The HTC Wildfire is a budget phone in a pricier handset's body. Specifically, it's an HTC Tattoo in the sleek, metal body of an HTC Desire. Its low-resolution screen struggles to show the powerful Android operating system at its best, but, if you're looking to save some pennies, there's still plenty to love about the Wildfire.
The Wildfire is available for free on a £15-a-month, 24-month contract. You can also pick it up for around £230 SIM-free.
The Wildfire looks like a wider, squatter Desire, and offers many of the same software features for a lower price. Because the Wildfire runs the latest version of Android, 2.1, it's packed with smart-phone features, like support for Outlook email. HTC has also smartened the OS up even further with some handy tweaks of its own, such as adding an excellent on-screen keyboard.
HTC has included heaps of its own widgets, which you can pop onto any of seven home screens. One of our favourites is the Friend Stream widget, which keeps you up-to-date with your Twitter and Facebook updates, without requiring you to open an app, as you must on the iPhone, for example. We think HTC's widgets are well-designed and good-looking, but you don't have to use them -- you can easily download tonnes of other apps and widgets from the Android Market.
Sharing Android apps with your chums hasn't been easy in the past, since you can't link to a Web-based store, and you normally have to download them straight onto the phone. But the Wildfire sorts that issue with an App Sharer feature that lets you easily share a link to your favourite bite-sized programs over email, text message, Twitter or Facebook.
The address book is also socially aware. It will merge your Facebook and Twitter friends with the peeps from your Gmail and phone memory. You can even check out their Facebook and Flickr photos right from the address book. Also, when the phone rings, your caller's Facebook status and birthday are shown, along with their photo. People's status scrolls slowly across the bottom of their photo, however, which means you're unlikely to hang around to read it when you've got an incoming call.
These features tend to work well, despite the Wildfire's 528MHz processor, which is about half as speedy as the Desire's. But you'll occasionally have to wait a fraction of a second for something to happen after you've tapped the capacitive screen. It's not a major annoyance, though, especially considering the Wildfire's low price, and scrolling around menus and screens is still a smooth and pleasant experience.
The Wildfire's biggest drawback is its low-resolution screen, which struggles to pack in all of Android's awesomeness. At 81mm (3.2 inches), it's pleasingly large, but its 240x320-pixel, QVGA resolution means that text is huge and slightly blurry, and Web pages are unreadable until you zoom in.
Also, the keys of the on-screen keyboard often cover up a huge portion of the screen, obscuring the fields that you want to see. Then, when you're finished typing, there's no easy way to hide the keyboard away so that you can send your text message, for example. It's a common problem with phones that run Android, but, combined with the low-res screen, it can be a real pain with the Wildfire.
On the other hand, we love the Wildfire's optical trackpad, which works smoothly, and looks slick compared to the trackball that we've seen on phones like the HTC Hero. You won't have to use it often, but it's handy for editing text and scrolling through little links on busy Web pages.
If you can get over the low-res screen, the Wildfire will prove an excellent phone for surfing the mobile Web. It even has Flash Lite support. You won't be able to watch Flash videos or play Flash games, but you won't miss out on any of the Web either -- you'll be able to see page-navigation tools, for example. And at least the zooming process is easy and intuitive, thanks to multi-touch support that lets you zoom in and out with a pinch or stretch of your fingers.
Wi-Fi and HSDPA, for faster browsing over 3G, are both on-board. Also present is GPS, to keep you going in the right direction via Google Maps.
The Wildfire's media player handles formats from MP3 to WMA, but music lovers should consider investing in a microSD card to beef up the built-in 512MB of memory. There's room for up to 32GB more, via the memory-card slot.
Even if you can't be bothered to load your tunes onto the phone, you can still listen to music at anytime, thanks to the built-in FM radio.
The HTC Wildfire doesn't skimp on smart-phone features, offering some of the best social-network integration that money can buy. There's really nothing about this handset that screams 'cheap phone' except the low-res screen.
If you can't abide the screen, the Samsung Monte may be worth a look. It doesn't offer smart-phone software, but it provides a good user experience, with a decent display and plenty of features.
Edited by Charles Kloet