HTC Wildfire S Review: Budget Android Smartphone

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The Android platform continues to dominate the current smartphone market. While we may be used to the virtual arms race in terms of ever more powerful phones, there have also been some great developments at the budget end of the market. The original HTC Wildfire was a decent entry, but it was far from perfect. With the HTC Wildfire S you can expect to get more for your money. Various improvements have been made to the original, most notably the screen. Let’s take a closer look at what is on offer.

Design (3 out of 5)

HTC Wildfire S

At first glance you might have trouble telling the HTC Wildfire S and the original Wildfire apart, but the design has been improved. The Wildfire S is lighter and smaller, without sacrificing any screen real estate, and it packs a more powerful punch internally as well. The phone weighs 3.7 ounces (105 grams) and has dimensions of 3.99 x 2.34 x 0.49 inches (101.3 x 59.4 x 12.4 mm).

The front is naturally dominated by the 3.2 inch capacitive touch screen, but it has been improved from the QVGA release on the original to HVGA. This means you get a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels instead of 240 x 320 pixels. This is a considerable improvement and one which will make surfing the web, reading messages and watching movies a much more pleasant experience. It also opens up access to apps and games that only support the higher resolution.

Perhaps another indication that HTC is marketing these budget devices towards teenagers, is the fact that the Wildfire S comes in a range of colors. The classic black looks good, the white and grey, and the purple options, less so, but they will probably appeal to some people.

The controls and ports are pretty standard for HTC phones with a power/lock button up top, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. The volume rocker is on the left, along with the microUSB port for charging and syncing. The microphone and lanyard fixing are on the bottom. On the back you’ll find the camera lens and flash. The optical trackpad that was present on the original Wildfire is gone.

User Interface (4 out of 5)

HTC Wildfire S Apps

A big boost for the HTC Wildfire S is the fact that it ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. It also features the HTC Sense UI which adds some handy goodies to stock Android, including the ability to filter apps and an excellent weather widget and clock. One of the reasons that Android has grown so fast is because the platform is so easy to use and to customize. The touch screen is responsive and the majority of operations are smooth and trouble free. The standard Android controls of Home, Menu, Back and Search sit beneath the screen and are touch sensitive.

You can pinch to zoom and you’ll need to when browsing the web on your Wildfire S. The standard Sense keyboard is best operated in landscape if you don’t want to make a lot of mistakes when typing. This is true, even on the Desire which has a bigger screen at 3.7 inches. The general operation of the Wildfire S is obviously not as smooth as a high-end smartphone but for a budget release it’s very good and the 600 MHz processor seems to be enough.

Features (4 out of 5)

The majority of the features on the HTC Wildfire S are the same as, or very similar to, those found on the original Wildfire. The processor has been beefed up to 600 MHz (the original was 528 MHz). ROM is still 512 MB, but the RAM has been increased to 512 MB (the original was 384 MB). You can expand the onboard memory with a microSD card of up to 32 GB.

HTC Wildfire S Web

You’ve got 3G, GPRS, and EDGE connectivity. There’s also Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g or n, which is a slight improvement. The Bluetooth has also been boosted as version 3 is supported and there’s A2DP for wireless stereo headsets. The phone also has GPS support and a digital compass.

The camera is 5 megapixel again and there is auto-focus and an LED flash. Your maximum resolution for shots is going to be 2592 x 1944 pixels. You can also record video and the phone supports geo-tagging for your photos. The main problem with the cameras in HTC phones is the delay between shots, the auto-focus can take a while to work and it’s difficult to snap shots spontaneously.

Audio and video support is good with AAC, AMR, OGG, M4A, MID, MP3, WAV and WMA audio formats all supported along with 3GP, 3G2, MP4 and WMV video formats. There is also a stereo FM radio with RDS.

You can text chat to your heart’s content with threaded SMS support, MMS, push e-mail and instant messaging. There are also a few other common features like the ability to record voice memos, an organizer and a document viewer.

Naturally, you’ll find Facebook and YouTube integration (now a smartphone standard) and through the Android Market you’ll be able to get all sorts of top Android apps to further improve your functionality.

Performance (3 out of 5)

HTC Wildfire S Colors

The HTC Wildfire S is ultimately a budget phone and so it doesn’t perform as well as high-end releases like the HTC Desire S or the HTC Incredible S. The original Wildfire was very laggy and so the processor and RAM improvements here are very welcome. For newcomers to the platform, the performance should be fine, it’s only really noticeably worse if you are downgrading from something more powerful.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the HTC Wildfire S is the battery. While the majority of specs have been improved, the battery is 1230 mAh compared to the original’s 1300 mAh. The majority of users are going to have to charge this phone every day and heavy users might find the juice running out too quickly.

Verdict (4 out of 5)

You can pick the HTC Wildfire S up for free with a £20 (just over $33) per month 2 year contract at Orange right now. It is a compact device with an impressive range of features and a great screen, for a budget phone. It’s only really let down by the poor battery life. Anyone seeking an entry-level smartphone could do a lot worse.