If you think smartphones have gotten entirely too big, you may want to consider the HTC Wildfire S. The phone is diminutive by regular smartphone standards--it makes the compact iPhone 4S look towering--but it makes for a nice transition if you're used to a petite flip phone.
In fact, if you're looking to jump on the smartphone bandwagon, you may not need all the horsepower and features that come with higher-end devices. After all, those also tend to come with higher-end prices. And that's where the HTC Wildfire S comes in.
It's attractively priced--free with a $100 mail-in rebate and new, two-year contract--which makes it an excellent bargain. Don't be fooled by the size; it offers all of the features of your standard Android smartphone. Likewise, the build quality is surprisingly good. However, the petite dimensions will turn off some.
Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the HTC Wildfire S for T-Mobile, since the devices are essentially the same.
At 4 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.49 inch thick and weighing 3.7 ounces, the HTC Wildfire S is a nice break from today's mammoth devices. The petite handset easily slips into a pants pocket and feels very comfortable to hold. The Wildfire also has a very nice build quality, with a matte rubbery backing that's less prone to scratching. It comes in gray or purple at U.S. Cellular (I reviewed it in gray).
The flip side of the Wildfire's compact size is that it's not going to be for everyone, especially with its smaller display. The 3.2-inch HVGA (480x320-pixel resolution) touch screen makes it a bit difficult for people with larger digits to navigate through the menus and type messages on the cramped onscreen keyboard. Reading text and viewing Web pages and media are also a bit more challenging on a smaller screen, but at least the display offers support for pinch-to-zoom and an accelerometer.
Below the display, you get four touch-sensitive navigation keys for the home, menu, back, and search functions. On the left side are a volume rocker and a Micro-USB port. The top of the device houses the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, and on back you'll find the camera and flash. There is no front-facing camera for video calls.
U.S. Cellular packages a charger, Micro-USB-to-USB cable, and headphones with the phone.
The HTC Wildfire S delivers a decent set of features for the price. As a phone, it offers a speakerphone, speed dial, smart dialing, voice commands, conference calling, and text and multimedia messaging. In addition to Wi-Fi, the Wildfire has Bluetooth 3.0, GPS/AGPS, and 3G support. The phone runs on U.S. Cellular's CDMA network, so it is limited in where it can go overseas.
The smartphone ships running Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread with the HTC Sense user experience. The Wildfire is two versions behind on Sense, which is found on such devices as the HTC Sensation 4G, so you won't get some of the new enhancements like the revamped lock screen. Still, Sense provides an aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use interface.
The HTC Wildfire S comes with the usual assortment of standard Google applications such as e-mail, turn-by-turn navigation, and YouTube. Like all HTC phones, it comes with an array of Sense-specific apps such as the social-network feed Friend Stream and the Twitter client Peep.
U.S. Cellular has packaged a few of its own apps in an attempt to set the phone apart from its other-carrier counterparts. It comes with its own navigation app, Your Navigator Deluxe, a service powered by TeleNav.
The carrier also added several of its own apps, like Daily Perks, which provides local deals, and Tone Room, a store front for ringback tones and ringtones--the service costs $2.99 for each tone. The MyContacts app is a way to back up your phone book. Among the third-party apps, the phone comes with Amazon.com's app store, as well as the audio book app Audible.
The Wildfire S comes equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, which can also record video of up to 640x480 pixels in resolution. The camera app offers a number of editing options and tools, including white-balance controls, ISO settings, face detection, and a number of built-in effects. Picture quality didn't exactly knock our socks off. The camera did OK with shots taken outdoors, but photos taken indoors or in dim lighting looked soft and had a pinkish-gray hue. We got similar results with recorded video.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) HTC Wildfire S in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York on U.S. Cellular's roaming network, and call quality was pretty good. There was little background noise, although in most of the tests I was speaking to someone in a quiet room. The few times I tested the phone outdoors, I didn't have any difficulty hearing the other caller. In all of the cases, people on the other end (who were all on cellphones) didn't have trouble hearing me, and noted the clarity of the call. In all cases, the voices came through crisp and clear.
Wildfire S call quality sample (U.S. Cellular) Listen now:
Under the hood of the Wildfire S is a 600MHz processor. It's certainly not the fastest processor, but the smartphone felt quite responsive. Most apps launched as soon as I tapped them, and I was able to switch between tasks easily. There were times when the smartphone would lag, but the delays were minimal.
The HTC Wildfire S ships with a 1,230mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6.7 hours and up to 13 days of standby time. Generally speaking, I had to recharge the smartphone by late afternoon or early afternoon after moderate to heavy usage. In CNET's battery drain tests, we were only able to get 5.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC tests, the Wildfire S has a digital SAR of 0.92 watt per kilogram.
The HTC Wildfire S is a solid little phone that's a decent performer at a compelling price (that's free, remember?) Yet the small size, slower processor, and lack of high-end features may turn off power users. Still, first-time smartphone owners with U.S. Cellular, or budget-minders, should take a serious look at the Wildfire S.