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)
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.
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