T-Mobile Wildfire S Review: It’s cute, small, and cheap. But is it any good?

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T-Mobile is hardly in short supply of Android phones these days, and the carrier also features a decent selection of entry-level and budget Android devices. Most of these handsets range in quality but rarely break the $100 mark, which makes for a good deal. One of T-Mobile’s latest offerings is the HTC Wildfire S, which hasn’t changed all that much since it graced Europe’s shelves but we’re glad to see finally grace the States. The Wildfire S is stupidly cute, but does it hold enough value to consider?

The Good
  • Small and compact, the Wildfire S is a very 'cute' phone
  • Slick design and great in-hand feel makes it feel like a premium device, even though it's an entry-level handset.
  • While it's not without its own issues, HTC Sense is one of the best skins for the Android OS.
The Bad
  • Not much of an upgrade from the year-old Aria
  • Other budget Android phones provides a lot more value for not much more money.
  • HTC Sense is jam packed with useless bloatware

Hardware

The Wildfire S is one of the very few handsets that could possibly get away with being called adorable. That's exactly what it is, though, and we're not ashamed to say it. If you didn't know any better, it would be easy to mistake the Wildfire S for a toy, especially the white version. No lie. It's something you'd expect to see the My Size Barbie to rock these days.

The tiny handset doesn't pack a punch nearly as powerful as something like the Sensation 4G but those who actually end up grabbing this phone likely aren't too concerned with  raw processing power. The Wildfire S is very similar to the HTC Aria on AT&T and there's actually very little difference between the two phones internally, even though the latter is almost exactly a year older.

The face of the device is covered by its 3.2 inch, HVGA, display. Above the screen lies the earpiece, along with the notification LED, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor. Below the 320 x 480 resolution display, you'll find the standard Android buttons for menu, home, back and search. The Wildfire S bears the mark of HTC Android phone past, and has a very subtle lip, or chin, at the bottom of it, but nowhere near as the G1 or Hero.

The left side of the handset houses the volume rocker and charging port, and the right side is left clean. You'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, tab from removing the battery cover, and the power/lock button on top, with only the microphone found on the bottom.

On the back of the handset you'll find the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and speaker grill, encased in a silver portion of the back, which provides a nice contrast to the white batteru cover.  Below the camera is the expected "HTC" logo, and towards the bottom is the, "with HTC Sense" branding. Virtually every handset HTC ships has the Sense UI on it, and why it still feels the need to put that on the phone itself is beyond us. It's small enough to ignore, however.

Overall, this little handset packs a punch, albeit a wimpy one.

 

Design

The Wildfire S is a subtle, yet beautifully crafted phone. The overall look and feel of the handset is simple and that's exactly what it is. While gorgeous designs aren't anything new when it comes to HTC handsets, it's nice to see that even the low-end handsets like the Wildfire S get the same treatment as the high-end variety.

Thanks to the minimal 'flare' on the battery cover, the handset feels great in the hand. The smooth backing could stand to have a little more grip, but we still love the in-hand feel either way.

The display surrounded by a black piece that houses the four capacitive buttons and this portion in tucked into a silver segment, which the earpiece is built into. The contrast of white and silver adds to the cuteness, and while we like the black version exclusive to T-Mobile's website and WalMart , we think the white version is where it's at.

Build Quality

Just like its design, HTC knocks this one out of the park, too. The Wildfire S obviously isn't a rugged phone but its compact design lends to a more solid feel. The battery cover actually covers the entire bottom and wraps up slightly, much like the Aria. This makes the battery covers act as a jacket more than anything but should help the phone hold its own upon impact.

The handset should be able to weather normal wear and tear with ease but like any handset, we won't suggest you throwing the thing out the windows to see how it fares.

Benchmarks

While no one is expecting the Wildfire S to blow anything out of the water, we figured some benchmarks were in order. Benchmarks were taken three times each and the results below are the average of the tests.

Quadrant- 723

Linpack- 7.348

Neocore- 49.46

Software

Oh HTC Sense, how you bore me so. The Wildfire, along with most every HTC handset, comes with the very popular custom user interface, Sense. The skin provides many slick optimizations to stock Android, is very easy to use, and is still unrivaled when it comes to custom UIs. That said, I find Sense terribly boring after using it so long.

The Sense UI is widget-centric, and provides 7 different panels to customize with widgets and applications. Most widgets come in different sizes, and are scrollable, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, if you find a scrollable widget in the Android Market, don't expect it to work on Sense. Nonetheless, HTC provides a very nice helping of widgets for you to choose from, so lack of selection likely won't be a problem.

Unfortunately, having too much on your home screens will yield some unfavorable results. HTC was first to begin beefing up the amount of RAM on its handsets and it wasn't to out-spec the competition. It was to make sure its Sense UI wouldn't slow down after heavy use. While very easy on the eyes, Sense is a heavily bloated piece of software that has even halted or slowed the possibility of handsets getting the next version of the Android OS. The Wildfire is nowhere near as powerful as the likes of the Thunderbolt, and  we have our serious doubts that it will receive another Android OS update in its lifespan.

The Wildfire S isn't powerful enough to run Sense 3.0, the latest version released, but you version 2.1 is familiar enough and is just as sexy.

 

 

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The web browsing experience on the Wildfire S is a bit cramped due to the small display but you can still manage. Unfortunately, you won't be able to take advantage of Adobe Flash with the Wildfire S' web browser due to hardware limitations. You'll have to make due do with Flash lite.

The browser itself is a slightly skinned version of the stock Android browser and comes with some nifty optimizations for bookmarks and other tweaks are found throughout.

The web browsing experience on the Wildfire S gets the job done, and that's all one can really ask for when concerning a handset like this.

Multimedia

The handset offers up just about everything you'd expect to see on a Sense handset. The skinned music player is a nice addition and Slacker Radio is preinstalled just in case you get tired of your own music.

You probably won't find yourself wanting to watch a lot of video on the device due to its screen size, and it's lack of Flash support leaves you with fewer options. Still, you can still have access to the YouTube application and applications to entertain you.

Camera

The camera on the Wildfire S isn't the best but it can pull out some decent shots in good lighting. The LED flash on the handset is pretty capable, as it didn't wash out subjects and overwhelm the pictures. Overall, the five megapixel shooter does its job nicely.

The camera software is simple and to the point, and if you've ever played with a HTC handset before, the software should be familiar. Quick settings for photo effects, flash, gallery and switching from the camera to the camcorder are all found on the right side of the screen at all time. Hitting menu will reveal more in-depth settings.

A dedicated zoom bar is found on the right side of the screen in the camera app and you can slide it up and down to adjust the zoom or use the volume rocker. This is a nice touch we're beginning to see on more and more phones. Another nice feature on the Wildfire S is that there's a touch to focus option, which isn't anything new, but it oddly doesn't appear in all of HTC's phones.

outdoors, sunny, default settings

outdoors, sunny, default settings

outdoors, sunny, default settings

indoors, low light, default settings, flash

As far as video goes, the Wildfire S can't even record in 720p, so we didn't bother with a sample. This isn't much of a let down, considering this is a phone for the budget conscious, and the video the handset can record in is just fine for MMS, etc.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality was acceptable enough on my side, with other side reporting no issues, either. When coming from a larger phone like the G2X, I had to make sure my ear was actually on the speaker perfectly but it becomes more natural over use.

Battery life on the Wildfire S is decent and since it's  not really the multimedia machine many Android phones are today, you may be able to squeeze a better lifespan then most. It'll last a little over two days on standby from what I've seen, but that's without touching the thing at all throughout that time.

The Final Take

The Wildfire S is a small budget Android phone that is easy on the eyes and the wallet. HTC Sense is one of the nicest skins you can find for the OS and it's extremely easy to use, and that alone may be worth grabbing this handset.

That said, if you were willing to spend $80 for the Wildfire S (on a two year contract, mind you) then we would immediately show you the Samsung Exhibit 4G for T-Mobile. The Exhibit may lack the sexy Sense UI but it has a bigger, higher-res display, a CPU that's almost twice as fast, front-facing camera, real Flash support, and HSPA+ support for just $20 more. The rear camera isn't as great but you'd be hard pressed to find a real reason not to spend the extra $20 bucks on the Exhibit 4G.

Of course, we're not saying that the Wildfire S is a bad phone, because it's not. It just doesn't provide the value we wish it did, even with its great price. You can grab this phone for free online for free, which makes the value a bit more worth it, so if you're looking for something simple but more powerful than your feature phone, go check out the Wildfire S.

Overall, if you like the Wildfire S and can grab the thing for free, go for it. If you're going to pay upward towards $80, we suggest looking at T-Mobile other offerings that may provide more bang for the buck.

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  • http://twitter.com/bconner1 Brian Conner

    This definitely seems like a great device for the right target market ;)

    Not everyone wants a larger phone in their pocket.

  • Prosthetic Lips

    I have an Aria, and love the smaller size.  Since I’m a shorter guy, my pants have slightly smaller pockets, so I appreciate a slightly smaller phone. The battery life is pretty average, so if I think I’m going to use it a lot, I make sure to plug it in (wall / car).  But, normally, I plug it in when I’m going to bed, and it easily lasts all day, talking, surfing, whatever.

  • Xyz

    hey brother thanks for such detailed information.  u provided info more than the HTC official website.  RESPECT BRO RESPECT !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Xyz

    hey brother thanks for such detailed information.  u provided info more than the HTC official website.  RESPECT BRO RESPECT !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Xyz

    hey brother thanks for such detailed information.  u provided info more than the HTC official website.  RESPECT BRO RESPECT !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dynas-babe

    can you reverse the camera  on it ?

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