Editors' note: In this review, we'll focus more on the different features and performance of the Alltel HTC Wildfire. Portions of the Features section were from our full review of the unlocked HTC Wildfire, where you can also read about the phone's design.
In early August, we reviewed the unlocked version of the HTC Wildfire, an entry-level Android smartphone. At the time, we couldn't really recommend as it didn't have U.S. carrier backing, and thus cost $350 unlocked. It was a pretty stiff price to pay for a lower-end device; plus, there were more affordable options out there that offered more features and better performance. Now, the HTC Wildfire has spread to North American regional carriers, including Alltel Wireless, and at just $29.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, it's certainly an attractive smartphone option for the budget-conscious. Of course, it comes with some trade-offs. For example, the Wildfire has a smaller, low-resolution screen that makes Web browsing and typing a bit difficult. The Android 2.1 smartphone also has a slower processor, which causes it to be sluggish at times. Still, you're getting a solidly built phone and a decent set of features for a rock-bottom price, so those in need of a wallet-friendly smartphone should check out the HTC Wildfire.
Despite being a budget-friendly phone, the HTC Wildfire doesn't skimp on the major features. The smartphone ships with Android 2.1 and the latest version of HTC Sense, which includes the Friend Stream widget and Leap screen. Aside from the standard Android features, HTC also throws in some a few extra apps, such as its Twitter client, Peep, and its geotagging and travel app, Footprints. Of course, more apps are available through the Android Market, which now has more than 100,000 apps, and there's even an App Sharing app on the Wildfire that lets you send links of your favorite apps via e-mail, text message, Friend Stream, or Twitter.
As with other Android phones, the Wildfire can handle multiple e-mail and social networking accounts, including Gmail, Yahoo, Exchange, Facebook, and Twitter. Setup is easy; aside from Exchange, which will require a bit more information, it's just a matter of entering your log-in ID and password. We had no problems adding our Gmail, Exchange, Facebook and Twitter accounts to our review unit. The smartphone offers a unified in-box and calendar, though you can choose to keep your accounts separate if you prefer.
The Wildfire's voice features include a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. The phone is also 3G-capable and has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Android's WebKit HTML Web browser is quite capable in functionality and performance. It supports multiple windows and Adobe Flash Lite, and it includes a feature that lets you look up words and phrases in the dictionary or Wikipedia by performing a long press over some text on a Web site. You can also select a whole paragraph to send to Google Translate.
The smartphone's multimedia capabilities are fairly standard. The built-in music and video player supports a range of music and video codecs, including MP3, AAC, WAV, AMR, OGG, M4A, WMV, MP4, 3GP, and 3GP2. Alltel includes a 2GB microSD card but the expansion slot supports up to 32GB cards, so you can load up. The music player features an attractive Cover Flow-like interface and also supports on-the-fly playlist creation, shuffle/repeat modes, and a share-via-Bluetooth feature. The Wildfire also has an FM radio and a dedicated YouTube player.
The Wildfire is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. You get a good helping of editing options, such as adjustable settings for brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, ISO, and effects. Picture quality was OK. We could make out the objects in the image just fine, but the overall photo looked a bit dull and colors weren't all that bright. Recorded video also had a hazy look.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900; EV-DO Rev. A) HTC Wildfire in San Francisco using Alltel roaming service and call quality was decent. On our side, calls sounded mostly clear with plenty of volume, but the audio would occasionally cut out and there could be some background static. Meanwhile, friends didn't have any major complaints, though we did get a couple of mentions of tinny-sounding audio.
HTC Wildfire call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality wasn't surprising--slightly hollow-sounding but still clear and with enough volume to hold calls in louder environments. We had no problems pairing the Wildfire with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. Unfortunately, the smartphone doesn't currently support voice dialing over Bluetooth.
Using roaming service, we were able to get 3G data on the Wildfire. CNET's full site took 1 minute and 15 seconds to load, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 10 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. The Wildfire's smaller, lower-resolution screen wasn't ideal for Web browsing, though the pinch-to-zoom gesture works just fine for enlarging text. YouTube videos loaded within a couple of seconds and played back without needing to re-buffer. Audio and picture were also synchronized.
The Wildfire is powered by a 528MHz processor and has 512MB ROM/384MB RAM. For the most part, the smartphone offers smooth performance. We didn't experience any system crashes, and we never had to reboot the device. That said, the smartphone could be sluggish at times, particularly as we worked in multiple apps, and though the delays weren't crippling, we certainly noticed the lag.
The HTC Wildfire has a 1,300mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.7 hours and up to 12.5 days of standby time. Unfortunately, in our battery drain tests, the Wildfire lasted only 4.5 hours before needing a recharge.