HTC seems to have something for everyone these days, with a dazzlingly diverse range of Android handsets on the market.
The Wildfire S is one of the most pocket-friendly, in that it’s the smallest in the line-up. The new ‘S’ version brings the original up to date with an improved screen and new processor, Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS as well as GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G, all for considerably less cost than its high-end companions.
Design and build
At the upper end of the smartphone market, screen sizes are getting bigger, but the Wildfire S makes a virtue of its pocket-friendly proportions, reducing the size still further.
The D-pad which sat below the screen on the original has gone, and the 101 x 59 x 12mm (105g) casing made of black rubberised plastic now holds a 3.2in screen with the standard four Android buttons (home, back, menu and search) nestling beneath it in a touch-sensitive style.
On the sides are a wafer-thin volume rocker and micro USB power/sync port, with a power/sleep button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top. The back sports the lens for the 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and a loudspeaker.
The screen is the same 3.2in size as the original but the resolution has now been bumped up to 320 x 480 pixels (from 240 x 320) and offers a big improvement in both sharpness and contrast.
It’s certainly not as impressive as you’ll find on the likes of the high-end HTC Sensation but its smaller size means those pixels get to show off a bit more so it looks fine. It suffers a bit in sunlight though and tends to be prone to glare, which can be a nuisance.
Like HTC’s other handsets, its touch sensitivity is very good, and it easily distinguished between brushes and presses, rarely needing an additional press when choosing functions.
Interface and OS
It can be a little hard to keep up with the fast-paced world of Android updates. The Wildfire S is running the latest 2.3 Gingerbread, sort of. It’s actually running 2.3.3, which has recently been overtaken by 2.3.4, which adds video chat for Google Talk and a few other bits and bobs.
So it’s not the very latest version of Android, though it will no doubt get an update before too long, and video chat isn’t much of an issue since there’s no front-facing camera anyway.
Another anomaly is that there’s no NFC (Near Field Communication) chip either, unlike some other Gingerbread handsets, which would allow you to use the OS’s wireless payments ability.
But since this has yet to really hit the mainstream in the UK, it’s safe to say you won’t need it just yet, though it would have been nice to have the future-proofing built in.
The 600MHz processor is backed by 512MB of RAM and is a definite improvement on the original Wildfire’s 528MHz. It’s still not in the same league as HTC’s premium 1GHz or dual-core models, however and unfortunately it shows.
There’s still some delay when switching between apps which wouldn’t be apparent on the company’s more prestige handsets and there’s also noticeable lag when browsing and playing games.
Part of the slowness may be due to the increasingly busy Sense interface, which looks lovely and has lots of good features, but possibly needs more power for it to run smoothly than the Wildfire S is capable of.
We particularly like the FriendStream social networking widget, which pulls together all your updates into a single scrolling stream, and the People, Media Player and weather apps are all worth considering going HTC for.
There are also a few extras in this latest version of the UI, including some extra tabs in the pull-down status menu, and the ability to filter your apps drawer to make it easier to organise.
Sadly, one of the more consistent elements of HTC handsets is the quality, or lack thereof, of its cameras. Though they’re not as obviously bad as they once were, they routinely tend to drag behind their rivals from other manufacturers.
The 5-megapixel number here is no exception, offering so-so picture quality from its maximum 2,592 x 1,728-pixel resolution – you’ll need to work at it to be assured of sharp edges and there’s a consistent lack of detail below the level the spec would suggest.
It has a moderately bright LED flash and autofocus, however, along with face detection and geotagging, and the onscreen controls do the twisty rotate thing when you turn the handset on its side.
Video recording is at a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, so there’s no opportunity for HD recording, though there is the option to upload your clips direct to YouTube from the handset.
Apps and browser
The browser is standard Android and none the worse for that, with clear, intuitive navigation controls available from the menu and pinch to zoom capability from the multi-touch screen. Fast connection comes via HSDPA 3G or Wi-Fi.
Media and connectivity
The media player is a decent one and within the limits of the screen’s modest resolution, films look okay, though its relatively petite size means you’re probably not likely to feel compelled to watch a lot of them. It can view 3GP, 3G2, MP4 and WMV video files, but unfortunately there’s no support for DivX or Xvid.
The music player covers the basics but not a whole lot more. It’s easy and intuitive to use, plus there’s the opportunity to search for related videos on YouTube.
The supplied headphones sound woolly and ill-defined, so are definitely worth an upgrade, and unlike many of HTC’s other handsets, there’s no equalizer to help you get the sound to suit your tastes.
There is however a decently broad range of audio formats that it will play, including AAC, AMR, OGG, M4A, MOD, MP3, WAV and WMA, as well as an FM radio.
Performance and battery life
There’s a measly 512MB of storage memory on board, though it comes with a 2GB microSD card which can be hot swapped under the back cover without the need to remove the battery. You can also boost it to 32GB if you feel the need.
Even though the ‘S’ is a bit smaller than its predecessor, it has the same 1230mAh battery – less powerful than you’ll find on higher-end handsets, but the reduced feature set helps it to throw in a decent performance, delivering a good two days of fairly heavy use.
- Pocket-friendly size
- Improved screen and processor
- HTC Sense UI
- Good battery life
- Underpowered processor still struggles at times
- Average camera
- Some features missing from Android 2.3 Gingerbread
Verdict: The Wildfire S’s diminutive size is its main asset, and improvements to screen and processor help it to keep pace with the times, though it’s no substitute for the high end.
More info: HTC Wildfire S spec
Price: From free on contract; £230 SIM-free