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HTC Wildfire. The First Look
Below, I’d like to tell you about the inexpensive Android smartphone from HTC that was just announced. HTC Wildfire has, as it often happens with company’s models, a not so modest name, selected via a poll on Facebook – it is a smartphone with a good feature set and specs for a little (that is little for a HTC product) money. Eldar will tell you about the market positioning below, then I will continue with the description of the device.
What does Wildfire mean for HTC, Google and Smartphone Market
I don’t like to write first words and last words to our editor’s articles, they always do their job great without it. However once in a while a device or an event come along that need additional words, because they are game changers for the whole market. HTC Wildfire is such a device.
Big events are always the sum of the smaller ones. I’m certain most of our readers will not be interested in this device whatsoever, they will not lose sleep over it. It is not the cheapest, you can find some Chinese competitors. It does not have new functions, everything is already familiar. It has the same qualities that made Nokia 5800 the bestseller at its time. It is a right price at the perfect moment for the market. In June, when this smartphone will come to the market, its cost in Europe will be around 250 Euro ($310) (you should be able to find it for 230 Euro ($285)). Is it a little or a lot for a phone like this? Metal inserts in the body, design, similar to HTC Desire and related to other senior HTC models, 5 MPx camera with Auto Focus, Sense UI. 3.2” screen, but the resolution is not the biggest – a major shortcoming in my eyes, but not in the eyes of the market. Why is this phone so important, so we dedicate a whole article with an introduction to it?
The answer is that starting with Wildfire from day one of sales, Android comes into the 200 Euro segment. Motorola attempted to become the first company to get into this market, but did not succeed in Europe, its products can not be found in European stores, all its energy is concentrated on the US market. Sony Ericsson is waiting to release X10 Mini, but the price there is higher, future cheaper models will only come later. Samsung plans to release similar Android devices at this price point only in the middle of the summer. HTC thus pushed the first stone from the mountain, the stone that will lead to an avalanche. The company ventured into the inexpensive Android smartphone market first and that makes it the instigator of the events to follow later.
The strategy of all Android smartphone manufacturers is simple – they come down from the top pricing tiers. On their way they eat bits and pieces of the market from other OS, other manufacturers. The biggest and strongest suffer the most, S60 from Nokia for example. The company was forced to go into inexpensive smartphone market to be able to counter touch screen products from the Korean manufacturers. In the top pricing tier it lost the battle, its products are not as interesting as the competing solutions. This next step by HTC is the widening of the market for the manufacturer, but also it opens the gates into the new price segment where only Nokia products were well known so far. Will the rules change after this HTC step? For sure. All manufacturers will begin to offer Android smartphones in the 200 Euro or higher market. And this will be a massive offer. As a result, the choice of models will grow, there will be alternatives. Considering the quality of Sense UI all manufacturers will be forced to show the devices of a similar level or lose the race.
So what if Wildfire is nothing special for you, for the market it is the first such device establishing the new, lower price point for Android smartphones. The future models will again widen the market even farther, but that will only happen at the end of 2010, beginning of 2011. Nice, cool, interesting device, one of the most interesting for the money. Evolution continues. Android is marching forward.
The company clearly got the idea to make inexpensive models look like the top of the line ones. Earlier, exactly the same market approach was practiced by Samsung, releasing budget sliders looking like the product line flagships of the period. We are talking about cloning the looks of the most expensive device and transferring it to some of the cheapest, so the analogy with Nokia N97 and Nokia N97 mini does not work here, one with Samsung E250 and D900 does.
In case of Wildfire there is clearly the same design language used in HTC Android flagship – Desire. Wildfire has the name body shape with a smooth flow of surfaces, the same metal insert around the face, similar location of controls. Yes, the design is not exactly the same, but when you’ll see the Wildfire you will likely be reminded of the Desire, they look related.
The body is made from matte, rubberized plastic, the battery cover has a metal plate inserted, the front is also metallic to the touch. The body color is as boring as in Desire – a few shades of Grey. This pallet is universal and will not be repulsive to anyone.
Size wise this is one of the most compact “droids” in HTC lineup, comparable to HTC Tattoo. It feels comfortable in the hand, you can control it with the same hand you hold it in. It is light.
Controls, Body Elements
Wildfire uses optical trackball (touchpad) just like HTC Legend and Desire, this part of the controls is absolutely similar. Above it are the buttons, they are sensory just as on Google Nexus One, not the best way to go, but you can get used to it. From the left to the right we have Home (return to standby screen, application manager), Menu for content menu, Return and Search buttons.
The left side features traditional volume controls and microUSB slot, the right side has nothing, On the top the On/Off button (just like on Desire and Legend) and a 3.5 mm headset jack are located.
The phone speaker grill is above the screen, the ring speaker opening and the 5 MPx camera with a flash are on the back. The quality of the pictures we will discuss in the actual review, but we can say right now that it will be on a level close to HTC Desire and Legend – the camera module used here is similar. Video sample was recorded in 352 x 288 resolution.
HTC Wildfire uses capacitive 3.2” touch screen with 240x320 (QVGA) resolution. The screen is the weakest part of the phone, but thanks to it the phone is inexpensive. A few details need to be pointed out. First of all, the screen does support multitouch, second of all, the execution of the touch is no worse than with AMOLED screens used in Desire and Legend and, third of all, due to the standard (not widescreen) proportions, even with the same diagonal size of the screen as on Desire and Legend, the display on the Wildfire is de facto bigger.
It is easy to type text on the screen keyboard of HTC Wildfire, in my opinion easier than on Hero or Legend precisely because of the larger screen. The size of the keyboard in horizontal position is comfortable enough for typing with thumbs.
The phone is built on the same platform as HTC Tattoo, Qualcomm MSM7225 528 MHz processor. It has 384 MB of RAM and 512 MB for software installation (less than half available to the user as usual). There is a microSD slot located on the left side below, under the battery cover. You don’t need to turn the phone off to swap the card.
Technically, besides the low resolution screen, HTC Wildfire copies the functionality of the senior models: Desire and Legend. Smartphone works in 2G/3G networks, there is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, built-in light and proximity sensors, digital compass and gyroscope. And FM radio.
Smartphone utilizes Android 2.1 OS with HTC’s own latest version of Sense UI. Even more, specially for Wildfire release the company added one nice touch to the Sense – you can now swap the links to Android market programs with your friends, emailing them or through Twitter. Considering that finding a good program in the Market is sometimes not that easy, this could be a really useful feature.
How good (or bad) is the phone performance wise you can see in the video. I can only add that during my work with the smartphone I have not noticed any slowdowns and in any case they are hard to imagine in a model with a good platform and low resolution screen. In my opinion, Wildfire is faster than Hero or Tattoo, on the same level as Desire and Legend.
The model will hit the shelves in June with around 250 Euro ($310) sticker. So what is special about it? A smartphone with a low resolution screen, typical set of wireless interfaces (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS) in a compact body.
It is special because on my memory this is one of a few HTC smartphones that was not overpriced at the start, Wildfire is a great value even in the beginning of its life. It is cheaper than Hero with a price sticker at the Tattoo level, but it is much better than either of these two in every respect: metal in the body, reliable optical trackball, large screen, new Android and Sense. Among the low and medium price level Android devices the new HTC smartphone will cause uproar.
The trick is that unlike other manufacturers, who, when releasing inexpensive solutions, are cutting corners here and there, HTC saved money on one element only – the screen. Yes, it is not the best of the screens by far – only 240 x 320 pixels, but even this LCD is capacitive and supports multitouch. The speed of the LCD reaction is on the same level as Desire and Legend, same applies to the wireless interfaces choice, camera, Android version, when the Sense UI version is even newer. The only visible competitor today is Samsung i5700 Galaxy Spica, but even it is really difficult to compare – with a little lower price point, Samsung is much weaker from a technical standpoint: the screen, camera are worse, Android is older, there is no Sense UI.
So at the end we have the first truly affordable Android smartphone, with all the chances to become a massive bestseller. Phone with an easily comprehensible interface, set of features and specs able to satisfy the majority of users.
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Published - 17 May 2010.
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