The original HTC Wildfire smartphone brought the Android platform to the pay as you go market, and its successor opts for an evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade. The HTC Wildfire S has the same-sized 3.2in, capacitive touchscreen and 5 megapixel camera as the original model, but it comes equipped with a higher display resolution, a slightly faster processor and is wrapped in a smaller and lighter frame.

Design and display

The HTC Wildfire S is basically a smaller, less powerful version of the now mid-range HTC Desire S. Despite targeting a young, budget conscious audience, the Wildfire S's build quality remains excellent. It uses HTC's famed unibody aluminium design, which means the Wildfire S case is constructed from a single block of aluminium. The result is a smartphone that's compact, light and a delight to hold and use.

HTC deserves credit for the Wildfire S's design and especially for making a phone with such a minimal footprint. Despite packing a faster processor, more memory and a better display resolution than the original Wildfire, the Wildfire S is smaller and lighter than its predecessor. For users who are put off by larger phones, the Wildfire S's compact size will be a breath of fresh air.

The HTC Wildfire S scraps the optical trackpad that was used on the original model and instead opts for the now standard four touch sensitive keys: home, menu, back and search. The keys themselves work well, but are easy to press accidentally due to the small screen. A physical power/lock button on top, and left-mounted volume controls are easily accessible.

Cheaper Android phones usually come with some compromises that often revolve around the display, and the HTC Wildfire S is no exception. Though the increased resolution of 320x480 pixels over its predecessor's 240x320 pixels is welcome, the display fares poorly in direct sunlight, has mediocre viewing angles and does not render text well.

Thankfully, the screen is responsive to touch and this results in a pleasing user experience, though text input is rather cramped given the small size of the screen. Haptic feedback and excellent spelling correction aid the typing experience, but it can often be a painful process entering long text.

Software and performance

The HTC Wildfire S runs the latest 2.3 "Gingerbread" version of Google's Android operating system, along with the latest version of HTC's Sense user interface. The latter consists of extras including "skins" that change the look of windows, the dock and the lock screen. There are seven home screens for widgets and shortcuts, and an app menu that can be sorted by all, frequent or downloaded.

Most of the usual HTC extras are included, though the car panel (designed to be used while driving), the "My Shelf" app (for storing and reading ebooks), and the Swype keyboard (for faster text entry) are notable absentees. We love the fact that Sense displays your eight most recently opened applications at the top of the notifications panel in a horizontal scroll bar, along with quick setting toggles including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, GPS, mobile network and a link to all phone settings.

The HTC Wildfire S also has a few features that carry over from its predecessor. There's the "next generation caller ID" function that allows you to see Facebook updates and birthday information when making or receiving a call, along with the ability to import contacts and calendar entries from your old mobile phone via Bluetooth through the setup menu.

Although the HTC Wildfire S has more memory (512MB compared to 384MB) and a slightly faster processor than the Wildfire (600MHz compared to 528MHz), there is not noticeable improvement in performance. Most tasks take a second or two longer than more powerful Android phones, and the Wildfire S can often struggle when browsing through images in the gallery, loading web pages, playing videos and taking photos.

The inclusion of HTC's Sense UI is most likely the cause of the sluggish performance, as the company recently discovered with its Desire Android phone. Sense clearly uses more system resources than most other Android UI overlays, and the result is a phone that looks slick, but which can sometimes stumble along.

Camera, battery life and other features

The HTC Wildfire S has a 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash, but there is no front-facing camera for video calls. The rear camera also doubles as a standard definition (VGA) video recorder. The flash works reasonably well in dim lighting, and video recording is of a decent quality.

Like most of HTC's other Android phones, the Wildfire S's camera has a wealth of settings, including image effects like negative and sepia, along with the ability to adjust ISO, sharpness, saturation, contrast and exposure. We also love the fact that you can use the external volume controls as zoom keys, along with on-screen controls that rotate depending on which way you hold the phone. The lack of a physical camera shutter key is a slight annoyance.

The Wildfire S has 512MB of internal memory, but comes with a microSD card slot.

Battery life on the HTC Wildfire S is about standard for an Android phone. It will last more a full day on most occasions, though you will obviously get more use by fine-tuning the synchronisation settings. We recommend adjusting push settings for email, as well as tweaking Facebook and Twitter updates through the Sense software for the best battery life.

OUR VERDICT

HTC's Wildfire S offers decent value for money, but doesn't come without compromises. However, those looking for a relatively compact and affordable smartphone are likely to be pleased with its combination of excellent build quality and intuitive software.