March 6, 2013

HTC WILDFIRE REVIEW

The first Android phones were sold for the upmarket audience (i.e. people who spent about Rs. 30,000 on a phone). To give the Google OS's power in the hands of the common man, many low-end phones followed shortly. One such phone was the HTC Tattoo. Although a wallet-friendly phone of that time, there was a big distinction between its user experience and phones priced almost double of that; thanks to the smaller resistive screen that wasn't as responsive as the capacitive one. The lower QVGA resolution back then was also a hindrance, as some apps wouldn't work. The camera was also nothing to boast about. 

Cut to today, these "high-end" features are observed in phones that sell for as low as Rs. 15,000. This 10-15k price bracket is warming up with at least one phone from each manufacturer that waves the Android flag. We asked people which phone they'd pick in this range a while back, and the HTC Wildfire won this poll by a fair margin. It seems that it is not just us who's been smitten with the beautiful and functional Sense UI customization they've got on each of their Android phone. However, everyone seems skeptical about this one black speck in this otherwise fair feature-list; the QVGA (320 x 240 pixel) resolution on a 3.2-inch display. So how bad is it really? Read on to find out. 





Design and Build

The first thing you'll realize when you hold the HTC Wildfire is its compact size. After using phones with 3.7 and 4-inch displays - phones that feel like a brick in your pocket, the Wildfire's fairly thin and petite chassis felt quite nice in my large hands. It didn't even weigh my shirt pocket down. It isn't as well finished as its older brother - the HTC Desire. But the design philosophy between the two models is the same, and the Wildfire looks quite attractive. 



Despite the lack of any metallic envelope, it feels fairly tough even with its plasticky shell. The front is covered by a 3.2-inch capacitive screen; a welcome change from the smaller 2.8 inch resistive screen of the Tattoo. HTC decided to put QVGA (320 x 240) pixels, which if I remember correctly, would help it to "keep the cost down, run faster and to save battery power as well". So is this good or bad? 

Well, when you first look at the display, you will definitely want to compare and be unimpressed by how it looks duller and not as crisp as WVGA (800 x 480) AMOLED displays you might have seen on high-end phones. Of course it does! Another clear effect of the low resolution is the reduced real estate you'll get to use (since everything is bigger).
At a glance, the quality may seem acceptable. But once you start observing, you'll see how the edges of the fonts have that unwanted lack of crispness, which was also observed in the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 Mini/Mini Pro. The fonts on the homescreen and all HTC-touched apps are yet fairly readable. I'm pretty sure the design team has optimized the UI (used big good-looking fonts) to aid view-ability in this low resolution.

But then there are things beyond HTC's control. For example, the text while reading e-mails in the Gmail app is too tiny, and there's no way to change text size in the app. While browsing, text appears too pixillated at the overview level (whereas in an HVGA screen they'd be readable) but as you zoom in, it is fairly readable. You have to zoom more than usual and less text would occupy the screen than what it would on an HVGA resolution screen. But after reading websites for hours on this phone, I didn't find the screen to be that big a deal-breaker in this respect. 

Other than the resolution, the phone's brightness is pretty high and it is clearly visible in sunlight. The capacitive layer is fairly receptive to the human finger touch. The screen size is also under acceptable standards for a touchscreen only phone. There are touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom of the display that are typical to most Android phones you'll see. Below that is an optical track-pad, which honestly was of absolutely no use, other than moving the cursor between characters. It clicks as a camera shutter button as well. To the right we have a nice and long volume button rocker and a microUSB port. At the top, there's a power button and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The "dual" earpiece grille is wide enough, whichever way you hold the phone. The design and build feels rather nice when the phone is placed to the ear. 


There's a comparably big-looking camera lens taking center stage at the back, with a mole-like LED Flash bulb next to it. The rectangular metallic strip at the back sure adds some character to this phone. Overall, other than the display, we had nothing major to complain about the design of this phone



User Interface



The HTC Wildfire runs Android 2.1 at the back, with HTC's Sense UI running atop. While we're somewhat relieved to see at least a fairly recent (with Google, NOTHING is ever going to be recent) version of Android. To start with, you've got a total of 7 homescreens that you can customize. Trust us when we say that you're going to need 7. Due to the low resolution, the screen cannot occupy too much content on one screen as compared to other models. You can either swipe side by side or get an expose-like view of all seven screens by pinch-zooming in. This gesture didn't really work as easy for us, so we stuck to the alternative "pressing the home key" way of getting there.

The interface has a very pleasing appeal with its striking color themes and HTC has taken utmost care to ensure everything works well. You've got a couple of extra widgets by HTC to fill up your homescreen, other than Android's default bunch, like the re-designed music controls one that shows the album art or the news widget that shows latest RSS feeds. The messages widgets presents all your texts in a carousel to let you quickly flick through them and take necessary action like deleting or replying to them, all from the home-screen. Then there's 'FriendStream', the social networking aggregation tool.

This is probably one of the best auto-syncing tools I've seen. The widget shows your Twitter and Facebook feeds at one place, and you can also post on both mediums in one go. Click a message on the widget and it will take you to the respective app where you can Reply, Send a DM or Retweet in case of Twitter, and Comment or Like on Facebook. They may not be as functional as Twitter and Facebook's dedicated apps for Android, but they get the basic job done right from the home-screen.

There's also an app-sharing feature, which lets you post the name of any third party app in your phone to your social networks, to easily tell people you like a particular app. Oh and by the way, Copy-paste is kinda ripped off of the iOS in the Sense UI, with just square magnifying blocks replacing the original magnifying glass. 

It automatically picked up contacts who had put their phone numbers on Facebook, and showed their picture when they called or SMSed me. There are also "Online directories" to pull out contact numbers from various social networking sites you're subscribed to. Another thing I loved is the way it put birthdays of all my friends from Facebook into my calendar. HTC's taken care of all the little things that make the user experience better. Like adding smart-dial to its dialer app, pre-installing a handy Flashlight app with three levels of intensity of that LED bulb at the back. For its size, it is fairly powerful and can actually be used at night. 

The excellently designed keyboard was able to recognize what I wrote, even though I mistyped several times. Despite typing in portrait mode with the limited width of the 3.2-inch screen, I never felt the keys were too small to tap on. I seldom felt like switching over to the landscape mode. Due to good recognition, one handed typing on the QWERTY was also accurate.

Coming to speed, the 528 MHz processor and 384MB RAM don't sound so exciting, but manage to get the job done at most places. The swiftness of the interface was mixed, mostly it was smooth but then there were times when there was a noticeable lag. This happened especially in the music player or when you have multiple tabs open in a browser. Heavy multi-tasking on this phone isn't really advisable, keep it for the 1GHz/512MB RAM laden ones. 

There are a few accelerometer-based tricks like turn-to-mute a phone-call and dimming ringer on pickup. The first one works like a charm especially when it snoozes the alarm by 10 minutes by simply flipping the phone over. While the dimming ringer will work only if the phone was on a desk when the phone starts ringing. 

Talking about app compatibility with the QVGA resolution and Android, in our observation things seem to have improved. The major and popular apps did show up on the Market on the Wildfire, maybe with the exception of the Dictionary.com one. With lesser known apps, there were a few hits and misses. So, the compatibility isn't perfect but should be okay for people who aren't heavily into apps.  



Performance

As a phone, the HTC Wildfire performed well. The reception and call clarity were good, the earpiece volume is adequate, the loudspeaker doesn't drive a loud output for music. During phone calls, the volume cracked slightly at the highest volume, but was more than audible in silent environments. There was this little issue where the GPRS connection wouldn't reestablish once I came out of a no network area. The fix was to put the phone in Airplane mode and out again. But I can't really blame Wildfire for this, since I've experienced the same with a few other Android phones, and I am beginning to think that this is an OS issue. The A-GPS was pretty fast to fix on my location in Google Maps, taking only a few seconds.  


The bundled earphones deliver acceptable sound quality but if you're at least a bit of an audiophile, then you'd want to upgrade to a better pair. When I tried this, the quality noticeably improved. The 5 megapixel camera has features like continuous autofocusing as you move, touch to focus along with a fair bunch of tweaks like exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness etc. Now the main problem with taking pictures with the Wildfire is not the sensor, but the screen yet again. 



Captured in a dark environment with LED flash

Due to the low number of pixels spanned across a larger area, it looks kinda dull and pixillated. But that is not the case when you transfer pics to the PC, which reveal that they were actually shot in better quality. It is disappointing since one would mostly want to preview photos on the screen itself and not transfer to the PC all the time.

Otherwise, the picture quality is just about acceptable; the colors captured are natural and level of detail is fair. Taking snaps of close objects in the dark are well illuminated, thanks to that LED light at the back. But we don't think it's going to help much if the subject is far off. Videos was another disappointment, as it recorded at a measly QVGA resolution and was not very smooth. 

Regarding video playback, HTC claims only mobile-optimized formats like 3GP, WMV and MP4. We tried installing RockPlayer and playing some regular DivX videos off the memory card, but it was too much to handle for that 528 MHz processor; resulting in a laggy frame-rate and the audio not synching. So all in all, the multi-media aspect of the Wildfire is just about average. 

Battery life was decent. With all the social network syncing turned on, I got one day and six hours (30 hours) of up-time of moderate usage which included a 2 hours of phone calls and use of internet. There was no multi-media usage in this period.  





 Price and Verdict 

The HTC Wildfire sells for Rs. 15,300. Seems like a fair price if you compare its predecessor  - the Tattoo - that sold for the same price back then. The Wildfire also has a considerable number of improvements over it. But when compared to a Samsung Galaxy 3, which has a slightly higher-res screen, Wi-fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0 support, a faster 667 MHz processor on the basis of which it even claims to play back DivX out-of-the-box. All this for Rs. 12,000; now the Wildfire seems expensive doesn't it?  


All in all, the Wildfire is a decent device to use. However, the low resolution screen is a major deterrent, but like I said earlier, it is not entirely a deal-breaker for casual users, but might just be one for nitpickers.

We appreciate the painstaking efforts HTC has taken to improve the user experience; an HVGA display would have absolutely boosted it further. If you're keen on multimedia performance, then the Wildfire is not up to the mark, especially when you've got a monster named the Samsung Wave just Rs. 2,500 away.

So, the average performance in general doesn't make us recommend this phone to the Android enthusiast. If the price drops down to 12 grand, then we probably wouldn't mind recommending it .

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