The phone runs version 2.1 (Eclair) of Google’s Android operating system and includes a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and auto-focus plus a large 3.2” colour screen.
Sitting on top of Android is HTC’s Sense UI interface which debuted on the Hero. Sense hugely improves the rather drab and ‘not quite finished’ feel of Android and the version running here looks more polished and runs smoother than that which shipped with the Hero.
Overall the Wildfire feels pretty snappy and responsive though I did experience a noticeable lag when zooming in on photos taken with the built-in camera. Picture quality is about average for a phone camera but if you want reliable, high quality pics to remember your special event I always think you’re best off buying a ‘real’ digital camera.
No such lag was present when performing similar zooms on webpages but I did find myself hugely frustrated trying to access Flash content embedded on websites such as BBC News.
The availability of Flash on Android is meant to be one of the platform’s great bonuses over Apple’s iPhone and iOS operating system yet, despite the Wildfire apparently supporting Flash out of the box, getting content to play was a nightmare.
A clip on a BBC news report simply refused to present any play controls and a video in one of the BBC’s tech blog posts spent a long time showing a spinning ‘loading’ wheel before resulting in an exclamation mark alert.
Taping on this icon brought up a message window telling me “this type of Flash content is not supported”.
Trying again on a Flash trailer on this site was more successful in that the video played but did so in 10 second bursts as the 3G connection loaded and buffered the content – being frank it felt as if I was watching some kind of flipbook animation.
Given how much noise is made about Android’s ability to offer ‘the whole web’ I found the reality drastically underwhelming.
The Wildfire does deserve points for consistently offering clear, high quality calls which it didn’t drop once – call quality on my Hero was highly variable with the other party frequently unable to hear me.
One of the nicer aspects of Android is the option to use widgets to view live data from services such as Twitter, rather than having to open apps to view the same information as you have to on other platforms.
Again, my Hero could sometimes be a little slow when used with such widgets but the Wildfire coped just fine.
Given the high web use likely for any smartphone it’s annoying the Android keyboard’s ‘domain button’ still doesn’t offer options for .co.uk and other UK domain types and the keyboard continues to feel cramped and poorly implemented.
The Wildfire is pretty light to hold which is always welcome but the shell feels as if it’s masking a lot of empty space which gives the handset an oddly hollow feel and the plastic rear casing feels thin and too flexible.
Though the Wildfire looks nice enough, I’m afraid the overall feel is a little cheap and the build quality feels below that of either a Blackberry or iPhone.
One of the difficulties reviewing any Android phone is that, user interface and cosmetics aside, there’s often little to differentiate them from one another and much of the experience is generic and derived from the operating system rather than the underlying hardware.
Unlike reviewing an iPhone or Blackberry, you’re asked to judge a combination of software and hardware which haven’t been specifically designed around one another and its not always clear where the failings lay.
This isn’t just a problem for reviewers, buyers too have to decide between one of two smartphone brands running software designed specifically for the hardware or an Android handset from one of many manufacturers with only limited input into the operating system.
Some of the rationale behind the eventual choice will be based on what you think of two most popular contenders – iPhone or Android.
Either you’re happy to be forced to open a Google account – including the use of the search firm’s Google Checkout – to access the Android Market and buy any paid-for apps, or you’re not in which case Android is going to be a pretty limited experience for you.
On the plus side, the widespread use of Android means that you can buy apps on one phone and still use them on another Android handset should you upgrade a year down the line.
By contrast, iPhone users wanting to keep their paid-for apps have no option but to stay with Apple. However, the iOS App Store has a far higher number of apps – especially paid-for offerings – which potentially gives the user more to do with their phone.
As with all purchases involving competing operating systems, it’s always best to ask friends with hands-on knowledge of either option for their honest experiences and weigh-up which option will best suit your long term needs.
In summary: An attractive, vibrant phone with lots going for it but beware the unreliable Flash experience if web-based video is your reason for buying.