The trend in today’s smartphone market seems to be ever-expanding screens to match our ever-growing mobile demands. What happens if you prefer a more pocket-friendly communicator? Eschewing the mass market’s pushes, HTC offers the Wildfire S—a phone that doesn’t attempt to be the fastest, biggest, or best phone available. Rather, this free-on-contract phone seems more geared towards first-time smartphone buyers just moving up from feature phone hell.

HTC Wildfire S

Does the Wildfire S prove to be a worthy entry point into the world of Android? Jump past the break to find out!

Unboxing and Initial Impressions

As is the trend with modern smartphones, there is hardly anything contained within the packaging of the Wildfire S. In addition to the matching charger and USB cable, there is a preinstalled 2 GB Sandisk microSD card to complement the 512 MB of internal memory, and a whole bunch of phone literature that nobody ever bothers to read.

Similarly to the previously-reviewed Samsung Conquer 4G, you won’t find any bundled headphones with the Wildfire S. As we stated in the aforementioned review, however, a decent set of replacements will far exceed the sound quality in any bundled headphones.

Design and Feel

HTC understands industrial design. It’s as simple as that. They have a lengthy track record of putting out sleek and attractive devices that feel equally nice in the hand. Rather than the chintzy glossy plastic found in other manufacturers’ devices, HTC has outfitted the Wildfire S with lustrous metal and mildly textured plastic. All in all, the Wildfire S fits right in with the rest of HTC’s lineup.

Wildfire S

Again, did I say this thing was pretty? I love HTC’s eye for all things aesthetic. On that note, the approachable white color stays in line with the theme that this is a device geared at the first-time smartphone buyer.

When compared to other smartphones on the market today, the Wildfire S is almost entirely dwarfed. Despite that, measuring in at a pocket-bulging 12.4mm, it is actually thicker than most of its contemporaries—including its own 12.0mm predecessor, the original Wildfire.

Camera

Still Images

The Wildfire S comes with a 5 MP rear-facing camera with auto focus, facial recognition, and an LED flash. Despite the fact that subject isolation is simply impossible with any small lens camera, the shots on the Wildfire S were more than adequate when under good lighting. As seen below, the phone’s macro mode surprisingly delivered some impressive results. It’s no replacement for a DSLR, or even a pocket sized point-and-shoot, but it will let you capture images you would have otherwise lost due to not having a camera around.

Video Quality

The VGA-quality picture produced by the Wildfire S was generally acceptable, but we did notice a large amount of frame drop. The frame drop was evident in the viewfinder while recording, even in well-lit conditions.

Battery Life

At just 1230 mAh, the Wildfire S packs an incredibly small battery. Bracing myself for terrible battery performance, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this phone can easily last a full day of moderate to heavy usage, with perhaps two or even three days of light usage. Offering standby times upwards of an unbelievable 570 hours and talk times of slightly over 7 hours (2G) and slightly under 6 hours (3G), this phone is no slouch when it comes to longevity.

Display

The display is a 3.2″ TFT-LCD at HVGA resolution. Again similarly to the Samsung Conquer 4G, we found the size and resolution to be constraining. Prolonged email and web browsing became a downright chore on the device. However, despite the gross inadequacies of the display, the actual image quality in HTC’s TFT panel was more than passable. And unlike the displays found in some other mobile devices, there is no color inversion whatsoever at extreme angles.

Software

The Wildfire S comes preloaded with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and HTC’s largely well-received Sense UI. The iteration of Sense in the Wildfire adds excellent functionality to the device such as a Quick Settings tab and recently opened applications to the drop down notification drawer. Thanks to the Quick Settings tab, adjusting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Network, or Hotspot settings on the fly was a breeze. Other applications such as the camera, launcher, and contacts manager saw minor beneficial updates as well.

Performance

Unlike the previously reviewed Conquer 4G, not even the abysmal HVGA resolution could spare this 600 MHz, ARM11 device from a severe case of lag. Unlike its high end brethren; pauses, delays, and performance hiccups were the rule rather than the exception.

Quantitative benchmark performance confirmed what qualitative analysis revealed. The Wildfire S was only able to pull off 607 points in Quadrant and similarly low scores in Smartbench 2010 (469 productivity / 903 game), Smartbench 2011 (323 productivity / 709 game), Nenamark1 (29.0 fps), and Nenamark2 (5.7 fps).

Thanks in large part to T-Mobile’s wonderful HSPA network, connectivity was, surprisingly, not horrible. On average, the Wildfire S performed equivalently well in the Speedtest.net application as this reviewer’s Nexus S. Curiously, ping was substantially better on the Wildfire than on the Samsung.

Conclusions

Ultimately, at the low, low price of free with two-year commitment, the Wildfire S offers an enticing proposition. However, since the Samsung Galaxy S 4G has been known to hover around the same price in various web-only specials, we can’t hesitate but recommend the Galaxy instead for most of our T-Mobile readers. However, for those who don’t care about the lag or low resolution and simply want a sleek, small, and well-built phone; the Wildfire S is an excellent entry point into the world of Android.

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