The HTC Wildfire. Let me crack open a beer and tell you a story. We were invited down to London for a preview of the Wildfire and, unless I’m completely wrong, it was met with a fairly mute reception from the press. Why? Well, it has roughly the same processor as the HTC Legend and a lower resolution screen. Most of “us” techy press people would choose the Legend over the Wildfire, every time. It’s got a better screen, an ever-so-slightly-faster CPU and has a cool metallic chassis.
So it struck me. We’re the techies. We’re the geeky people who write about phones all day and night. We not really the people that HTC are targetting with this phone. This is a handset selling for £229 unlocked, compare to £349 for the Legend. That makes a difference, so with the Wildfire free on £20 p/m contracts for £20 per month, this is a very desirable phone for a lot of people.
HTC sent us three of these phones. The idea was to test out the new App Sharing feature. This does what it says on the tin. Download an app, love it, then share a link to that app with your friends. They don’t need to own a Wildfire, they don’t even need a HTC Android – it just has to be an Android phone. Load up App Sharing, choose the app you love, then share via Friend Stream (Facebook, Twitter), Google Mail, POP3 mail, texts or any other social media service you’ve installed through the Android Market. To be honest it’s pretty simple, the text received by the other phone is just a link to the appropriate app in the Android Market, but it works, and that’s all that matters.
So yeah, “Test the App Sharing and use three phones to do it”, they said. OK, we did that, but we took the chance to give these phones out to different people and try to gauge opinion from different users.
First though, a little look at the phone, the specs and what it can do. It’s got Android 2.1 with the very latest HTC Sense interface, there’s a 528MHz CPU, 512MB of ROM, 384MB of RAM, microSD memory expansion and the one thing that’s been mentioned throughout every other review – a 3.2″ 240×320 QVGA screen. Gah! 240×320? Surely not, that’s low res isn’t it? Well yes, if we’re honest and you put it next to the HTC Desire you will notice a quite sizeable difference but the resistive screens have been binned by HTC and capacitive is here to stay.
Other specs include a 1300mAh battery, 5 megapixel camera with auto-focus and flash, GPS, WiFi, GPRS / EDGE / 3G / HSDPA, G-sensor, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, Bluetooth 2.1 and FM radio. There’s widgets, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flash on your browser.
Other stuff you should know about this phone include the fact that there’s no dedicated call / drop keys. Instead you now whack “Phone” to make a call, then when you’ve finished talking it’ll detect that the phone has moved away from your head and turn the screen back on so you can drop the call. The techy advancements on this cute cheap device are really quite shocking. The ringer will get quieter if you pick up the device, or it’ll stop ringing if you put the phone face down. The power button is on the top right, which is just perfect for the device size and how you hold it and there’s so much more.
If you’re in a hurry we’ve got our usual video overviews to watch.
Let’s give you a tour of the phone itself. It’s certainly a nice size, a great shape and a cool design. The design elements are still here from some of the other HTC devices we’ve reviewed. It’s got an oh-so-feint “chin”, a metal “strap” on the back and that familiar HTC logo at the top. It’s a desirable size for “normal” (or should I say “non Smartphone”) customers and almost hides the power it has within the design.
Up top is a great earpiece with two holes and silver edging. Just below this, in the top of the black frame, is the LED and some of the sensors to detects light and proximity.
On the very top is the now standard 3.5mm audio port and a big easy-to-find power button for waking the device up and powering off / on. You’ll just see the gap for popping the battery cover off – the entire back of the phone and part of that “chin” is the battery cover.
The very bottom just has a tiny hole for the microphone.
On the left is the now standard microUSB connector that goes into the cool power adaptor or your PC / laptop. Above it the volume up / down function.
Four buttons, which are pressure sensitive, allow you to click “Home”, “Menu”, “Back” and “Search”. The latter will search on different data depending on what app or screen you’re looking at. If you’re in Google Maps, it’ll search for a place, if you’re in the browser, a webpage – etc. These buttons are back-lit in white when it’s dark.
Around the back there’s the 5 megapixel camera and a flash, which we’ll show you more of later. That hole is for the external speaker, which I’ll admit is really rather good.
This phone features quite a few extra bits that make the initial setup a lot easier. For a start there’s a “Transfer Data” option which will let you grab data from your old phone for a nice pain-free setup. You can transfer contacts and data via Bluetooth. There’s even a list of other phones that you can choose from to see how to enable Bluetooth on them ! I mean, come on, that’s pretty good isn’t it? Someone at HTC has spent time looking at nearly every other phone on the market and how to turn on Bluetooth for each and every one.
Let’s get this out of the way. The screen resolution. 240×320 is a bit low-res to me, but to my wife and to the people who’ve never used an Android or HTC phone before it’s actually fine. Even if you do show them a HTC Desire they’ll not be fussed because, to be honest, they’ll have fallen in love with and have customised the Wildfire by then. There are down points. The Android Market becomes fragmented. Some apps just aren’t listed. I showed Emily (my wife) a cool little app for finding the nearest Starbucks based on your GPS position. Turns out, it’s available on the HTC Hero and Desire (plus many other handsets), but not the Wildfire. The reason is the screen difference. If the developer hasn’t signed it off as working with that res, it doesn’t appear in the Market. I also found that some apps, like the excellent Seesmic Twitter client, looked a little crowded and there was an element of overlap on some of the fields.
Out of the box you’re met with a screen to help set the phone up. You tell it what language you want, what email accounts you want setting up and it’ll show you how the on-screen keyboard works. The screen resolution actually helped here and, don’t ask me how, but I found that typing on the Wildfire was actually easier than the HTC Desire. It’ll then go on to ask you how you connect to the web – you can tell it to only connect to WiFi hotspots for data needs, which is great if you’re on a limited Pay As You Go plan. One of the strong points of the Wildfire is the ability to sync up with online social networks. Some people, like my wife, don’t want to use this, but you can connect to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and many other networks using apps from the Android Market. Straight out of the box there’s the possibility of grabbing all your contacts from your Google account, Exchange server, Twitter or you can use that Setup feature we mentioned earlier.
The phone has HTC Sense. This is an amazing HTC interface that first bowled us over on the HTC Hero. On the Android OS it’s so slick and easy to use. You may think that the lower resolution screen means that less stuff can be added, but from what I can tell there’s still four rows of icons available. Othr widgets do look a little “chunkier”, like the HTC Friendstream widget which brings together Facebook and Twitter updates into one place. The text is a little bigger than I’m used to, but to the people helping to test this phone, it was a good thing. It was clear, it was easy to read, it made the whole thing quicker to use.
The HTC Sense interface is incredibly flexible. You can move and alter everything you see on the main screenshots here. The backdrop and lock screen can be changed to a picture you’ve taken, the icons can be moved by pressing, holding and dragging them around. There’s 7 “windows” which you slide through by moving left and right on the screen. This new version of HTC Sense also brings the ability to hop directly to one of these windows by tapping the “Home” button. This will zoom you right out and show all the screens for you to choose from – a quick way to zip between.
When you move stuff around you can save the positions and apps you’ve stored as a “scene”. There’s various preset scenes and you can choose between them. Just press “menu” and hit “scenes”. HTC have included a “social” scene with Twitter and Facebook integration, a “work” scene with email and calendar apps etc etc. It’s all easy to switch to so you can have different modes for different parts of your day if you wish.
Sure, you can do the things that iPhone users can – add apps and shortcuts to them on your main screen, plus you can even add folders (oh yeah, I forgot, Apple OS4 only just added that) and shortcuts to functions like web bookmarks, people, settings and more. Widgets, though, are the key point. You can download more from HTC or, through the Android Market, get apps that have them built in. There’s a huge array of widgets. There’s an array of clocks, calendars, an FM radio widget, the Friend Stream widget, Google Latitude (for checking where your friends are), music, messages, news, photo albums, power control, weather and the ability to toggle phone settings on or off quickly.
The widgets are a massive favourite of mine. I love adding widgets like the photo album, then flicking through the shots I’ve taken. Talking about shots, the screen does have another minor down point. The camera is very good. Take a shot though and it’ll look a bit less than good on the screen because of the resolution. Imagine taking a shot on your new 50 megapixel camera and then trying to display it on one of those little key-chain digital photo albums. It’s gonna look really rubbish. Here it’s not quite as bad as that, but after taking the shot it’s only when you zoom in (using the multi-touch “double-finger push” motion) that you see just how good the picture actually is.
Apps included as default include a calculator, calculator (which will be tied into your Google Apps account / Google account / Exchange account), a Call History, Camcorder, Camera, Clock, Flashlight (which turns your flash on), FM radio and Footprints (to geo-tag pictures and store info about where you’ve been).
There’s also a cool gallery app which includes slick slideshows, integration with Facebook galleries (so you can see what albums and pictures your friends have uploaded recently) and Flickr pictures. You can of course rotate and share your pictures over Twitter, Bluetooth, Flickr, Google Mail, Mail, Picasa, Peep and over any other app you’ve chosen that allows media upload. I love this. Take a picture, upload it somewhere, add a description. Done.
This being Android 2.1, the latest version of Google Maps is installed along with (after a small update through the Google Android Market) Navigation. This is simply a…maz..zing… it’s so smooth and the voice navigation is free too. It’ll download the voice, find your location via GPS and you can navigate to a spoken place (seriously, just talk to the thing, it’ll find your destination and take you there), a contact or a destination you typed in. Google Maps also includes the satellite views, the street views and everything else you’ve seen on the web version. The in-built compass on the Wildfire will let you switch to street view for any place you choose, then with the compass you simply hold the phone in the air and move it around to look around that particular street. Nice.
The browsing experience is as solid as any other Android device, but now there’s added features like the ability to magnify small bits of text, copy it out, share it, search for info on Wikipedia about it or just copy it all to the clipboard. The pinch and zoom multi-touch functionality is there and, even on big pages, the 528 MHz CPU doesn’t groan too much. Flash is, of course, part of the browsing experience and any embedded YouTube videos can be easily opened up in the on-board player.
Bookmarks can be stored, which in turn can be added to your HTC Sense interface as a shortcut, plus there’s tabbed / separate windows available so you can browse different sites at once. Just switching between these sites is a glossy experience, with each window appearing in a thumbnail which can be dragged left or right. Other functions include the ability to find text on a page, share the whole page (via one of your social networks, email, text etc) and the ability to tweak advanced settings like the level of cache and whether to enable plugins.
Email is integrated and POP3 accounts, Google Mail, Exchange and many other accounts can be added. The text messaging interface is simple and clear, with text conversations grouped in threads. Image thumbnails are pulled down from your Facebook / Google accounts and added next to people as they are when calls are made or received. When texting you can add quick (predefined) text, attached pictures / audio / location information or an app recommendation, which we’ll move onto in a moment. The inbuilt dictionary will automatically correct anything you type on the keyboard, so minor slip-ups are correctly tweaked to the word you actually meant to type. All you need to do is whack space to accept the word.
On the message list you can click “Menu” and adjust further settings like the maximum message size, notification sounds, delivery notification and a whole lot more. Plus, if you don’t like anything you see here you can always change it with a new app from the Android Market which will make it look exactly like the iPhone messaging system!
The bit HTC wanted me to test was the App Sharing feature. This will let you share any app, game or utility that you’ve grabbed from the Android Market. If you like it, let someone know. You can share with other Android users – they don’t need to own a Wildfire or a HTC device. Provided they’ve got the Android Market, you can share with them. There’s a couple of bits to this. First, you choose the app you want to share, second you choose the method. The actual result is a link to the appropriate app in the market, along with a bit of text. You can adjust this after you’ve chosen the app, but sadly not the predefined text itself. In tests this worked perfectly well, and is a good way to fish out those golden applications from the other not-so-good ones amongst the thousands that are available.
The Wildfire, like every other Android phone, connects to your computer and shows up as a mass storage device, just like a USB pen. It’s sooo simple to drag files around – MP3’s, pictures, movies. Whatever you fancy. Shift an MP3, set it as your ringtone, done. Took a picture? Grab it off your phone. Store it, print it. Easy. It’s so simple. When you do connect it’ll give you three options. You can turn on mass storage mode to move files around, you can just charge the thing or you can share the phones’ net connection. Ideal if you’re in an area without WiFi on your laptop. So simple.
The camera has a range of options and the inbuilt flash works very well in low light. As usual we’ve got shots direct from the phone. Click on to see them. There’s a truck-load of options to choose from and pictures are snapped in 5 megapixel (2592×1952) with video up to CIF (352×288) in MPEG4 / H.263.
You can quickly hop into the gallery here, zoom in and out or tweak the flash easily from the main preview screen with additional options available from the side bar. It’s a simple enough process to take a picture. Point, click (with the optical trackball) and you’re done. It’ll auto-focus and take the snap quickly with hardly any delay.
Viewpoints / Conclusions
We gave the HTC Wildfire to different people. First, me. You know me by now. I’m a phone geek. I’ve seen pretty much every Android and Windows Mobile phone out there, so how does this shape up ?
– Me (Currently using a HTC Desire. Techy phone freak.)
To be honest I’ve heard the pitch from HTC on this one. I know what market HTC are going after and, I fully believe they’ve scored a direct hit. As a phone freak I do see the screen resolution as an issue for me, but this isn’t aimed at power users who already have hi-res Android phones. This is aimed at those perhaps starting university or college, with lower disposible income and a need for a more powerful phone. The screen resolution is a trade-off for the price you can buy this at. If it’s a problem for you, I’d say get a Legend, but if you’ve tested this out in the shop and the resolution isn’t an issue, get it.
Apart from the screen resolution and perhaps a few less apps in the Android Market, this has pretty much everything that more expensive handsets have. The camera is good, the size of the phone is great, the build-quality is amazing and the way it looks is fantastic too. Android 2.1 is almost the latest Google OS available at the time and the Sense OS really lifts it off the page. If you’re heading off to university yourself and buy this phone, don’t think you’ll get shown up by people owning iPhones, because you won’t. The external speaker is perhaps the best I’ve ever heard on a phone too. It’s really very loud and great for listening to streaming radio or the on-board FM radio.
Me, I’m a phone geek. I need certain geeky stuff to get through my week. I need a powerful phone that can do everything I need to run this site and run my life. I had absolutely no issues using this phone as my main handset for two weeks. It did everything I needed, and I could download more apps so easily. A Sky Remote record app for recording TV shows, Seesmic for Twitter, Bump for sending data, it’s all there.
– Emily (My wife. Currently using some touch-screen Samsung handset and knows nothing about Android or HTC Sense)
I’ve seen my other half fiddling with a vast array of phones but have never had any interest in them. I like the size of the phone itself, it’s definitely not a phone that looks “geeky” or one that even screams “smartphone”. It looks like a normal handset and I’m now pretty much loving it. The initial setup was easy enough and helped me get all the data from my old phone. It picked up my SIM contacts and added them in, then I started taking pictures of people and adding their profile photos in. The only hurdle I had was the Google account. I didn’t want any accounts. An online “life” doesn’t interest me, so all this FriendFace / Twotter stuff doesn’t interest me. However, when I wanted to grab some apps I had to sign up for a Google account. I didn’t want to, but it was essential that I did this to even browse just the free apps.
After getting around that, I grabbed AndroRing and got some new music ringtones, Google Shopper for finding some bargains and a few games. The screen resolution was actually really nice. I don’t like the text too small and felt that it was actually just right. The phone I have didn’t come with a manual, so I thought I’d be asking for help every few minutes. This wasn’t the case, and I actually enjoying playing around with it. I quickly found how to add my own backdrop, my own lock screen and I actually really enjoy browsing the web now – I never have with my other phone as it was fiddly and pretty impossible to use.
The camera was far, far better than my previous phone. I actually took stacks of photos and then went to the shops to get them printed. Last time I went it was a nightmare – I had to remove the microSD card and faff about to get it talking to the photo development machine because the Bluetooth on the other phone wouldn’t communicate properly. When I did get it working it was just one picture at a time and slow. Now, on the Wildfire, I simply went into the Gallery, chose “Share”, then “Bluetooth” and just put a tick next to the pictures I wanted to send to the machine. It just worked. Far better.
The only thing I’d change about this handset is for it to have an app like AndroRing built-in as default.
– Ant (Currenly he uses a HTC Hero and is very familiar with Android, computers and phones in general)
I’ve been using HTC phones in many guises for the last few years and since October last year I have defected from the Windows OS in favour of the HTC Hero running Android. The Hero is good, I can’t deny that, but some of the newer phones coming out recently are making it look a bit dated (weird “Jimmy Hill” chin and Android 1.5). So when Leigh dropped this rather small sexy looking handset running the latest OS in my lap I jumped at the chance to try it out for the week.
The phone itself to me is the perfect size not too big, not too small, feels weighty and well made. It’s got a lovely bright screen, and the flash for the camera is the best thing since sliced bread after trying to take pictures on my Hero at night. As I said the screen is nice and bright and to be honest even with the brilliant sunshine the UK has recently being experiencing it was still possible to use the outside to some extent.
The phone itself is like a mini version of the Desire with the same looks and smaller footprint, the one thing that is different to both the desire and the hero is that HTC have removed the hard “Home”, “Back” and “Search” keys and integrated them into the screen in the form of touch sensitive buttons – this is nice and gives the phone a sleeker feel, although I did find that it is possible to accidentally select these if you were not super accurate when clicking items at the bottom of the screen.
Using the phone was just the same as my Hero apart from the new looks and features offered in Android OS 2.1. Apps / Programs launched and ran at around the same speed as my Hero and the popup keyboard on the Wildfire appears larger and makes for easier typing of messages.
Now as you can gather I am loving this phone but unfortunately it has one big downfall – well for an existing HTC / Android OS user anyway. The lovely bright screen I talked about has a lousy resolution, which can be quite noticeable when running Apps that feature the banner adverts as these then take up more of the available viewing space compared to the same app running on a say a Desire or Hero.
Now don’t get me wrong this phone is being aimed at the pay as you go / first time Android users and if you haven’t owned one of the other higher priced Android handsets you won’t be disappointed – it has everything the big boys phones have (Wi-Fi / Bluetooth / GPS / 5mp Camera + Flash) but if you are thinking of swapping your Hero for one of these don’t, it will annoy you and you will notice the difference in the screen straight away with the fuzzy and blocky home screen and lack of colours you used to experience and not being able to download some of the apps you may have previously used because they are just not compatible makes you realise it is a lesser phone than you used to own.
All that being said it’s a really great phone and too be honest if I had the option I would use both the Wildfire and my Hero together, the Wildfire for nights out / social activities due to its size and better camera and the Hero for everyday at work. Sorry HTC you spoilt me with your previous handsets – now if you could release a Wildfire with an AMOLED hi-res screen I would definitely swap it for my Hero.
Dave Brewis – (Currently he is using a Nokia and has very little knowledge of Android or HTC Sense)
As a complete novice to the HTC range in its current public image, and even more so the Android operating system having only ever owned a Nokia before it was exciting to open up the Wildfire from scratch and see how all this hype measured up for me.
Having the rare opportunity of opening the HTC Wildfire, I was initially very impressed with the look and feel; thin, light and clean. On powering on, instantly presented with a wizard which to be honest I was not expecting and a little annoyed couldnt get out of but then guess thats just because of the urge to play straight away. Although on reflection its a good idea as it gets the setup out of the way. During the setup as there was no sim card inserted it would not let me pass until it had joined a WiFi network, imagine if I couldnt join a network if one was available, meaning I couldn’t play till this was configured.
However once passed all this, wow! I am genuinely impressed as a base phone and so no apps it holds a good image, fast to move about. Usual interface with the sense, fast flowing movemements as you move through the phone, already think its better than the Nokia menu interface.
I didn’t have a clue how to install or get applications. I think the first thing to do is get used to this new keyboard, what a change. My Nokia 5800 xpressmusic is a touch screen and with T9 proves very fast for typing, of course criteria is good spelling.
It turned out that apps very easy to get through the Android Market. There’s a very good selection both free and paid, arranged in their categories making general browsing enjoyable. I can also search such as Sky Remote Record returned a few results, paid and free versions.
The battery will last you about a day with a fair amount of “geek” use though, so as ever we’d recommend having a charger if you plan to use this as a sat-nav replacement in your car. The audio quality is great and calls are clear. For new users needing a smartphone without the price-tag, this is a steal. We have, however, seen some deals on the web that bring this out to be the same price as the HTC Legend. If you can find these then I’d say go for the Legend because of the higher resolutions screen. However, for new users on a tight budget, the HTC Wildfire delivers the goods in spades.
A good design, great functionality, smartphone performance and a great camera. Sure, the app store has a few missing apps and the screen isn’t as good as it could be, but for the price this really is a great phone and one that a lot of people will be buying. My wife won’t let go of it. Every time I mention the fact that they’ve got to go back she freaks out. This is a phone that you can make your own and a phone that’ll continue to delight day by day. Buy one.