This evening I was sent home from work with an HTC Wildfire with the purpose of getting some first impressions for a possible corporate deployment. The SIM currently installed is enough to test call quality briefly, but as it has no data allowance I can’t test data performance. So all I can test is the interface, which aim to do from both a technically-savvy user perspective, and from a more general user perspective.

Technical:

The interface looks well… Linux-like is the best way I can describe it. Text renders on the relatively low-res display just as I might expect it to look in Gnome from around 2001 onwards. Text is soft and the longer I spend trying to use it, the softer my vision feels. The interface feels cluttered and clumsy, as if the intention was to shrink a desktop into my palm. The onscreen keyboard is nowhere near as accurate as any iPhone I’ve encountered, partially countered by a quicker and more cleverly-implemented auto-correct. The display is responsive as a device, but a little jerky and over-animated.  Navigating is reasonably responsive, but let down by a lack of clear logic. Battery life seems short. I’ve barely done anything with the phone in real terms except set it up with my Google account, look at around 5 emails, respond with one-liners to two of them, then install WordPress to type this article. And in less than an hour’s real use i’ve lost half the battery charge. That’s awful.

WiFi connectivity is good enough – the phone finds signal on my test WPA networks quite easily even in areas where my MacBook Pro 13″ struggles. Signal strength throughout Central London and the South East with the installed BT SIM has been good, but this means little given that I’ve not been able to test actual data quality.

Setting up the phone to sync with a Google account was quick and painless using the setup wizard, and has given immediate access to mail, calendars, contacts. Built-in Twitter and Facebook clients were also a breeze to set up, with contact details gleaned from Facebook profiles being shown seamlessly alongside the contacts stored in the Google account. So a win in terms of functionality… perhaps. Editing contacts is slow and clunky, with the intsrface and layout not making data fields distinct and logical enough in layout to be considered intuitive.

User perspective

Nice device to hold. Awful to use. Clunky. Feels like it’s been jammed together from spare parts. Soft, jaggy display with low colour fidelity. Typing is clunky even with an hour or more’s practice, despite the numerous nicely-implemented shortcuts and workarounds.

Downloading apps isn’t immediately obvious. Presence of a separate Mail and Gmail app is confusing.  The keys at the bottom of the screen are easily over-reached, so unexpected switches to the menu or home screens are all too easy to activate without intending it.

The scenes and widgets have a lot of potential to make life easier to have particular sets of information to hand, but in reality are confusing and add no value. There’s no easy way I’ve found to switch between currently open apps.

The camera is okay but not special, even ignoring the fact that dedicated cameras are available cheaply. Web browsing works but is slow and clunky. Google maps or navigation? Buy a satnav or ya know, just ask someone. It’ll be quicker and more satisfying Facebook and Twitter browsing are passable but only for simple following or posting of status updates.

Conclusions:

Even ignoring the iPhone I cannot recommend this device to anyone needing anything more than a nice looking toy. The only thing going for it is the smoothest Google integration I’ve yet seen on a mobile device.