM from a different device.
      Only flash a ROM that is 100% made for your device.

  • http://www.droid123.blogspot.com/ rob k

    This phone is superb. The whole point of Android is choice or customization. I watch video, listen to music, podcasts, and play games.

    I installed Cyanogen Mod7, various apps to improve what came out of the box, etc.

    The version with the LCD screen is wonderful at 480x800.

    Excellent user experience. Will just keep upgrading it until something truly revolutionary comes out to the market.

    To learn what to customize try this blog:http://www.droid123.blogspot.com

  • eliza

    Hello My name plise eliza"s for fone Wherw can l fiind ztep729b san francisco and do not knovWhere can fiind

  • George Kariuki Njamwitha

    Bought this phone in Kenya, it working nice. I like the camera quality, but not the video. how do you upgrade to Froyo 2.2?

    • samuel karanja

      very easy george..just go to
      sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk you'll find a beginners guide to installing custom roms..best froyo rom?hmmmm swedish springs rls5..you can get it from

      android.modaco.com/topic/334849-rom-froyo-swedish-spring-rls5-2011-04-19-oledtft-gen1gen2/

      there is a lot of resources for the zte blade..just check in the xda and modaco forums..

  • samuel karanja

    very easy george..just go to
    sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk you'll find a beginners guide to installing custom roms..best froyo rom?hmmmm swedish springs rls5..you can get it from

    android.modaco.com/topic/334849-rom-froyo-swedish-spring-rls5-2011-04-19-oledtft-gen1gen2/

    i suggest you upgrade to gen 2 via tpt method..but do that later once you have a feel of swedish springs.

  • http://www.elifecoach.tel anthony68

    This phone is selling @ 119 eur by kpn in the dutch i will buy it! and with an simonly abbo with internet round 20eur. I want to tweak this phone set admin rights en root priviles en set firewall and virus. Is threre for the android a similair program like apples jailbreak? To download apps for free!??? let me no mail me asp!!
    Mail me all the sites with important info about this phone and the tweaks!!!

  • samuel karanja

    well for android we just call it rooting i.e being in total control of your phone..having admin privileges..here are some of the sites a new zte blade owner should visit

    sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk
    ....this will give you simple guides on how root your phone,install clockwordmod recovery and install froyo roms for gen 1 or gen 2 blades..you have to know whether your blade is gen 1 or 2(mr pigfish will help you with that)..if your blade is sold with a stock froyo os its probably a gen 2.

    wiki.modaco.com/index.php/ZTE_Blade
    ...this will give you all the information you want about the zte blade..

    forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-1172838.html
    .....this will give you information on how to upgrade your gen 1 blade to a gen 2..this will be important if you want to install gingerbread or ics(haha these are os variants for android)

    forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=17476912&postcount=1
    further information on gen 1 to gen 2 upgrade..tpt method..will also provide full gingerbread systems

    well for android we just call it rooting i.e being in total control of your phone..having admin privileges..here are some of the sites a new zte blade owner should visit

    sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk
    ....this will give you simple guides on how root your phone,install clockwordmod recovery and install froyo roms for gen 1 or gen 2 blades..you have to know whether your blade is gen 1 or 2(mr pigfish will help you with that)..if your blade is sold with a stock froyo os its probably a gen 2.

    wiki.modaco.com/index.php/ZTE_Blade
    ...this will give you all the information you want about the zte blade..

    forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-1172838.html
    .....this will give you information on how to upgrade your gen 1 blade to a gen 2..this will be important if you want to install gingerbread or ics(haha these are os variants for android)

    forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=17476912&postcount=1
    further information on gen 1 to gen 2 upgrade..tpt method.

    well for android we just call it rooting i.e being in total control of your phone..having admin privileges..here are some of the sites a new zte blade owner should visit

    sanfranciscoandroid.co.uk
    ....this will give you simple guides on how root your phone,install clockwordmod recovery and install froyo roms for gen 1 or gen 2 blades..you have to know whether your blade is gen 1 or 2(mr pigfish will help you with that)..if your blade is sold with a stock froyo os its probably a gen 2.

    wiki.modaco.com/index.php/ZTE_Blade
    ...this will give you all the information you want about the zte blade..

    forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-1172838.html
    .....this will give you information on how to upgrade your gen 1 blade to a gen 2..this will be important if you want to install gingerbread or ics(haha these are os variants for android)

    forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=17476912&postcount=1
    further information on gen 1 to gen 2 upgrade..tpt method.

    http://www.addictivetips.com/mobile/what-is-clockworkmod-recovery-and-how-to-use-it-on-android-complete-guide/
    will show you how to use clockworkmod

    and finally search.google.com

  • Chillaxx

    Those who have bought this phone in Kenya, does it come with an OLED or a TFT screen? Am asking this because I've heard that it's only the earlier released that had the OLED screen.....

  • Chillaxx

    Those who have bought this phone in Kenya, does it come with an OLED or a TFT screen? Am asking this because I've heard that it's only the earlier released that had the OLED screen.....
    What about it's RAM, is it 256 or 512?

  • samuel karanja

    it comes with a tft..its 512mb..if you plan on buying it I highly suggest you remove the stock rom..it makes the device slow..am on cyanogen 7.1(gingerbread 2.3.7)..

  • Chillaxx

    Thanks a lot Samuel now I know....... am actually planning to buy it sooner or later......

  • Mh’d Ziyad

    Hi Guys ,, I'm planning to buy one in the next couple of days ,, I've read so many reviews , User opinions and Forums .. and it just made it so clear that it's a ( Must Buy ) .
    Now what i'm so anxious to know is : "Does the custom ROM Cyanogen 7.1 or whatever most recent ROM give a Flash 10.2 support to the device ???"

    Thanks .

  • http://www.zte.com.cn Sophia

    UK orange San Francisco supports online upgrade, you can download the Terminal software online upgrade tool(orange) on ZTE website to refresh or update the phone by self.

  • http://wwwen.zte.com.cn/en/ Sophia

    If you are in Fance, you can download the software online upgrade in French. The update tool for France is:Logiciel de mise à jour pour mobiles Android
    The link is :http://www.zte.com.fr/products/handsets/list/201011/P020120305776429478730.exe