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Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade) review

Gordon Kelly




  • Recommended by TR

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Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
  • Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
  • Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
  • Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
  • Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)
  • Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade)


Our Score:



  • Brilliant screen
  • Feature packed
  • Incredible price


  • Orange Bloatware
  • Poor Camera

Key Features

  • 3.5in AMOLED display
  • 3G, GPS, WiFi
  • Android 2.1
  • 3.2MP camera
  • Manufacturer: Orange
  • Review Price: free/subscription

Everyone loves smartphones. Well maybe not, but that would seem a fair conclusion to the latest stats from analysts Gartner which claim one in five of all handsets sold now officially isn't dumb. In real terms this clocks up as a whopping 326m smartphones in Q3 alone, traditionally the quiet period before the Christmas rush. Consequently world + dog + dog's collar is trying to make smartphones ever more appealing, particularly to those on a budget. The Nokia C3 and HTC Wildfire are great examples of this, but they're about to receive a major kick in the pants…

On the surface little makes sense about the weirdly named Orange 'San Francisco'. Known outside the UK as the 'ZTE Blade', it packs a feature set to give the Wildfire nightmares. It is thinner (116 x 56.5 x 11.8 mm vs 106.8 x 60.4 x 12 mm), lighter (110g vs 118g) and more powerful (Qualcomm QCT MSM7227-1 600 MHz processor vs Qualcomm MSM 7225 528 MHz processor). It has the same 3G, WiFi and GPS functionality and both sport Android 2.1.

More importantly however it eschews the Wildfire's perfectly respectable 3.2in 240 x 320 pixel touchscreen for a whopping 3.5in AMOLED with a massive 800 x 480 pixels. In fact the only area it seems to lose out on is the camera: 3.2 megapixels with autofocus and no flash to a five megapixeler with both autofocus and flash. Most remarkable of all though is price. The £229.99 Wildfire is wonderfully wallet friendly, but on pre-pay the Orange San Francisco is just £99. Yes, we're baffled. That said we're even more baffled that, given this remarkable price/performance, Orange has done its absolute best to mess it up.

You won't notice this when you take the San Francisco out of its box. For such a cheap handset build quality is excellent. Squeezing the sides hard can elicit the smallest of creaks, but in truth there is little to choose between it and flagship phones like the original Google Nexus One and HTC Desire. The San Francisco also sports the same matt finish as these illustrious models so the only finger marks you collect will be on the screen.

Meanwhile everything is sensibly located with volume buttons on the right side and a headphone jack on the top. The micro USB charger port resides on the left side (arguably the bottom would have been better, but it's a small bugbear all things considered) and the micro SD and sim card slots are located under the battery cover, though thankfully not under the battery itself. So far so very good.

Then again Orange's sabotage only becomes apparent when you switch the San Francisco on…

Carrier pricing updates & information supplied by WhistleOut


January 26, 2011, 12:10 pm

One comment, this originally came with an AMOLED screen however last time I checked ZTE had switched to LED due to shortages of screens, that saying most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference

Glad you've been able to get a reviewunti, it really is amazing what ZTE has managed to cram into this phone at this pricepoint! Detonator gives you moment to pause when most smartphones seem to be at 400+!


January 26, 2011, 12:33 pm

I just bought a second hand unlocked and debranded one on eBay. Looking forward to getting and playing around with Android again.

I don't think it'll replace the N8 but it'll be a hell of a nice back up!


January 26, 2011, 1:40 pm

This is why Android doesn't and shouldn't have a minimum spec. I'd still prefer a high end handset but for the money it's just amazing.

Trevor Totten

January 26, 2011, 1:59 pm

Yeah, they're all TFT screens now, but I've seen both and they're both very good. Have the AMOLED version myself. Unlocked for free, and flashed with Android 2.2, with all the Orange bloatware removed, and a nice Android 2.3 Gingerbread theme. I was an Android noob myself, and I can't tell you how easy it is to do, so no one should be intimidated by it. Go to blade.modaco.com and you'll find all you need there, even step-by-step video tutorials. And given the limited onboard storage (150MB), Android 2.2 is a must as you can move apps to the SD card. Camera is rubbish, but if you want a good camera, then go buy one. Also, be aware that flash is not supported on this CPU. Anyone thinking of moving to Android but has been put of by the price of smartphones, shouldn't even think twice about this one. No better phone anywhere for the money. Would be bargain at twice the price!


January 26, 2011, 2:50 pm

Don't bother wasting time uninstalling the Orange cruft. Just wipe and install a 2.2 Froyo ROM from the guys at Modaco!

How to unlock your San Francisco so any SIM will work (completely free):


How to install a Custom ROM on the San Francisco (aka the "ZTE Blade"):



January 26, 2011, 3:17 pm

Got one of these on PAYG a couple of weeks ago as when my contract with vodafone runs out in May I will be mobing to Giffgaff. The Orange crud is easily removed, I am now running standard rooted Android 2.1. Have not bothered with a custom ROM as happy as is. Great phone, really pleased.

Geek in Training

January 26, 2011, 3:19 pm

The contract on my HTC Hero runs out soon. I was going to keep it as back up for when I upgrade to, most likely, the new Desire - assuming it won't be a monstrosity like the Desire HD.

However, it looks like I'd be better off selling the Hero and getting this for just a few quid more. Has anyone used both? Would they agree?


January 26, 2011, 3:27 pm

Excellent review of an extraordinary phone.

This spec level at £99 makes all the other smartphone prices seem to belong to a parallel reality. And the network unlock codes are available for free, so if you are so inclined this is also the unofficial SIM-free price.

As other comments have noted, the screens are no longer AMOLED, which is a shame.

I echo the review comments on build quality. I found mine to be very well built - slim, comfortable in the hand, and surprisingly solid. One or two reviews were negative about the build quality. Either there is variation in the samples, or their perceptions were conditioned by expecting the build quality to be poor rather than the objective reality. (Or they were grade-A morons and hadn't replaced the cover properly after installing the battery, which will make for a flimsy fit and creaking.)

Would love to think ZTE/Orange have a follow-up in mind (Tegra 2 at £99, please ;), although hopefully next time resisting the temptation to 'improve' stock Android.

My slight fear is that the customizations were key to making the low price-point viable for Orange (£5/month for push e-mail, expensive app store, paid maps), but I find it hard to believe a worthwhile percentage of users were taken in by these.


January 26, 2011, 3:39 pm

I notice that the focus always seems to be on features. This may be more feature rich than the Wildfire, but for build quality, just pick both up and there is no comparison.


January 26, 2011, 3:44 pm

@darkspark88: A fair point but you have to remember that this phone is also less than half the price.


January 26, 2011, 3:45 pm

I'm currently looking for a budget smart phone. This may be a really stupid question but why would I buy something like this and not a Blackberry Curve 8520 which is in the same price bracket? Forget the fact that one has 3G and the other doesn't (I'm not that interested in surfing but more interested in messaging) and that you have to pay for Blackberry Internet Services. In terms of a straight comparison of phones why this one?


January 26, 2011, 4:03 pm

Yes, I have this phone and Im well chuffed with it. Managed to convinve 3 other people to buy this phone. Ive not put a 2.2 ROM on this but Im really tempted cos Im out of space!! Got launcherpro on this and it works an absolute treat. I do wonder though at all the other phones which are over half the price for providing such low res screens!! Would of happily paid 50 quid extra for a slightly better camera and flash. Heres hoping ZTE have more miracles round the corner.


January 26, 2011, 4:10 pm

One thing I do find disappointing however is the sound level when listening to MP3s. Doesnt make me want to use it as my primary MP3 player.


January 26, 2011, 4:57 pm

I have this phone and I totally agree with this review; its a great phone for the price. I just got to get the nerve up to root it and flash Froyo or maybe Gingerbread in the near future. BTW: if anyone's interested, I think rooting voids the warranty, but I believe there are ways to re-install the orange rubbish if needed, before sending it back.

Just one more niggle: I think the 32GB memory card spec is a bit optimistic, if you check the Modaco site linked above, I think you'll find that no one has been able to make a 32GB card work. I have a 16GB that's working a treat though, but some people have struggled with those too. My card is a "mymemory" brand and I haven't had any problems with it.


January 26, 2011, 5:02 pm

Just to point out, the Wildfire has a budget-oriented 240 × 320 resolution, rather than the more reasonable 320 x 420 stated in the review. That's the main reason why I'd never buy a Wildfire right there.


January 26, 2011, 5:04 pm

manoz: search that Modaco site, I think those guys have found a fix (or a better app)for the sound issue. And, ditto on the launcherpro


January 26, 2011, 5:13 pm

@Chris: Thanks, good spot. Fixed.


January 26, 2011, 5:57 pm

Excellent phone! Had it since Paul's review on Modaco, and running his excellent 2.2 rom. The build quality is the weakest part and could be better, but not for £100 unlocked!


January 26, 2011, 6:08 pm

Forgot to mention the annoying wifi bug, which causes a failure to automatically reconnect when coming back from standby. There is a free third-party fix for this available in the appstore.


January 26, 2011, 6:24 pm

The San Francisco (or blade) causes me such a problem. One the one hand its not enough phone for me personally to get. I want slightly different features etc. However the problem is that those extra features / specs are not worth £300 or 3x the price.

If ZTE can churn these out for £100 price point then its not suprising that HTCs smartphone profits have increased - there must be quite a markup. Here's hoping (not that im expecting) that value phones such as these force high end phones to come down in price a touch!


January 26, 2011, 6:42 pm

@Malderon: Here, here! Most smartphones currently command a ridiculous markup. It's great to see ZTE bucking the trend.

Of course, this phone is locked to Orange and comes loaded with Orange's profiteering malware. That Orange intend to generate further income from this phone's sale may partially account for its low initial price.


January 26, 2011, 6:52 pm

I've had one since November and love it. Lots of useful comments here (especially the solution to the wifi problem which is a real pain).

@Bill - I've got a 32GB Sandisk card in mine - works fine, it doesn't work if I start up the phone while it's plugged into a charger but otherwise no problems.


January 26, 2011, 7:15 pm

I echo the calls for a ZTE Dual core phone at a similar price range (hell, even £149 would be a reasonable price for the dual core version) and possibly even a ZTE tablet? One with a single core at £149 and Dual core ar £199, now that would be a game changer!

Simon 19

January 26, 2011, 7:54 pm

I've had mine for a couple of months now and am well pleased. My friends on the £30 a month contract for Android phones, not so much! My own concern is the very creaky back cover. (I'd like to think I'm not a grade-a moron but the cover doesn't seem to fit quite right. I've called Orange and their's a new cover on the way so we'll see if that remedies it!


January 26, 2011, 8:21 pm

Would you care to enlighten me with the details?


Forgot to mention the annoying wifi bug, which causes a failure to automatically reconnect when coming back from standby. There is a free third-party fix for this available in the appstore.

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