The Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade): A Few Thoughts

As an introduction to the world of Android smartphones (and as a replacement for my aging Nokia N95), I treated myself to a San Francisco phone from Orange.

Although I’m not going to give a full review (I want to wait until I’ve had the opportunity to play with the phone a bit more), I’ve got a few  thoughts and pointers to give to any new owners or anyone who is planning to get one.

First impressions

Although it’s only £100, the phone should still be pretty snappy when navigating through the interface. Despite only having a 600 MHz processor ( a lot of the higherend – more expensive – Android phones can be expected to have ~ 1GHz processors), you can expect it to perform admirably despite what you throw at it. In short: Angry Birds will work quite well.

The build quality is fine although the back cover and the power button could be a little sturdier. I wouldn’t want to push it by popping the back off too often or pressing the power button too hard. A turbosim / dual-sim adapter may work, but there’s not a lot of room to work with.

The Screen

There’s 2 versions of the Orange San Francisco – one with an OLED screen and one with a TFT screen. There’s not much difference in them and you won’t get a choice between them if you were to buy them at a shop, so if this is a big selling point you might want to be careful when you buy. I won’t go into the differences, suffice to say that it’s largely personal preference. You can Google it for a good comparison.

The screen is large enough to use well although you might want to investigate an alternative keyboard if you’ve got big fingers. Finger prints show quite a lot if you take the screen protector off.

WiFi & Data Connectivity

There’s a few problems with WiFi (and to a lesser extent 3G data) where it will disconnect and not reconnect until manually turned off and on again. So far there’s no solution at all although there’s an application called “Blade WiFi Fix” in the Android Market which will do this for you. I do have a problem with it though, which I’ll touch on later.

Updates to 2.2 (Froyo) or 2.3 (Gingerbread)

At time of writing, the San Francisco comes with Android2.1 (Eclair) which is great but there are a few applications, themes etc which require 2.2 or greater. So far, there’s no official 2.2 ROM and it unfortunately looks as though there’s never going to be one. 2.1 will allow you to run the majority of applications though. There’s a number of unofficial 2.2 and 2.3 ROMs (check the MoDaCo forums) although these are either built from leaks or the AOSP source and therefore have certain bugs and missing features and probably not worth the effort if you need any sort of stability.

Custom ROMS

Some communities (try modaco.com) have custom ROMS for the blade which will offer various advantages over the stock Orange firmware. Some of them offer additional advantages, rooting, superuser access etc, but largely don’t offer any additional functionality and may not even be worth investigating if the phone works fine for you out of the box. This may be subject to change however as efforts to bring 2.2 and 2.3 to the San Francisco progress.

A Few Last Niggles

I’ve noticed that occasionally the San Francisco can shutdown and not turn back on unless you either plug it into a USB port to charge, hammer the power button repeatedly or take the battery out. Apparently this can also be caused by static electricity or a loose battery, however uninstalling Google Skymap and Tweetdeck was the only solution for me. For me, this was a problem on all 2.1 ROMs.

I’ll try and keep this updated as I discover more about the phone. I’ll also try and get a proper review posted when I’m comfortable with it. In the meantime, the MoDaCo forum is a great resource.

irst impressions