In this post I will review the low-cost Android smartphone from HTC that was announced few weeks ago. The name for this phone was selected via a poll on Facebook, and it might sound a bit funny for a phone – HTC Wildfire. The phone might have an unusual name, but it offers a good set of features and specifications for a small (that is small for a HTC product) price. I will start with the market positioning and will continue with the description of the device.
Not all new devices have a potential to be game changers for the whole market. I believe that HTC Wildfire is such a device.
Big events are always the sum of the smaller ones. I am almost certain that most you will not be even interested in this device, nor will you lose sleep over it. Wildfire is not the cheapest device on the market – you will always find a cheaper Chinese device if price is your main deciding factor. It does not have any new or revolutionary features. However, this device has the same qualities that made Nokia 5800 the bestseller at its time. These qualities are – right price and perfect timing. This smartphone will be hit the market in Q3 2010, and will cost around 250 Euro in Europe (few weeks after the release you should be able to find it even cheaper). Is it a little or a lot for a this device? Metal inserts in the body, design, similar to HTC Desire and related to other (more expensive) HTC models, 5 mega-pixel camera with Auto Focus, HTC’s Sense UI. The device has a 3.2” screen, but the resolution is quite low – in my opinion this is Wildfire’s weakest point, but it might not be in the eyes of the market. You might be wondering why is this phone so important…?
The answer to your question is that starting with HTC Wildfire, Android devices enter the 200 Euro market segment. Motorola tried 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, and all its energy is concentrated on the US market. Sony Ericsson has the X10 Mini, but the price there is higher, cheaper models will come later. Samsung plans to release Android devices in this price bracket in the middle of winter. With all major competitors still working on their devices, HTC managed to push the first stone from the mountain, the stone that will most likely lead to an avalanche. The company dived into the inexpensive Android smartphone market first and that makes it the instigator of the events to follow later.
All major Android phone manufacturers use a very simple strategy – they start from the top pricing tiers. On their way down to cheaper price segments they ‘steal’ bits and pieces of the market from other mobile operating systems and other manufacturers. Companies with biggest market share suffer the most, Nokia’s S60 platform is the prime example of this. The Finnish company was forced to shift its focus to the lowest price bracket of the smartphone market to be able to counter touchscreen products from the Korean manufacturers. Nokia lost the battle in the top pricing tier, as its products are not as interesting as the competing solutions and platforms. By entering the 200 Euro market segment HTC is opening the new market for itself, but also it opens the gates for other Android manufacturers into the new price segment which was dominated by Nokia. Will the situation change after the Wildfire hits the market? I don’t have any doubts about that. All big manufacturers will start to offer Android smartphones in the 200+ Euro market. As a result, the choice of models will grow, there will be alternatives. Considering the quality of the Sense user interface, all manufacturers will be forced to get their devices to the similar level or lose the race.
HTC Wildfire might not be interesting for some buyers, but it will set the first stone in establishing the new, low price market for Android phones. The future models will mae this market even larger, but that will only happen at the end of 2010, beginning of 2011. Wildfire is a nice, cool, interesting device, one of the most interesting for the money. Evolution continues. Android is marching forward.
The company is clearly trying to make low-price models look like the top of the range ones. Samsung was the first company to try this strategy. They were releasing budget sliders looking like the top-of-the-range product. 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, but one with Samsung E250 and D900 does.
Wildfire clearly has the design elements similar to the current HTC’s Android flagship – Desire. Wildfire has a very similar body shape, the same metal insert around the screen, similar location of controls. Yes, the design is not exactly the same, but when you will see the Wildfire you will likely be reminded of the Desire.
The body is made from matte, rubberised plastic, the battery cover has a metal plate inserted, the front is also metallic to touch. The phone will be available in 4 colours – black, dark grey, white and red.
Size wise this is one of the most compact Android devices in HTC’s lineup. It feels comfortable in the hand, and you can easily control it with the same hand you hold it in.
Controls and Body Elements
Wildfire has an optical trackball, just like HTC Legend and Desire. Control buttons are located above the trackball, they are sensory just as on Google Nexus One. This is not the best solution, but you can get used to it. From the left to the right we have Home, Menu, Return and Search buttons.
The left side has traditional volume controls and microUSB slo. There is nothing on the right side. The On/Off button (just like on Desire and Legend) and a 3.5 mm headset jack are located at the top.
The phone speaker is located above the screen. The ‘ringing’ speaker and 5 megapixel camera with a flash are on the back. The quality of the pictures is on a level close to HTC Desire and Legend, because same camera module is used in this device.
HTC Wildfire has a capacitive type 3.2” touch screen with 240×320 (QVGA) resolution. The screen is the weakest part of the phone, but thanks to it the phone is relatively cheap. A few details need to be pointed out. First of all, the screen does support multitouch. Second, the execution of the touch is not much worse than on AMOLED screens used in Desire and Legend. And third, 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.
Screen keyboard is easy to use, and it is easy to type text on it. In my opinion, Wildfire’s screen keyboard is much easier to use than the one on Hero or Legend because of the larger screen. The keyboard is very comfortable for typing.
Platform and Performance
The phone is built on the same platform as HTC Tattoo. It has a Qualcomm MSM7225 528 MHz processor, 384 MB RAM and 512 MB for software installation (less than half of it is available to the user). There is a microSD slot located on the left side, 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.
Wildfire runs on Android 2.1 with latest version of HTC’s Sense UI. Specially for the Wildfire release HTC added one nice feature to the Sense – you can now exchange the links to Android market programs with your friends, emailing them or using Twitter. Considering that finding a good program in the Market is not always easy, this could be a really useful feature.
I have not noticed any performance issues. Having said that it is hard to imagine that a device l with a good platform and low resolution screen would have any performance issues. In my opinion, Wildfire is faster than Hero or Tattoo and has a performance similar to Desire and Legend.
The model will hit the shelves in Europe and Asia in Q3 2010. So what is so special about it? This is a smartphone with a low resolution screen and typical set of wireless interfaces (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS) in a compact body.
It device is special because this is one of a few HTC smartphones that will not be overpriced at the start. Wildfire is a great value even in the beginning of its lifecycle. It is cheaper than HTC 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 version of Android and Sense UI. The new HTC smartphone will cause a bit of an explosion among the low and medium priced Android devices .
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, camera, Android version, Sense UI (this phone has a newer version).
The only possible competitor today is Samsung i5700 Galaxy Spica. But it is quite difficult to compare the two – with a little lower price, Samsung is weaker from a technical standpoint: screen and camera are worse, Android is older, and 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.
• Class: smartphone
• Body materials: plastic, metal
• Operational system: Android 2.1 with HTC Sense User Interface
• Networks: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, EDGE/GPRS, UMTS/HSDPA 900/2100
• Platform: Qualcomm MSM7225-1, 528 МHz processor
• RAM: 384 MB
• ROM: 512 MB + microSD (hot swappable)
• Interfaces: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (A2DP), microUSB (USB 2.0) for charging and sync, 3.5 mm headphones jack
• Screen: touch, capacitive, 3.2” 240×320 pixels resolution (QVGA)
• Camera: 5 MPx with Auto Focus and Flash
• Navigation: GPS based on Qualcomm gpsOne chipset (support of A-GPS)
• Misc: proximity sensor, light sensor, gyroscope, digital compass
• Battery: removable Li-Ion 1300 mAh
[images from HTC]