HTC Wildfire hands-on (update: video!)

Some eager beavers went ahead and busted through the embargo dam this morning, so you should already be up to speed on the Wildfire's specs and vital statistics. For the latecomers, this is an Android 2.1 device with the same processor as HTC's fabled Hero, a 3.2-inch capacitive QVGA display, and an ambition to sate the market for an affordable, socially connected Android smartphone. It's slated for a release in Europe and Asia early in the third quarter of this year, and you can see all four of its tasteful color options in the exhaustive gallery of intimate photography below. Skip past the break for the full spec sheet and our early hands-on impressions of the Wildfire.%Gallery-93137%

The first thing to be said here is that if you've spent time with an Android device by HTC, you've already spent time with the Wildfire. It has the same 5 megapixel camera that's fast becoming the standard among the company's handsets, it has the Hero's now admittedly aging CPU, and it has the latest version of Sense UI that includes Friend Stream and the multitouch Leap homescreen viewer.

Where it diverges from its predecessors is in offering a new app sharing feature -- which simply gives you the ability to invite your friends, via Twitter, Facebook, or email, to download an app you really like off the Android Market -- and deeper Facebook integration than we've previously seen. The latter now means that when you receive or place calls to your friends, you automatically see their Facebook profile picture, latest status update, and birthday if it's coming up soon. Sort of a lazy man's social phone, but we reckon that can be quite a useful thing for the targeted demographic of college students. HTC openly admitted to shooting for the same crowd as Microsoft's Kin, intending to make this phone both as cheap and as easy to text, email and socialize with as possible.

Whether they succeed will depend mostly on the final pricing, but HTC seems confident of lowering the minimum cost threshold for Android, which can only be a good thing. We were told the use of a QVGA rather than HVGA screen on the Wildfire was a major saving in terms of cost, and we didn't feel like it was too big a sacrifice to make. One other interesting tidbit from HTC's presentation was the company's statement that it learnt its lesson from the Tattoo, which had a resistive touchscreen, and no longer plans on offering anything but capacitive displays in the future.

So what of the Wildfire's hardware? Importantly, the version of Sense aboard this little device lacks any 3D effects, such as you might find on the Desire, which results both in a highly responsive user experience and what we're promised is pretty good battery life. Given that it has a 1,300mAh cell and a more forgiving CPU, we're inclined to believe that claim. But going back to how it feels to use, the handset was impressive. Of course, we didn't have fully loaded up home screens, which was the major downfall of the Hero, but in general terms it felt very rapid in executing our commands. The Wildfire's screen transitions from portrait to landscape and back weren't up to the modern standards we're used to, but they're not anything terrible either. The plastic case has a very small chin on the front , in a nod to the company's design traditions, and has a pleasant feel to it -- the best way to put it is that it feels a lot more cheerful than cheap. All in all, the Wildfire's shaping up as a very competent device from HTC, one that will appeal to minimalists and thrifty folks alike.