Name: HTC Wildfire S

Carrier: T-Mobile

Price: $79.99 (w/two-year contract)

The Back Story: In a market flooded with high-powered handsets touting dual-core processors and 4G connectivity, the interest in mid-level devices has diminished. HTC knows this best, having produced three of the most powerful and commercially successful phones with the Sensation 4G, Thunderbolt, and EVO 3D. The manufacturer now looks to enliven the entry-level mobile space by bringing one of its most beloved Android models, the Wildfire, to the U.S.  

While the global handset performed well overseas, it caught criticism for its sluggish performance. In an attempt to reboot the franchise, HTC is launching the second-gen Wildfire S on T-Mobile. Sporting similar dimensions, the new handset gets a facelift, new software, and some notable mobile features. Does the mid-leveler have what it takes to hang with the big boys? 


• Gingerbread-ready and refined software: The Wildfire S comes bundled with Android 2.3.3 and some noticeable U.I. enhancements. You won’t find the latest version of Sense (Sense 3.0) here, but HTC's user-friendly platform still offers enough in productivity apps and widgets to hold your interest. Preloaded applications like DoubleTwist wirelessly synchronizes your iTunes library onto the phone, while the popular FriendsStream widget compiles all updates from your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr) into one outlet. Though light on bloatware, you'll still find Google suite apps like Google Maps Navigation and YouTube. Overall, we still prefer this version of Sense over MOTOBLUR and TouchWiz.

Industrialized design and solid build: Sometimes bigger isn’t always better. And in the case of T-Mobile’s handset, its diminutive form factor and modern styling are what make it mobile eye candy. It measures in at 4.1 x 2.34 x 0.49 inches and barely tips the scales at 3.7 ounces, making it one of the lightest and smallest Android phones on the market. Seeing how white has become the new black, the milky shell casing and chrome accents contribute to the phone’s desirable aesthetic. The soft-touch finish and protruding chin feels great in-hand as well.

• Great wireless capabilities: Besides offering standard features like quad-band roaming and conferencing calling, HTC's handset lets users make wi-fi calls for free over any wi-fi network. Just keep in mind that minutes are deduced from your monthly plan. But out of all the wireless features, we found the mobile hotspot to be the most useful, as it supported up to five mobile devices simultaneously without any performance delays. And that was with two bars on 3G at Laguardia Airpot. 

Impressive camera: You won’t get the incredible picture quality of the MyTouch Slide 4G here, but the Wildfire's 5MP auto-focus camera does capture good outdoor pics and supports face recognition. The LED flash is extremely bright and comes in handy when snapping indoor shots. HTC also includes a number of editing options for its camera app such as white-balance controls, ISO settings, and 7 different background effects.

Recession-proof price: T-Mobile is offering the Wildfire S in black for FREE online, or you can pick up the white model at the nearest T-Mobile store for just $79.99. Either way, you're getting a Gingerbread phone for less than a Benjamin.


• Slow hardware and occasional lag: In order to accommodate the low price tag, HTC ran with the outdated 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 processor instead of a 1GHz or dual-core chip. Granted, the phone is responsive and handles multitasking well, but Flash-heavy content slowed down performance and games like Angry Birds suffered from low frame rates. 

• No 4G and low signal reception: After experiencing faster data speeds on the carrier’s upgraded 4G network during our test run with the MyTouch Slide 4G, it’s a bummer to see it MIA here. On top of that, 3G service was inconsistent throughout the Tri-State area, and took a huge it in Detroit, where we found ourselves using 2G.

 Little internal memory: With only 512MB of memory and a pre-installed 2GB card, there's barely enough space to store a portion of your iTunes library. Investing in a larger microSD card is a must here.

Final Say: In the end, the HTC Wildfire S is practically the same phone as its predecessor, except with Gingerbread integration, an updated design, and minor U.I. upgrades. It offers great call quality, wireless options, and software features to provide a solid Android experience. Plus, the phone is attractive and deviates from the phone-big-enough-to-be-a-tablet design HTC's known for. Our biggest gripe centers around the underwhelming CPU, which is heavily accountable for the phone’s sluggish media performance. That could persuade casual consumers to seek higher powered options. Still, when taking T-Mobile’s unbeatable price options into account, you have a good mid-level phone best suited for the back-to-school and budget-balling crowd.