There are several examples of budget Android phones out there in the wild. Most tend to live up to expectations and offer a basic Android experience on a phone that is clearly affected by limitations of hardware cost. Every so often a handset comes along that appears to buck the trend by offering a decent fairly specification that you would expect from something with a larger price tag. One such phone was the ZTE Blade, which came to the UK in the form of the Orange San Francisco in late 2010. First impressions of the T-Mobile Vivacity on test here seem rather good, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when you consider that the Vivacity is essentially the ZTE Blade 2, or Orange San Francisco 2, in T-Mobile’s outer casing. Internally, the phones are identical, which begs the question: does the Vivacity stand out from the budget crowd and live up the the expectations established by its predecessor?
Available for £99 + £10 Top-Up from the T-Mobile Store
Free when T-Mobile 12.month contract for £20.50/mth
Where to Purchase:
No surprise that you need to get this handset from T-Mobile
Phones in Category:
Orange San Francisco 2 (£99 + £10 Top-Up on Pay-As-You-Go, or Free on contract)
Android Version: 2.3 Gingerbread (2.3.5 on review device)
GSM/2G Network: 900 / 1800 / 1900
UMTS/3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
Handset Dimensions: 115 x 58 x 10.5mm
Handset Weight: 118g
Display Type: TFT capacitive multi-touch touchscreen, 256K colours
Display Size: 480 x 800 pixels, 3.5 inches (267ppi pixel density)
Processor: 800Mhz single core
Audio: Alert types: Vibration, MP3, WAV ringtones
Audio: Loudspeaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Storage: External card slot microSD, up to 32GB, 2GB included
Storage: Internal 160 MB for apps (approx)
RAM Memory: 512 MB
Data: GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSUPA
Data: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot
Connectivity: Bluetooth with A2DP, MicroUSB v2.0
Primary Camera: 5MP rear facing, 2592×1944 pixels, LED flash
Secondary Camera: front facing 640×480
Camera Features: Geo-tagging, Video capture
Sensors: Accelerometer, proximity, compass
FM Radio with RDS
GPS with A-GPS support
Battery: Li-Ion 1500 mAh
Stand-by: Up to 200 hours (manufacturer figures)
Talk time: Up to 4 hours (manufacturer figures)
Looks and feels like a much more expensive handset
Easy to use thanks to uncluttered user interface
Not the best screen size for web browsing
Keyboard and scrolling can suffer from occasional lag
Gloss battery cover attracts finger prints
Video recording quality
In The Box:
Sync cable – MicroUSB
2GB SD memory card
Get started guide
- Front – 3.5-inch screen, front facing camera, in-call speaker, capacitive navigation buttons, T-Mobile logo
- Back – Gloss black battery cover, rear facing camera with single LED flash, single external speaker
- Top – Power button, 3.5mm audio output
- Bottom – Microphone
- Left – MicroUSB socket
- Right – Volume rocker buttons
T-Mobile have done very little to modify the stock Android OS which is nice to see. There are a couple of T-Mobile apps included within the ROM but these are what T-Mobile customers will actually want to manage their account and access content and services, so it’s good that they’re included. Otherwise, the app drawer is lightly populated with essential apps that you’re expect to find with any Android version, including:
Organizer, Document viewer, Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Calendar, Google Talk, Picasa integration
Look & Feel:
Lets get the obvious out in the open first – the Vivacity looks like the iPhone4. Not just similar, but exactly the same. Placing both handsets side by side proves this beyond doubt. A casual observer wouldn’t know the difference at first, and only the placement of the buttons around the silver side panels and the capacitive Android buttons below the screen differentiate these devices under closer scrutiny. In the hand the Vivacity feels nice and your fingers grip the flat side panels quite securely, in fact it fits so well in the hand that this is the first smartphone I’ve come across that I don’t feel nervous about using without a non-slip gel case. It’s lighter that the iPhone because the sides and battery cover are plastic rather than metal or glass, but it still feels solid. Whether an Android phone that looks like the iPhone4 is appealing is all down to individual user preference.
Open the camera app and you’re presented with a view through the lens with all the available settings and options right there on the screen – no hidden menu items to search for here. Available options allow simple selection of focus mode, adding location data, white balance preset options, flash mode, zoom level and a choice of front or rear camera.
The biggest icon on the screen is a simple slider that adjusts the brightness of the image, and moving this slider can make significant improvements to picture quality in different lighting conditions. Along one side of the screen is the shutter button and the toggle for switching between still photo and video camera, plus a thumbnail of the last picture taken giving you a shortcut to that photo in the Gallery.
Picture quality is fairly good, although it’s not as good as the best mobile snappers out there. In good light with a steady hand you can get some really nice shots, but it’s rather too easy to get blur from a slightly shaky grip, or have the picture turn out too dark because you forgot to adjust the brightness slider.
Here’s a few shots taken using the Vivacity in overcast daylight:
The video camera is activated directly from the camera app and presents the user with a few on-screen options related to video recording. As with the still camera, all the options can be accessed by tapping one of the icons beside the view finder on the screen without needing to go through the phone’s menu button.
Available options are:
- Colour Effect (None, Mono, Sepia, Negative)
- Video Quality (VGA, CIF, QVGA, QCIF)
- Video Encoder (MPEG4, H263, H264)
- Audio Encoder (AMRNB, AAC)
- Video Duration (20sec, 10min, 30min)
- White Balance Preset (Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Flourescent, Cloudy)
- Camera Select (Front, Back)
Overall, the video quality was rather disappointing, looking like a typcal low quality mobile phone recording. Movement could be smoother and the audio capture from the onboard mic captures lots of treble and is rather poor quality.
The compact size of the Vivacity makes it feel perfectly suited to be a portable music player, and the sound quality didn’t disappoint. Streaming a playlist via Spotify through my Creative ear buds revealed a full, open sound that had me smiling, and it was certainly as enjoyable as listening on my HTC Sensation with four times the asking price. It was a similar experience with tracks played from the SD card. The ‘in-the-box’ headset is fine for casual use but, as with all mobile media players you’ll get a better quality sound by investing £10-£20 for some third party headphones. And you WILL need a headset for listening to music from this handset – the single built-in speaker is rather weak and rather disappointing.
All the popular audio formats are supported here: MP3, WAV, WMA, eAAC+
Loading up Angry Birds Rio was a pleasant surprise. The movement and animation was as good as you can expect on any phone, never mind a budget phone with an 800Mhz processor. Lag was hard to detect in all but the most extreme cases where the screen was filled with moving objects. The onboard sound quality was also nice except that the single speaker on the battery cover is perfectly positioned to be covered by your fingers when holding the handset normally in landscape mode. Using the supplied headset or your own ear buds will improve things a lot as the audio output is a vast improvement over the speaker. Fast moving 3D games such as Need For Speed weren’t so successful and showed increasing amounts of lag as the on screen action intensified.
Overall, battery performance was rather good. Our review handset came with unlimited 3G data which was enabled all the time, and considering 3G is one of the biggest drains on battery life it was nice to see that a daily charge time of 1-2 hours maintained a healthy battery level of between 50%-100%. Obviously battery levels dropped more rapidly when the screen is in use for extended periods, such as media playback and playing games, but even so it was possible to get 6-8 hours continuous intense screen-on time before a wall socket was needed. Longer battery life seems to be a benefit of slower processor and smaller screen.
Using the Vivacity was a nice experience. Overall, there’s not much to complain about – everything does what it’s supposed to do and the intuitive UI is easy to navigate by people familiar with Android, and easy to learn for new users.
A few things stood out and impressed me. First, the look and feel of the phone was better than I expected from a £100 budget handset. Yes, it looks very much like an iPhone4 but that’s not really a bad thing. The keypad for the dialler was also a welcome surprise – it closely resembles the popular HTC keypad and is a big improvement over the stock Android dialler and also the app installed on the original Blade/San Francisco. The screen was also impressive considering 3.5 inches on an Android phone is below the ‘comfortable’ 4 inch screens that are proving very popular. Resolution is excellent and there’s not much to give the user any indication that they’re looking at a budget device.
However, to balance things out I was not impressed at all by the software keyboard for text entry – the keys are a bit too small due to the screen size. I’m sure most people will replace this this their favourite third party keyboard as soon as their Market account is activated.
As an Android handset where cost is not considered, the Vivacity holds up well against a lot of the mid-range competition. As a budget handset costing around £100 there’s very little to complain about and it’s a marked improvement over the Blade/San Francisco that came before it. Well worth a look if Android on a budget is important.