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HTC Wildfire Review

No matter how you look at it, you can’t fight the Android invasion. Google’s underdog mobile OS is taking a big chunk of the smartphone market which has long been dominated by iPhone, BlackBerry and devices running on Symbian.

Most of these smartphones however are too expensive for mass market with price tags of over RM2000. Not a lot of people are able to fork so much money, but many want to get their hands on a device that at the very least, can deliver a good browing and social media experience. This opened up a market for entry-level smartphones that right now has been dominated by Nokia which admitedly, have been doing a good job at offering competent semi-smartphones at bargain basement prices powered by Symbian.

But the semi-smart Symbian phones that Nokia are churning out doesn’t really cut the mustard for us. The lack of applications is a major disadvantage. So we turn to Android, the open source mobile OS that has so much potential to be great but again we’re limited to high-end devices at the moment. Is there such thing as an affordable Android phone that’s cheerfully cheap yet delivers the functionality of the higher end Androids?

With an attractive pricing and a decent hardware, the HTC Wildfire certainly looks like a strong candidate to play that role, but does it deliver the goods? Read on to find out.

Design

On first impression, the Wildfire looks like a mini mash up of a HTC Desire + Nexus One. The shell looks like a shortened Desire body with its optical trackpad, and at a glimpse, the screen looks that from a Nexus One (albeit much smaller, obviously) with the four signature Android touch sensitive navigation buttons at the bottom. On the left, you get volume control buttons and at the top, the usual headphone jack & power button. Oddly with the Wildfire, HTC has opted to place the the micro USB port on the left flank. We find this a bit unusual considering that it would be more “dock friendly” if placed at the bottom.

The Wildfire feels good in our hands, it has a rather premium feel to it, something we don’t expect for a phone at this price range. The frame that surrounds the upper part of the phone feels like metal, while the back is covered with soft touch plastic with a slab of material that feel metallic to the touch in the middle.

The Wildfire has a detachable back cover which extends to the bottom chin of the front. Opening the back plate will give you access to the battery, SIM card slot and MicroSD. Opening this back plate however is no easy feat as it uses not less than eight clips on the cover. You’ll have to exert a considerable amount of force to remove the back plate. An amount that we’re usually not comfortable exerting on a mobile phone. especially one that is this cheap, so be exttra careful when you’re opening up the back plate on the Wildfire. We’ve had the device for a while now and we’re still apprehensive every time we had to open the back plate.

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It’s worth mentioning that the microSD slot is designed as such that you can put in and take out the memory card without the need to remove the battery. While we’re on subject of batteries, you’ll be happy to know that the battery that comes with the Wildfire is the exact smae 1300mAh Lithium Ion used on the HTC Legend. Considering the smaller screen and lower resolution, you can expect a longer battery life.

Screen

While its bigger siblings are using AMOLED screens, the Wildfire sticks to a traditional LCD screen that supports a very low resolution of 280×320. Most phones with such resolution are often less than 3 inches with its closest rival Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini having a 2.55 QVGA screen. Therefore having a 280×320 on a 3.2” on the Wildfire is really stretching the pixels to the limit, making renditions on the screen of the Wildfire too pixalated for our liking.

One of the best things about the Android platform is its selection of apps. On the face of it, you’d think that whatever that’s on offer in the Android Market will automatically be available for the Wildfire (provided that the OS versions are similar). Well, turns out, this is not that case, some apps can run in the Legend (on the same Android 2.1 as the Wildfire) for example will not run on the Wildfire. This is because the Android Market filters its apps based on screen resolution. Even Swype, our favourite text input app (a must install in any new Android), can’t be installed on the Wildfire due to screen size. Having said that, despite this limitation, most mainstream apps works just fine on the Wildfire but extra scrolling is required.

Usability

As the Wildfire is running the “second” latest — Android 2.1 with HTC Sense, it feels similar to its bigger brother, the HTC Legend with the exception of a lesser screen real estate. Swiping around its HTC Sense home screen and running apps feels pretty smooth for normal use, proving that its 528MHz processor is up to the challenge for some mild abuse. However there are some occasions that it lags or pauses for a bit while loading apps. This is where the processor speed falls short and we’re left wanting more. Though app load times are affected, we have to point out that it didn’t really bogged us down that much. Overall, up to the task of keeping up with our daily use and abuse.

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On the apps side, HTC included a flashlight app which uses the Flash LED light as a torch with 3 brightness levels. Another app which they included is an app sharer, but what it actually does is to share the Market’s download link via various channels including email, SMS, Twitter, facebook, etc.

For input, you’ll get the same standard issue HTC keyboard as seen on the HTC Legend and Desire. This is fine, we like the standard HTC keyboard anyways. As we mentioned before, we like the fact that you can input symbols or numbers by press and holding a specific key without switching to the numeric/symbols keyboard. Despite the small screen size and a lower resolution screen, the HTC keyboard worked surprisingly well and was still very usable. While typing, it registers our taps quickly enough but the default haptic feedback lags a bit which could be caused by slow processing. We suggest switching haptic feedback for keyboard completely off. Sure, you loose some tactile feel but you save on battery life and that’s a good thing.

it’s really a pity that we can’t get Swype on the Wildfire but who knows they might support lower screen resolution in their full release.

Taking photos and videos on the Wildfire is as good as the HTC Legend, which another pleasent suprise. We’re inclined to believe that both the Legend and Wildfire are using the same 5MP camera hardware, judging by the picture and video quality. The only issue is that the low resolution screen doesn’t do justice for good quality photos and videos captured by the on board camera of the Wildfire.

When previewed on the Wildfire screen, photos taken with the built-in camera looks pixaletad and blur, as if it was taken on an old 1.3MP camera. But when viewed on a computer screen, the pictures and videos turn out fine and clear.

On the power consumption, the Wildfire lasted about one and a half day of normal use, or a full day when used extensively. When compared to the Legend, the Wildfire does last longer which is obvious given the slower processor and smaller, lower resolution screen.

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Price

When the HTC Wildfire was launched in Malaysia, it was priced at RM1199 for outright. But with a Maxis contract, the Wildfire can be yours for as low as RM549 (if you don’t mind being tied-down with a 24 month contract). There’s also a 12 months contract from Maxis, with that the Wildfire is priced goes for only RM699, making it one of the cheapest Android smartphone at the moment.

This is an awesome deal for those who are looking for a cheap but very capable phone or one who is looking for a very usable secondary device. This is definitely stepping into the entry level market which Nokia reigns supreme. Speaking of Nokia, we can’t wait to get our hands on the cheap and cheerful E5 smart phone and pit it against the Widlfire. In terms on pricing and target market, we feel they are very simillar, so it will be interesting to see which one’s a better buy.

Conclusion

The HTC Wildfire performed beyond what we expected. It’s decently smooth for all our social and communication needs but the 528MHz processor does chug along occasionally, but for the asking price we’re fine with that. The best thing about the Wildfire is that it runs Android 2.1 just like its more expensive stablemates. On top of that, word has it that the Wildfire will be upgradable to Android 2.2 as well but we’ve yet to see official announcement from HTC Malaysia.

The biggest gripe we have is still the screen. If you go to a phone dealer to try out the phone now, you’ll puke at the quality of the display. We did when we first saw it. It is very pixaleted and text sometimes is rendered very poorly to the point that it is almost unreadable. But you’ll have to make concessions when it comes to designing a phone at this price point, so we cant complain much.Furthermore with a contract price of less than RM600 over 2 years, the Wildfire is a worth upgrade for those who wish to step up from dumbphones. What other phones can you buy that offers 5MP camera, A-GPS, HSDPA, WiFi, A2DP Bluetooth, WiFi and running a flexible Android 2.1 OS at that price? Sure the screen is a drag but HTC made sure that they didn’t cut corners when it comes to the Wildfire’s performance and built quality, that’s a good thing.

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