Friday , August 18 2017

HTC Wildfire: A postscript

Ten days ago, I reviewed the HTC Wildfire for Android Australia.

I’ve kept the phone for the intervening period to really push some of the features that had bothered me in the initial review to flesh out my opinion on whether the phone was a worthwhile purchase. In particular, these are the issues that had been bothering me:

  • Audio quality during calls in different environments
  • Onscreen keyboard lag in apps
  • Lack of screen real estate affecting usability.

I’ve hammered these three areas and my findings are below.

Call quality

In my initial review, I commented that “the call quality was a little less than expected, especially when making calls in the open with a light breeze – not only could I only hear every second word from the other party, but they also commented that they couldn’t hear me clearly either”.

This puzzled me then, as it did during the time since that I’ve been playing with the Wildfire trying to narrow down the issue. I have used a number of handsets on Telstra’s network and none have exhibited this behaviour so consistently. Whether I was in the office, out and about in Darling Harbour, or walking along city streets, the call audio quality was just abysmal. I could rarely hear much of what the other party said, and frequently had to interrupt with “sorry, I didn’t hear you” in the middle of conversations. They would be doing the same back. Eventually it got to the point where I would hang up and call them on another phone to carry the conversation because the Wildfire became too irritating to use for calls.

However, in other environments, the phone performed quite well. It maintained a loud, clear call for 45 minutes on a Cityrail service between the City and Campbelltown, with minimal audio artifacts and interruption – the call was clear and loud. I expected this was due to minimal background noise – contrasted with being outdoors in a loud city environment – however this is unlikely to be the case, because the train was quite loud – it was during school holidays, after all, and the children were out in force.

The only factor I could consistently identify as a cause of poor call quality was wind – even something as minor as a slight breeze blowing past the phone would disrupt the audio quality and render conversation impossible, whereas in a sheltered environment with still air, this didn’t happen nearly as often.

To me, this is a pretty major issue. I don’t know whether it’s limited to this particular review handset, or whether its endemic to the Wildfire as a design issue, but I certainly did not enjoy using the Wildfire for calls in most environments.

On screen keyboard

HTC’s customised Android keyboard is not optimised for the small screen. It functions quite well on larger framed devices – e.g. the Nexus One, or Desire – but on the smaller screen of the Wildfire, it borders on infuriating.

The lack of CPU power means  typing quite often lags behind physical input, and the haptic feedback of the keyboard does nothing to make this process less confusing. It can be turned off, but in my opinion, a phone that requires touchscreen input should really focus on text entry as a priority. On this phone, text entry is annoying at best.  Sending SMSs or emails resulted in typographical errors and extraneous periods and punctuation (instead of spaces). This is probably due (in part) to having larger fingers, however a good amount of the population probably doesn’t have  fingers dainty enough to accurately operate the keyboard on such a small screen.

Small screen size

If I were to stop at the points above, I’d conclude that the Wildfire is not a particularly useful phone for calls or generating content, but it does well at consuming content.

However, to reach that conclusion would be to ignore a major issue – not just with the Wildfire, but with the Android ecosystem as well. The issue here is that Android apps need to be designed for different screen sizes in order to accomodate the range of devices that run Android.  An app designed for a larger screen – such as the Nexus One – will not look pretty on the Wildfire unless the app’s author has accounted for smaller screen devices and created a small screen layout.

Unfortunately, even many popular apps available at the time of testing do not implement a small screen layout, or do so very poorly.

However, as a consumer of content, you don’t need these third party apps – the Wildfire does include a number of ‘built in’ apps which can meet your needs – Twitter, Facebook, web browser etc all come bundled with the phone.

However, HTC Peep (the included twitter client) is not pleasant to use – you can view approximately three tweets at any one time on the screen, because the font size can’t be reduced, and other UI elements take up ridiculous amounts of screen space, making it almost impossible to get a good view of your stream. The same is true of Facebook (albeit, to a lesser extent due to less UI elements getting in the way).

The web browser is also let down by the lack of screen space – the browser performs admirably, however zooming text in to a readable size just reminded me of using Opera Mini on a Nokia 6120c – the ‘view’ is so small, and so restricted, that barely much fits on the screen at all. This leads to a lot of scrolling, a lot of zooming in and out, and browsing becomes.. well.. fairly unpleasant for anything other than mobile-formatted websites.

Postscript

These findings from further examination of these areas confirm, in my mind, that the Wildfire really isn’t the best Android phone on the market, and it (sadly) doesn’t come close. The form factor is great, but the lack of screen real size is a huge letdown. If so much of the front face had not been set aside for capacitive function buttons, the screen size would almost equal that of the Nexus One, and some tweaking of the case design would easily fit that larger display onto the Wildfire without loss of function or design. At the widest point, the capacitive buttons are 15mm tall – on a phone that only stands 105mm, >10% of the front face set aside for these buttons just screams absurdity to me.  It’s a poor design choice by HTC.

Putting aside these physical problems, to be, a mobile phone is first and foremost a phone – that is, you can call people on it.

While the Wildfire performs adequately in enclosed environments – offices, trains, cars, etc. – once you get outside, the call quality is just abysmal. It really isn’t useful unless both parties are shouting at each other, and even then, the audio distorts.

If you’re not someone that needs to make a lot of calls outside, then this won’t affect you – as I say – indoors, the Wildfire makes and receives calls just fine, and it has good signal reception (it beats the Nexus One and Desire in some places which is quite a feat). If you’re the type to make calls when walking from A to B, or you like to sit in the sun and give a mate a call, the Wildfire may not be the phone for you.

 

 

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14 Comments on "HTC Wildfire: A postscript"

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Kristi
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Kristi
I just got my Wildfire yesterday, but I’ve been testing it out as a maniac since. I really don’t mind the small screen, I do have the extremely dainty fingers you mentioned and can type easily even in the portrait resolution. I’ve really found only one thing to be strange – when I answer a call, or call somebody, the screen starts flickering between black and the caller info… It hasn’t affected the call quality, but I find it a bit annoying. It’s my first android, so maybe they do that? Everything else I knew going in, though the pixely… Read more »
coder
Valued Guest
coder

Screen “flickering” from black to the caller ID info…that’s a FEATURE! These phones turn the screen off when you’re making a call so you don’t dial with your cheek. When you take the phone away from your head, the screen will turn back on. I’m pretty sure this is what you’re seeing.

Kristi
Valued Guest
Kristi

XD, well colour me touchscreen ignorant. Now that I think about, it totally makes sense and is actually pretty cool.

The one thing I have to get used to now is the voice quality when speaking to someone. Today, I actually had to hold the phone far from my ear because the higher pitch sounds (like ones my mum makes) came out like from really cheap laptop speakers. Ouch.

Everything was understandable and clear just occasionally painful to the ear. Never had that problem with all my old Nokias.

John
Valued Guest
John
Hi Chris, its hard to compare the phone with the desire as far speed and resolution goes but its not as bad has your saying, the call quality on my wildfire is excellent indoors and outdoors,I have ask people on the other end how I sound and they say its very clear,the headset is also clear.The speaker does sound a little tinny but still load and clear and better than the desire. I don’t get any lagging when using the keyboard and typing is fine and I have big fingers. I am not saying that your report is totally wrong… Read more »
ice2CU
Valued Guest
ice2CU

It’s a shame that Motorola decided to abandon their low-end phone range leaving them on Android 1.5 since i believe they’re the only entry level phones with HVGA resolution when the rest have crappy QVGA.

Chris R
Valued Guest

Thanks for the comments guys. It is entirely possible that the review unit has a fault, which would well explain the call quality issue. As I say, I’ve not had this issue so severely with any other handset. However, that it consistently occurred in certain environmental conditions suggested a nasty flaw.

I don’t think the Wildfire is a bomb of a phone, but its by no means the best.

Stevie
Valued Guest
Stevie

It is a lovely device and with a price of around AUD350 you do get quite alot for a buck as one would think? Screen size is not as big as some laptops as well and i can say HTC Desire is not comfy to read website as well compared to my laptop. It is the best Android for its price range I think and I actually appreciate its smaller size as a benefit.

Chris Rowland
Valued Guest

Hi Stevie, I agree with you on the form factor – the smaller size of the overall phone is actually quite nice – it fits comfortably in a pocket and is comfortable to hold when making calls. However, the comparatively small screen makes use difficult as described in my writeup. Bang for buck though, it’s reasonable value, considering the Desire or Nexus One (which I’ve used and compared with) are more than twice the price.

PseudoEdge
Valued Guest
PseudoEdge

Judging by the above comments, I wonder whether you have a faulty review unit?
Is it worth getting a replacement.

Scott
Valued Guest
Scott

I’m pretty happy with my wildfire – been using it for about 3 weeks. I do agree with the text input annoyances but I changed back to the keypad style input which is what I was used to anyway. Other than a bit of lag the only problem I have is that the phone is totally non-responsive when charging. The call quality has been fine and screen size is a non-issue really.

Nick
Valued Guest
Nick

I agree with John, this review is exactly the opposite from what I am hearing about the wildfire, we sell heaps of them and I have not heard of any of these problems, especially the call quality. I will talk to some people that have purchased the phone to confirm or not..

John
Valued Guest
John

I don’t know what phone you got but it sound different to my Wildfire I have none of these issues its extra opposite

BrainBeat
Valued Guest
BrainBeat

By the sounds of this review update it is a good thing I did not buy the wildfire. I guess I will have to wait as see if there are any better budget models soon.

Chris Rowland
Valued Guest

My advice would be to try one hands-on before purchasing, and make particular effort to check the areas which might concern you – e.g. the keyboard, form factor, screen size vs app usability, and (if you’re lucky and the phone has a SIM that can make calls) try the call quality as well and see how it fares against your needs.

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