By Joe Levi | September 12, 2011 4:41 PM
Lately we’ve gotten accustomed to high-end, expensive smartphones. The low-end is still primarily populated with the “dumb” flip-style phones. Apple has opted for selling older versions of its iPhone as “entry level”. HTC, on the other hand, has decided to offer slower, less feature-rich phones as their entry-level models.
Such is the case with the modestly spec’d HTC Wildfire S, a very compact, reasonably priced smartphone, powered by Android and HTC’s own Sense UI. Originally released in May 2011, the Wildfire S is a relative new-comer to T-Mobile USA.
The Wildfire S comes with everything essential to get up and running. The box includes a USB wall charger, a microUSB charging/sync cable, a 2GB microSD card, a quick start guide, and a postage-paid label for recycling your old phone. What’s missing, however, are headphones. You’ll have to supply your own, or do without.
Unlike its bigger siblings, the selling points on this phone are its small size and inexpensive price.
This phone’s screen is quite small at just 3.2″, and has a chassis to match. Fitting very comfortably in both large and small hands (4.10″ x 2.34″ x 0.49″, 3.7 oz), the TFT capacitive touchscreen, with its 320 x 480 pixels (at approximately 180 ppi pixel density) is a little disappointing. It’s highly reflective, and has horizontal lines that run through the display. This makes the images on-screen look less sharp than power-users may be used to, but its Gorilla Glass screen makes it durable enough to carry in your pocket.
The phone is powered by a 600MHz processor, which might sound fairly slow, but is plenty fast enough to get around without feeling slow or laggy. Another cost-saving measure was limiting the RAM and ROM to 512MB each. However, only 418MB of the ROM is available to the end-user, which was crippling for me and all the apps I normally install. I spent quite a bit of time moving every app I could to the SD card.
Since this phone is designed for use on T-Mobile USA’s network, it supports the 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz; UMTS Band I (2100), and UMTS Band IV (1700/2100) frequencies. Both 2G and 3G are included and work well, but you’re not going to get any 4G HSPA+ network speeds with this little guy.
Luckily the Wildfire S does support Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and performed well very when connected to my home 802.11n router and cable internet. Also, since this is a T-Mobile phone, it also comes pre-loaded with T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling feature, so if you wander out of your coverage area and find yourself under a Wi-Fi bubble, you’ll still be able to make and receive voice calls.
On the top of the phone is a standard 3.5mm headset/headphone jack, power button, and a notch to help you take the back cover off. The right side is devoid of any buttons, not even a dedicated camera button (you’ll use the on-screen button to take pictures).
The bottom features a modern interpretation of the old G1′s “chin” and a couple microphone holes. On the right side is the micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer, and a very comfortable volume rocker.
Moving to the back of the device you’ll find a basic, clean panel with HTC branding, 5MP camera with LED flash, and external speaker.
On the front is more HTC plus T-Mobile branding, the small screen, handset speaker with a notification LED hidden in the grill, and the traditional four Android buttons (capacitive): home, menu, back, and search.
Overall, the Wildfire S is very well constructed. It’s tightly put together, so tight, in fact, that it’s somewhat difficult to take the back-bezel off. I’d suggest you have your local T-Mobile store install your SIM and any microSD card upgrades for you.
The Wildfire S runs Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) with HTC Sense 2.1 (you read that correctly). Why the older version of Sense UI? Remember that little 600MHz processor? I assume the later versions of Sense UI are just to heavy to run well on the slower CPU. Sense UI 2.1, however, runs snappy and looks great, even on a slower processor.
Other than the Sense-related apps, the Wildfire S comes with relatively little bloatware pre-installed.
The camera on the Wildfire S isn’t particularly noteworthy. It’s a good, general purpose, 5MP camera which takes good pictures, and has a fast shutter. There are no 3D nor HD recording capabilities, the video is low-resolution 640×480 at 24fps. The quality of the video is decent, given those limitations, as you can see in the demo below.
Still pictures are surprisingly good for an entry-level phone. Images can be taken in a wide variety of lighting conditions and varying depths of field. Close-ups look very good as well. The following images are thumbnails linked to the full-sized, unedited images.
The battery is Lithium Ion, and holds 1230 mAh of power, which T-Mobile says equates to 6.7 hours of talk-time and 13 days of stand-by time. I was able to get through 2-3 days of moderate use between charges without a problem.
The 600MHz, single core processor that powers the HTC Wildfire S is a bit dated in terms of specs, but it’s still responsive, and carried out all my daily tasks without any noticeable slow-downs, hangs, or lagginess.
Benchmarking the phone against others proves that the new processors are a lot faster.
Smartbench 2011: (did not complete)
LinPack Multi-thread test: 6.526 MFLOP, 25.85 Seconds, Norm Res 3.24
These results put this phone in the same class at the original Motorola Droid and Nexus One.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
Wi-Fi 802.11n: 6Mbps down, 4Mbps up via Comcast Cable
3G: 1.1Mbps down, 350kbps up
Calls made and received over T-Mobile’s cellular network were crisp, clear, and reliable with high-bars anywhere I went — except in one known coverage “hole”. Calls made and received via Wi-Fi calling were equally as impressive as those made over the traditional GSM network, and worked great in my coverage “hole”, letting me stay connected even when I had no bars on the cellular network.
+ Very small formfactor
+ Very inexpensive (without sacrificing quality or features)
+ Solid battery life
- Small, highly reflective screen
- Screen has small horizontal bars across it — if you look closely enough
- Single-core, 600 MHz processor
- 418MB user-accessible internal storage
- No headset included
- No 1080p or 720p video recording
- No HSPA+ 4G
- HTC Sense UI 2.1 (rather than the newer 3.x versions)
- Hard to remove back cover
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Wildfire S can be purchased from T-Mobile for $249.99 off-contract, or free on-contract after a $50 web-only instant discount.
If you’re looking for an entry-level phone, but want all the features and benefits of Android, this is the phone for you. It fits in-hand wonderfully, is very well built, has all the minimum requirements that you need in a smartphone, and is priced well below the high-end phones running the same OS.
The processor and amount of internal memory are limiting factors which will likely sway power-users to a higher-end phone.
As a side-note, this review took significantly longer to complete than any other phone I’ve reviewed. The best way to sum up why is that this little phone is “camera shy”. Its screen is so highly reflective that several takes were required of each video before an acceptable image could be captured. While this shouldn’t detract you from considering this phone, it did set back the review schedule substantially.
This phone’s final score reflects the fact that it’s an entry-level device. If we were to compare the Wildfire S to other low-end phones (the T-Mobile G1 or myTouch, for example) it would likely receive a 4.5 or higher. Since we try and rate phones on consistent scale, it would be unfair to rate this phone that highly.
As such, we give the Wildfire S a 2.5/5.