There was once a time where the best of the best was limited to the most expensive handsets. To an extent, that is still true of the iPhone and high-end Android & BlackBerry devices. However, the open-source background of Android allows manufactures to install Android on any device they want, without stringent specification requirements.
Certainly, you should opt for the best phone possible to maximize speed and efficiency during your experience with Android, but what if you’re on a budget? Again, due to Android, phone-makers can pass off low-powered handsets as “smartphones” . That’s not true of the entry-level HTC Wildfire, which sports a relativity slick set of internals and a premium HTC Sense experience for under £200 (PAYG).
After writing this, I stumbled on news that Three has released Froyo for the Wildfire. Make sure that if you do decide to invest in this phone, you head to Settings > About Phone > Software Update
Budget Price, Not-so-budget Handset
The HTC Wildfire comes in from free on contracts and at around £190 sim-free. (Note that I’ve used GBP sterling as the Wildfire, in this form, is not available in the US). It’s touted as a mix between the outgoing HTC Tattoo budget phone and the previous high-end HTC Desire.
It houses a fairly-powerful 528MHz internal CPU that runs either Android 2.1 or 2.2, depending on the phone network. It has 384MB of RAM and 512MB of internal phone storage, with a Micro SD slot supporting up to 32GB (a 2GB card is included with the phone).
Away from the statistic specs, what about its real world usage? Even though it runs a slower processor, the experience is still slick and fast and i’ve experience minimal upset due to performance. Connectivity doesn’t seem to be a problem, nor does the camera. The 5MP camera is akin to lower-end feature phones rather than it’s powerful smart brothers, so don’t let the megapixel tag fool you.
The Wildfire rocks Android 2.1 out of the box and is starting to be upgradable via FOTA to Android 2.2 by carriers. T-Mobile owners already received their firmware-over-the-air, and Three UK is on its way, after technical issues causing a delay from its planned late-January launch date.
HTC Sense is sported on top of Android, and ships with all the standard Android and HTC widgets, including the FriendStream social aggregator tool. Three promises that Froyo’s personal WiFi hotspots tools will be available on the handset, effectively transforming it into a MiFi.
The Wildfire won’t run all of Android’s features, particularly the CPU-intensive ones, but that is expected. You won’t find live wallpapers on here and HTC Sense doesn’t support the cool swipe-based text input that other skins offer.
Sense the HTC-ness
The wildfire runs HTC’s Sense skin and with it, several of HTC’s internally-touted features such as App Sharing and FriendStream. FriendStream, as mentioned before (and in this article), is a social media aggregator that takes in your feeds from Twitter and Facebook and displays them as a home screen widget. You can also post to these social networks from that widget.
HTC’s App Sharer allows you to easily share links to apps via email and social networks.
Screening the Fire
Whilst most people suggest variation in camera ability, processor, and keyboard as some of the advantages of Android’s ever growing phonebase, not many people discuss the screen when trying to speak highly about Android. The major disappointment with the Wildfire is its small, 3.2-inch 240×320 QVGA screen. It isn’t horrible, but it’s not that great. You can determine the different pixels in this display, with photos taking much of the pain.
The display isn’t blurry or of a low quality, it’s just very low-res, meaning you’ll probably have to zoom into web pages just to make text readable. It’s not a massive pain, especially when you consider the Wildfire’s low price.
The screen quality also acts as another reason why the Android Marketplace is slightly limited on this phone, as popular games such as Angry Birds will run very slowly and laggy, if you manage to catch the one-out-of-ten times it actually loads.
The screen size, however, is actually pretty usable. I don’t find it any harder to use than the Motorola Defy that also lives in my house, which rocks a 3.7″ tall display. The promo shots don’t give it justice, making the phone look very short. In reality, the experience you will have with the size will not be very hindered, unless you’re a heavy gamer.
The screen is capacitive — yes, you heard me: capacitive. Don’t let the phone’s price fool you into thinking it has a horrible, resistive screen like the ZTE Blade. It’s a fully-functional, capacitive, multi-touch display with support for pinch-to-zoom (a way to get over the otherwise unreadable text in the browser).
Think of the Wildfire as the Desire HD’s younger brother. Its body doesn’t scream “cheap;” the back is mainly a nice, rubberish texture with a metal band in the middle.
The device also has touch-sensitive buttons on the front, with ambient light-enabled backlighting. These are great, but can be a pain if you accidentally hit one when playing Angry Birds or some other game.
Due to the device’s smaller size, HTC saw fit to integrate an optical trackpad. This sits between the seam between front and rear parts and works really nicely for navigating web pages (especially in Opera Mini) or your homescreens. It’s in a perfect position, just as the touch-sensitive buttons, for your thumb to reach.
“Wow! A Five-Megapixel Camera?”
Now we come onto an interesting topic: the camera. The iPhone 4 sports a five-megapixel camera with some awesome, highly-touted features both in the hardware and software. Oh, and so did the Wildfire’s “bigger brother”, the HTC Desire. So surely, from this past experience, we can expect the Wildfire to have a brilliant point-and-shoot replacement? Nope.
Whilst the camera is fine, it’s more matched to your traditional feature-phone’s snapper. It might just be the small screen not doing it justice, but pictures come out fairly blurry and with bad colors.
The software makes it a little more fun and functional with options to change things like saturation, and a range of themes like sepia and greyscale. Below are a few shots taken with the camera. Click on any to view it at full resolution.
I named this section conclusions because there are multiple ways you could look at this phone. If you’re on a budget and want a full Android experience, this phone is definitely for you. The majority of major apps (Twitter, Facebook etc.) run and it has Flash lite to support more of the web (but not games or video). It’s a great starter to Android and the HTC Sense UI is a brilliant kick off. The phone is sub-£200 — though if you can stretch to another hundred, consider the Motorola Defy which, if you can look past it’s rugged design, still packs a punch with an awesome quality screen. It doesn’t sport Sense, but rather Motoblur.
However, if you’re a heavy user who likes to browse a lot on the phone, this might not be for you. Not only do most of the associated plans not supply a large amount of data, but you might find the smaller, lower-resolution screen to be a bit fiddly at times. The optical trackpad is there, but it’s only useful if you use an alternative browser such as Opera Mini. If you are a power user who’s used to bigger and better, this isn’t for you. Consider kicking off a contract and paying up-front for an HTC Desire HD. There you’ll get the latest and greatest, but most importantly, a bigger screen.
I bought this phone initially purely for Android.AppStorm. I thought that I was too deep in Apple’s ecosystem, but i’ve come to love this entry-level smartphone and it’s spurred me on to want bigger and better. Things like the live wallpaper don’t fuss me (I find them rather bad and distracting on the Defy) and even though I showed dislike for the camera, the Twitter/Facebook sharing I’ll be using it for doesn’t require too much.
Froyo hit as a FOTA whilst I was writing this article, so that’s not a worry any more.
Runs Android 2.2 Froyo
Included GPS and FM Radio
Multi-touch capacitive display
HTC Sense UI
Flash Lite support
Doesn’t support Angry Birds