back to article Ten... budget Android smartphones

In barely two years, Google's Android operating system has established itself as a serious contender in the smartphone biz. It's different from Apple's iOS not just in its open source nature, but also in its use for both high-end premium handsets like Samsung’s Galaxy S and HTC’s Desire HD, but also in a raft of budget devices, …


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  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    I'm off to buy ten smartphones


  2. Jim 48
    Thumb Up

    Very useful

    A very useful roundup, although I would say the limit for a budget phone should be £200 which would knock out the Wildfire. My T-Mobile Pulse (Huawei U8220), the original budget Android smartphone, is still going strong a running a very stable custom ROM. If my Pulse broke I'm not sure which of those I'd get next, I've looked at the San Francisco but I like hardware call buttons and a trackball.

    1. Jim 48
      Dead Vulture

      Not only but also

      Pulse Mini; "thankfully the new Pulse has dispensed with the awkward dual home/back and menu buttons of its predecessor."

      Vodafone 845; "with home and back incorporated into one key, which makes navigating direct to the first of the seven home screens a little tricky."

      How hard can 'single press back one screen, long press back to Home' be? I do sometimes wonder about you lot.

  3. Chris Beach

    San Fransisco

    The SanFran is also easily unlockable and rootable with a decent community behind it, which are already working on a 2.2 ver.

    1. Eponymous Cowherd
      Thumb Up

      Feck off Vodafone

      The San Francisco has been picked up by numerous disgruntled HTC Magic owners who are seriously pissed off with Vodafone's refusal to keep this phone up to date while its users are locked into expensive 2 year contracts. Effectively paying premium rates for what is, now, a budget class Smartphone that the San Francisco easily outclasses.

      The fact that costs a mere £99 and is easy to unlock and root make it an ideal vehicle to stick two stiff little fingers up to Vodafone.

      Missing from the review, The San Francisco has a 480x800 screen and 600Mhz CPU

  4. moylan

    hmmmm keyboards

    nice to see budget models with keyboards.

  5. mrmond
    Thumb Up

    Orange San Francisco

    But surprised to hear the SF described as it was. All the reviews I've seen so far have descibed the screen as comparable to hansets costing much more,and given the price for 2.1 and OLED ,plus payg availability it's the handset I'm planning to get. In video test it aslo seems pretty nippy.

    Come on, 800x480 oled screen with gps as well for 99 quid !

  6. Gordan


    I find it very surprising that you have rated the HTC Wildfire at £230 above the Orange San Francisco (ZTE Blade) at £100. Having tried both, the ZTE Blade leaves Wildfire distinctly poor. Not only is the OSF 2.3x cheaper than the HTCW, it also has a 600MHz CPU vs. 528MHz, and 512MB of RAM vs 384MB. Most importantly of all, HTCW has a 320x240 screen vs 800x480 on the OSF!

    How on earth could you rate the HTCW at 90% and OSF at 85%??? There's just no contest between the two.

    The other thing that really should be mentioned is community support. In general, the cheaper the phone is, the more it is community hacked and the more available useful things like custom root roms with extra features are. And given it's high spec and unbelievably low price, the OSF seems set to be the most community-loved Android phone for a long time to come.

  7. GoFasterStripes

    Too big!

    What, no X10 Mini/Mini Pro?

  8. David 135

    Strange pick

    While the editors choice is a capacitive touchscreen device, it has a terrible resolution - and one that will really limit making the most of the Android operating system.

    Their 'second choice' - the Orange San Francisco has much better screen and a bargain price point, so it's hard to argue that any of the other devices come close, even if the camera on the device is very poor (which it is).

    Saying that the Wildfire features many of the Desires pluses including an excellent screen ignores the major difference in resolution. When it's well over twice as much as the San Francisco, it's hard to recommend getting the Wildfire over spending that little bit more and getting one of the high-end Android devices or spending less on the San Fran.

  9. Nipsirc

    Pulse mini - how much?

    I can appreciate prices change reasonably quickly, but seeing as the roundup only came out this morning (16th November), TMobile have it at 80 quid bar a penny, which is 15 quid off. I realise you think £230 is 'budget', so probably drop fivers without noticing, but all the same!

  10. Nightmare


    Vodafone 845 "Free with £15-30pm contract " and "cheap as chips"

    I got a Desire free from Vodafone, on £25 a month.

    Just saying.....

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know its complicated but...

    I was waiting for this round up with high hopes that it would give me a good indication of which budget phone I can buy that wont come with the stupid vodafone 360 (or equivalent) software installed on it. From the round up it looks like the Orange san fran is by far the best in terms of cheapness / functionality but when you say it comes with a choice of vanilla or the orange software (which I really dont want) I can only find it on for £99 which doesn't mention anything about choice of software or the orange shop which doesn't mention a choice either!

    Ideally I would like to be able to put a vodafone PAYG sim in it from time to time too but as it's an orange phone would that be too much to ask (even if you buy it from

    Apologies for being such a "noob" - I am still using my original Nokia Navigator from about 5 years ago (brilliant phone and still going strong) and havent really kept up to date with the mobile phone world.

    Anyone got thje time / energy patience to explain it to me?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just looked at Orange prices

    Bloody hell! Quite fancied a San Francisco until I looked at Orange PAYG prices! Is it me or are they massively expensive? And what does the whole "top up per month" thing mean? What if I only top up £10 every 2 months? Do I not get free texts / cheap calls / free internet then?

    Why the hell do the mobile phone companies have to make their pricing so complicated?

    1. thesykes
      Thumb Up

      Orange prices?

      no need to worry, it can be unlocked for less than a fiver (no need to wait 3 months and pay Orange £20 or £30 to do it). A short time reading on and you can have it rooted, de-oranged and away you go on any network and tariff you choose.

    2. Terry 13
      Thumb Up

      Don't have to use Orange

      You can unlock the San Francisco for free - there is a code generator in the public domain. Else you can pay £1 on ebay. So, do what I did and choose another operator which charges sensible prices - e.g. T-mobile - 600 minutes, 500 texts, unlimited landlines and 3GB internet on 12 month SIM only contract for £7.50 per month. Or, if you don't want to use it as phone, and can live with a maximum of 384Kbps and 1 gig per month get a PAYG SIM from T-mobile and buy a six-month internet top-up for £20.


      PS San Francisco is so much better than the other phones, so review flawed, particularly in relation to the amount of RAM and the OLED high-res screen. And going to a decent Orange-free ROM is a fifteen-minute job for a Reg reader.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        T-mobile site says it costs twice that

        Any pointers on where to get that deal? Best I can find is SIM only with those exact minutes etc. for £15 a month for 12 months, or a rolling contract for £10 on a monthly basis both getting internet via a "flexible booster".

        1. Terry 13

          You need to ring them

          T-mobile sales on 0800 9565057.

          To avoid the T-mobile voicemail charges use the much better and free hullomail. Google it or download the app when you get an Android phone.

          You can read much more about the £7.50 deal here:

          I, and many others, might have switched to Orange had the tariffs and data allowances been sensible, so they really have shot themselves in the foot here.

          Also note that, if you can take in an NHS/Local authority payslip into an Orange shop, Orange will give a £20 discount on the phone (some other organisations are included too).

    3. Eponymous Cowherd
      Thumb Down

      Seems cheap enough to me

      An Orange San Francisco on Orange's "Dolphin" PAYG tariff gives you "unlimited" internet if you top up £10 a month. Considering I'm currently paying £25 a month for a contract Vodafone HTC magic, a superior phone for less than half the monthly outlay seems cheap enough to me.

      Add to that that Vodafone have unilaterally changed my Internet allowance from "unlimited" to a 500MB PCM cap then its a no-brainer. Unless Vodafone can offer me something like the San Francisco's spec at £10 PCM (with unlimited Internet) then they can sod off when my contract expires.

      Maybe if you make a lot of calls then a contract phone may make more sense, but most of my usage is data, so the Dolphin tariff seems ideal.

  13. TeamEvil


    The LG Optimus GT540 is now officially upgradeable to 2.1

  14. Stefing

    Pulse Mini

    I bought one of these for my girlfriend, generally excellent for the money but the screen needs the supplied stylus and that has led to deep scores in the screen.

  15. KitD
    Thumb Up

    Orange SF

    Had one of these for a few weeks now. Seriously impressive phone for not much money. Highly recommended.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    San Francisco

    is the one to go for - it's just a re-badged XTE Blade so you get a 600MHz MSM7227 chip (the same used in the HTC Legend) with 512MB of RAM (the Legend makes do with 384MB) and a 480 x 800 AMOLED capacitive touch screen and all for less than £100. What's not to like?

  17. andy gibson

    +1 for the Orange SF

    and the Modaco community forum.

    The phone is a tinkerers delight, with superb support.

  18. ed_goat
    Thumb Down

    Orange San Fran wins hands down

    The Orange San Francisco can easily and cheaply be sim-unlocked. It can also be freely and easily rooted and have custom ROMs installed (I'm running FLB Froyo). The fact that the WIldfire beats it shocks me.

    The San Fran is less than half the price, has more RAM, a beautiful screen, and the only place where it lacks, is the poor quality camera (quite forgiveable given the price, since a compromise had to be made somewhere!). Finally, the San Fran is being released around the world (ZTE Blade), which will create even more community support. Beats all the others hands down!

  19. Flatenote31

    Seriously? the WildFire?

    No offence, but it looks quite biased towards the WildFire.

    Amongst the crowds, rises the San Fran with a capacitive 3.5" AMOLED with multi-touch (dual really, not multiple), 800x480 res, ample RAM and a better processor than all the others....

    Build quality of the WildFire isn't that better than the SanFran really...

    SanFran has passed lots of tests and has picked up lots of fans and many devs have endorsed it as a device with lots of potential...It has proven to be Froyo-capable even with dodgy leaked roms...

    Even though SENSE UI is quite nice indeed, many enthusiasts prefer to have a vanilla ROM to customize on their own....

    That , as I personally believe, is why people migrate to Android from Symbian and iOS.... we want to be able to customize and be in total control....and basically...STICK IT TO THE MAN :)

  20. hopelessness
    Thumb Up

    San Fran

    I upgraded from the HTC Hero to the San Fran, and it's definitely an upgrade, despite the odd niggle. Oh, and I'm on 3 too, it was unlocked for £1.50.

    The San Fran is not a budget Android device IMO, it's a budget high end Android device, it really is a very nice phone, it doesn't feel cheap and plasticy either!

  21. StevenHarperUK

    San Fran

    The Abundance of HTC advertising on Reg Hardware worries me how unbiased the scoring is.

    However they seem to have overlooked the Huge amount of RAM (424MB) that the device has.

    And that the screen is almost comparable to devices costing over 350 quid.

    My main worry is that a touch screen device with a Resistive screen (welcome back 2008) that costs more than twice as much as the San Fran seems to have outscored it.

  22. uhuznaa

    Orange SF

    This thing is easily unlocked, so you can put any SIM into it.

    The SF is causing quite a stir at the moment. Right now it's sold exclusively by Orange and there is a healthy ebay buzz going on, with that thing being bought like mad from all over Europe. I've heard from people flying to London from Germany to buy one, this still being cheaper than buying some overpriced HTC phone around the corner...

    It's really cheap as chips and quite good for that. 512MB of RAM, a 800x480 OLED capacitive touch screen, GPS, 3G, WiFi, FM-radio and all of this in a nice thin package. The battery is a bit on the weak side, though. And the camera the usual crap. Still, you can't get a better budget smartphone right now.

  23. MaXimaN
    Thumb Up

    Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro

    I'd also throw the SEX10MP into the mix, as it can be had for under 200 notes on T-Mobile Pay As Yo Go. Capacitive (but small) screen, hardware keyboard, Android 2.1. It's quick, responsive, and pretty nice to use overall.

  24. eJ2095


    Well i like my HD2 running android

  25. juice

    GT540 and San Francisco

    It's worth noting that LG has (finally!) released Android 2.1 for the GT540, and installing it is fairly painless. Also, the GT540 has a 800*480 screen and in some ways, I actually prefer the capacitive screen - it means I can use my fingernails/pen-tip to tap with precision, rather than mashing my finger onto the screen in the hopes that the phone will work out which of the closely-nestled targets I was aiming at...

    Similarly, the San Francisco is fairly easy to unlock, root and debrand - and it's GPS seemed more reliable than on most of the Android phones I've tried to date. On the negative points, there were signs of wear and tear on the casing after just a week (and there's no silicone cases available yet) and the battery life seemed to be somewhat on the low side!

    Another option which wasn't mentioned was the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini - it's sub-£200 and as with the LG, SE has finally pulled their finger out and released Android 2.1 for it. On the negative front, the tiny form factor effectively relegates it to being a feature phone, rather than a smart phone (e.g. you can only use the T9 keypad: there's no virtual keyboard) and the battery is non-removable and drains fairly quickly if you leave 3G/syncing enabled...

  26. M Gale

    ZTE Racer owner

    And you're almost spot-on. It's quite a nice little budget toyphone, though god knows if ZTE will ever upgrade the OS. I would have a small issue with your view on the battery though: Pretty much any toyphone is going to get the crap drained out of the battery in a mere few hours if you're using it as a PSP. As something that sits in my pocket, takes the occasional phone call or sometimes shows me where something is on Google Maps though, it comfortably lasts until I can get home at night. In fact, right now it's on 59% charge after a day of usage and a good few hours of Meebo IM client.

    Still, it could definitely last longer. Missing my Nokia 6288's battery life already.. and the damned thing has the same battery capacity!

  27. David Gosnell

    "touchscreen is resistive, rather than capacitive, which is never good"

    Seems to be quite controversial, horses for courses and all that, in practice. What's the practicality of a phone having both technologies? Capacitive by preference, with a resistive layer as back-up for when wearing gloves etc? Or would the performance of both (and possibly the brightness of the screen) be impacted too seriously? Perhaps the new atom-thick graphene layers recently reported upon (with the usual 12-18 month non-release schedule) might enhance such flexibility?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Wildfire no comparison to San Fran

    Wildfire is no budget phone and has poor low res screen, San Fransisco beats it hands down no contest, and it can be unlocked and many custom firmwartes for it too. Only thing is relatively poor camera

  29. Andrew Wright

    ZTE Racer

    Picked up a ZTE Racer on 3 recently as I am on a tight budget at the moment to replace a phone that died on me (cost of presents for kids, eh?) and wanted to stick with my current network. (Yes, I am a very happy 3 customer, we do exist!!!)

    Works well for what I paid for it (£79.99) and am really happy with it so far. Does everything I've asked of it with aplomb. Looked at some of the others and tried some. Wasn't impressed by the LG offering at all. The San Francisco looked good, but I read a lot of negatives about it online that put me off.

    Wife has a more expensive Android phone with a capacitive screen and I find myself more comfortable with this particular resistive screen for some reason. And I have used some really bad resistive screens over the past few years, this is a damn good one! Shame the screen is small, but it is very clear and readable.

    My only gripe is the battery - at 1100mAh it struggles through a couple of days without needing to be recharged. Oh and the lock button is rather awkward at times, but you get used to it.

    What works for me won't work for everyone, just sharing my experiences. Budget phone - does what it says on the tin.

  30. Steve Evans

    Resistive vd capacitive

    I really don't understand the continual bashing of resistive screens (beyond the fact that resistive is not the Apple way).

    I use both, and I far prefer the resistive.

    So far the only con I have found to resistive is it can't do multitouch, fair enough, as the user interface isn't designed to take advantage of such a feature, it's not an issue.

    The pros are huge. I can use it wearing gloves. If you have finger nails then you can still use it without having to angle your fingers in a way would would be a bit odd when holding the phone.

    When you're not wearing gloves, the benefits starts to really appear - accuracy.

    You can click on a 2mm high text link on a web page, amongst a sea of other text links, and get it 99% of the time, because you are using a narrow tapping thing like your finger nail.

    Plus you can see what you are tapping right up to the point you hit it, because said fingernail is fine and narrow. Not got fingernails, well pick up anything you like from your desk. Biro lid, matchstick, car keys, anything you like, it'll work (taadaa!).

    Take a capacitive one, requiring the contact of a squashy finger tip, and you'll be hard pushed to hit anything smaller than the size of a bus with any accuracy. Is it any wonder that the way to navigate "back" is such an easy gesture?

    The iPhone4 might have a seriously impressive number of pixels per inch, but you can't use them to resize a webpage to tiny proportions if it has a lot of links close together, the most you can do with it is enjoy some nice font anti-aliasing.

    1. uhuznaa

      Re: Resistive vd capacitive

      Resistive screens have to be calibrated and often re-calibrated to work nicely. Additionally, they consist of two layers of plastic you press together, so you can't have any scratch-resistant glass. Then: Not only multitouch but also any kind of swiping or dragging is poor with resistive screens, since you need to keep pressing on the screen all the time, touching it is not enough.

      And then, accuracy: Have you ever used an iPhone or iPad in anger? A good capacitive screen is as accurate as an resistive one. As long as a text is large enough to be read at all I can hit a word or a link even on my three years old iPod touch (which has not a single scratch on the screen, by the way). And if you have a system with an UI that has elements that are too small to be hit with a finger this is a silly system. Forcing people to use anything that *requires* a stylus or a fingernail is a sure way to make them hate you.

      I agree that there are cases in which using a stylus is better than using your fingers but for what 99% of the users do 99% of their time capacitive is vastly better, period. Most people just hated touchscreens until capacitive screens came along. Some people don't understand that, but these are exceptions.

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: Resistive vd capacitive

        No problems with my resistive, it's over 18 months old, and has even been run over by a landrover!

        The LCD needed replacing, but the resistive screen is still original.

        Yes, I regularly use an iPhone in anger. They're okay, but needing big text for big fingers seems a bit self defeating to me.

        I like having lots of text on my screen, which means lots of small text and links. With resistive I can use them, I can read them, and I don't have to continually scroll.

        As for people hating resistive, it doesn't seem to have harmed the Nintendo DS.

        I have a stylus with the my DS, and I believe there was one with the phone. I never use them.

  31. Jolyon

    Predictable Reg / San Francisco crossover

    It's a top geek phone, well specced, easily unlocked, hackable, with good community support and being so cheap means there's no need for excessive misuse of beer tokens in its acquisition.

    Orange blundered with the pathetic 'unlimited' internet allowance.

  32. Andyroid5

    Alcatel OT-980

    I'll dare to be different :)

    Had this for a month now and loving a treat and ideal for work..won,t weep at a scratch or two ;)

    Keyboards a must have,,can't be doing with this tidgy screen stuff, easy even for my sausage fingers.

    Am a keen linux user and was interested in playing with the platform..rooted and booted !

    Well chuffed for the price :)

  33. Andy 127

    What about the Samsung i5500 europa

    Any thoughts on the Samsung i5500 europa? It is less that £100 on PAYG, has Android 2.1 and a capacitive screen. I was going to get one on o2, as it sounds ok, but is there a catch with it?

  34. BorkedAgain

    One question re: SanFran

    That looks seriously nice; considering getting it as a christmas present for someone near-and-dear who's currently getting vocally tired of her increasingly long-in-the-tooth Bilberry.

    One thing: I have an HTC Desire (utterly delighted with it, by the way) and, although I generally get along with the touchscreen, I do occasionally find myself using the trackpad for "precision" selection and navigation. Not often, but enough to notice if the trackpad wasn't there.

    I notice the San Francisco has neither trackpad nor trackball. Does this not get in the way of useful navigation?

    1. Daniel Owen

      Trackpad missing

      I used to have a trackball on my hero and now don't on the SF, honestly I don't think it's a massive loss.

      You get used to it not being there and just do things differently, it's not better or worse, just different.

  35. alan buxey

    damn you..

    damn all you Reg readers! i couldnt resist and bought one of those SanFran phones for my own personal play-thing :-)

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