HTC has been leading the charge in taking the Android battle to its big-time smartphone rivals. And it’s been pretty successful, with the Desire and Legend sitting just behind the iPhone in our smartphones Top 10.

But while the Desire and Legend have their eyes on toppling Apple’s maestro from its perch, the HTC Wildfire is a more pared down proposition, with the stated aim of offering sleek Android 2.1 features without the top-end specs that make its stablemates so pricey.

Packed with common HTC Sense

Like the Legend and Desire before it, the Wildfire comes preloaded with the excellent HTC Sense, which remains by some distance the best skin available for any Android phone.

The aggregation skills of Friend Stream ensure getting the latest snaps and statuses is a cinch and the much-vaunted Leap feature, derived from Apple’s Expose, is great for tapping into any of the seven home screens. All you need to do is pinch the 3.2in panel to see a rendering of all seven screens in one place.

The Caller ID function is also bursting with social networking nous. It’s not something we’d normally get het up over, but seeing your mate’s Facebook status before you take a call from them is inspired and should give you an idea as to whether the conversation will be about a trip to the pub or a tiresome feud at the office.

Design skills

In terms of design, the Wildfire shares much of its DNA with the Desire. It has the same deep grey colouring, with a sleek metal band at the bottom and an identical optical trackpad.

In fact, we’d go as far to suggest that this is the Desire Mini in all but name. The phone feels a more squat and much less speedy, and while it sits comfortably in the hand, it’s nowhere near as slick or enjoyable to handle as the stunning HTC Legend.

Review continues after the break…

There are some quirks that let the Wildfire down, too. The four buttons across the bottom are touch-sensitive rather than being physical keys, which lets the side down somewhat. They’re a way off being as assured as those found on the Legend, though, and make navigation a bit awkward.

The touchscreen, too, is not as sharp as that on the Desire or Legend. You need to tap that bit harder to register your swipes and strokes, but the keyboard is still top notch, with Android 2.1’s virtual effort, coupled with HTC’s own design making it the best touchscreen pad for tapping out texts bar none.

Low-res letdown

Where the Wildfire really falls down though is the screen – not in how it handles, but how it looks. The 240x320 resolution means you end up with blocky icons, with zoomed out web pages not rendering at all well.

If you’ve clamped your eyes on a Desire or Legend’s screen, you’re only going to be disappointed by this. It’s a real shame, because otherwise the Wildfire is a really killer smartie.

That said, it’s important to remember just how cheap this phone is, with contracts kicking off at just £20 a month. If you want the HTC Sense experience, but find the Legend and Desire just too much to stump up for, then this is the phone for you.

Stuff says... 

HTC Wildfire review

A decent, affordable Android touchscreen, but the screen is a smidge too low-res for our liking