The Samsung Galaxy S II may have won our award for phone of the year 2011 but the Orange San Francisco came very close to pinching the top spot, despite being a budget handset that sold exclusively on Pay As You Go with Orange. The reason we liked it so much was because it was incredibly cheap - just £99 - for a fully fledged smartphone with (crucially) a decent sized screen.
Now the San Francisco brand is back in the form of the Orange San Francisco 2 (or Orange San Francisco II if you prefer), which - you'll never guess - also retails for just £99. Its key improvements over its predecessor are a faster processor (up from 600MHz to 800MHz) and an improved camera (up from 3 megapixels and no flash to 5 megapixels with one LED flash). Not enough to upgrade perhaps but for newcomers looking for a super cheap smartphone, these stats are enough to just about keep this phone within touching distance of the superfast premium models.
Sadly, one thing that hasn't really improved is the design. The old San Francisco was hardly a bastion of brilliant design but it was smart enough, especially in its soft-touch grey garb. The equivalent finish on this new model may well have similarly improving effects but the glossy black version we're reviewing doesn't quite do it for us. The finish looks eternally grubby with fingerprints and the layout of features (buttons, speaker, etc) on the front isn't the most elegant. By all means, it's far from being out and out ugly, but it's no looker either.
The Orange San Francisco picks up fingerprints with particular aplomb
Build quality is decent, though. While the glossy plastic will scratch fairly easily and the screen isn't tough Gorilla Glass, the phone doesn't feel inherently flimsy. The fit and finish certainly isn't up to iPhone standards but there are no overly obvious gaps or other distractions to be concerned about, and all the buttons are reasonably responsive (if strangely labelled in the case of the front navigation buttons). The volume rocker and power buttons are a tad small and fiddly though.
The phone feels pretty good in the hand too. Built around a 3.5in screen, its fairly modest proportions (117 x 58.5 x 10.6 mm) mean it's easy to get a good grasp of the thing and its gentle curves make it comfortable as well. At 120g it's fairly middling in the weight department.
On the connectivity front, all the basics are covered with a headphone jack on the top, a microUSB socket on the side and a microSD slot under the battery cover, which conveniently you don't need to remove the battery to access. When you plug the phone into a computer a message pops up straight away to ask if you'd like to use mass storage mode, rather than invoking some unnecessary syncing software installation or such like. It's a simple touch but plenty of other Android handsets don't make it this easy, and of course Windows Phone handsets and iPhones require software before you can properly connect them to a computer and add files to them. Onboard storage is essentially nonexistent but you get a 2Gb microSD card preinstalled, and a 16GB microSD card can be picked up for peanuts.
On the back is the camera along with its flash and there's also a front facing one for video calling. The latter is very ropey quality but at least it's there.
The Nokia Lumia 800 on the left has the Orange San Francisco 2 beat for brightness, contrast and colour saturation but the budget handset is actually sharper, so better for reading text.
Having both the San francisco II and the Nokia Lumia 800 to hand, what's quite striking is the difference in the screen quality... and the San Fran comes out on top. Okay, maybe it's not quite as clear cut as that but where the Lumia 800 has a brighter, more vivid display thanks to its AMOLED technology, the San Francisco 2's LCD panel has it beat for sharpness (because of the Lumia's use of a Pentile subpixel matrix). It's also bright and colourful with good viewing angles. It's not a match for the best displays (LCD or AMOLED) but crucially - and uniquely among such low priced handsets - it has a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels (the same as the original iPhone). Everything from reading emails and browsing the web to playing games and watching videos is just more fun and productive when you move from the super low-res 240 x 320 screens of other budget handsets to a display like this.