söndag 16 juni 2013

Review: HTC Wildfire S

The HTC Wildfire S is a cheap smartphone, and it shows. Normally, I'm the first to argue that you always get what you pay for. In this case, you don't even get that. This phone almost single-handedly disproved the utility of a smartphone as far as I'm concerned.

But let's start with the good bits, because there are actually a few of them. I personally like the size of the Wildfire S. A smallish screen is not necessarily a dealbreaker for me. On the contrary, it allows me to cradle the phone in my left hand and operate just about any app with nothing but my left thumb. The small form factor means that it also slides neatly into the front pocket of my jeans. The non-slip rubberized coating on the back cover is also a big plus.

The drawbacks, however, are more serious, especially since there are more of them.

The memory issue is the Big Bad as far as I see it. The 200 megabytes of RAM are barely enough to run the Android system and five apps. The storage can be expanded via a micro-SD card, but that's basically for music, pictures and video. Very few apps allow themselves to run from the card, so you're basically stuck anyway. Additionally, the phone service provider had a number of pre-installed apps that took up lots of space, didn't add anything of value, but couldn't be uninstalled no matter how hard I tried.

Using the phone reminds me of the bad old days of upgrading to Windows 95 on a computer that could barely run Windows 3.1. The only way to work around the limitations was a time-consuming daily routine of purging temporary files, and really strict discipline about which apps to install. It's not the way to go in the 21st century.

Next, there's the battery issue. In all fairness, I have been spoiled by my MP3 player, digital SLR and Nokia GSM mobile phone. All sport massive-capacity batteries, enabling me to spend over two weeks in the States without ever having to worry about charging. Lack of battery capacity does, however, appear to be a general smartphone problem. It's just that the HTC Wildfire S seems to be in the bottom pile as far as battery performance goes. I can get 48 hours of use from one charging cycle. But that's only if I keep the phone offline during the night and at the office. So basically, the battery lasts for no more than 1 hour in the morning and five hours in the afternoon and evening - for two days, actually meaning a total of 12 hours' endurance. This is dismal, a far cry from anything remotely near acceptable.

Lastly, there's been a number of really frustrating hardware and software errors. One day in February, the phone decided that it would to a complete reset all on its own. Every setting I had done over the last year was completely erased, and I was forced to start anew. The power button got really soggy during the last few months, it took an inordinate amount of torque to get it to display the exit menu (vital for battery life beyond 24 hours), and throughout my year with the Wildfire, it had an annoying tendency to freeze for a few seconds after I activated the phone to go in and actually, you know, do something with it.

When I first got the phone, I had a notion about taking it out for a proper photography session just to put the camera through its paces and see what it could do. Maybe it could replace my little Canon. No way. After I discovered that the battery charge level would virtually drop as I was watching, I decided that it wasn't worth the hassle. And then I never bothered to do anything to check out the MP3 player either. A metronome app would have doubled the utility of the thing, but it sucked battery so quickly that I wound up buying a proper digital metronome instead. So much for smartphone makers wanting us to put all eggs in one basket - my smartphone basically forced me to buy MORE gadgets to make up for its shortcomings!

The bottom line: smartphone technology might not be a complete dead end, but the HTC brand is now basically 100% shot as far as I'm concerned. Luckily there are better phones around that have allowed me to explore the smartphone world.

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