Name: HTC First
Price: $100 (w/two-year contract)
The Back Story: Rumors of a Facebook phone predate back to 2010. Since then, the closest we’ve come to such a device was the ill-fated HTC Status. The handset was most remembered for its outdated, PDA-inspired design and designated FB button which allowed users to post and upload images quicker. Struggles aside, HTC and Facebook worked on strengthening its marriage, working in secrecy over the past year to create a smartphone that would integrate the newly introduced Facebook Home software and bring about a richer and more robust social media experience. The end product is the HTC First.
Billed as AT&T’s flagship phone (seriously), the First is notable for being the only mobile on the market to come pre-loaded with the new Facebook application. Is this the Facebook phone we’ve all anticipated or is it just a mid-level undertaking with promising social features?
• Facebook Home: Consider this an abridged overview of the app. From the moment you power up the handset, Home dominates the visual real estate by combining the home and lock screens into a single hub consisting of your personal news feed, also known as the Cover Feed. Every new update from your following speeds across the screen. Each follower can either be accessed by clicking on their name or ignored by swiping to the right of the screen. New photos posted by your friends will appear in the background, so opening an update to view it in full is unnecessary.
Holding down the Facebook icon at the bottom of the screen opens up three options: the full apps list (up), recently used app (right), and FB messenger (left). The setup is more convenient for navigation purposes. But what’s most surprising about the software is how incredibly fast it operates. Actions like swiping across screens and opening notifications are instantaneous.
Home is also an available download on Google Play for select devices, but the First is the only one to promote full notifications integration. This exclusive version posts alerts for several other programs (Gmail, Twitter, etc.), while the standalone app is restricted to only FB updates. Another interesting perk discovered on the phone is its ability to turn off Home and run the Jelly Bean interface alone. That's easily done by hitting the More button in the apps section.
• Chat Heads: Home’s most prominent feature is based around the concept of immediacy. For every incoming message, a bubble appears with the sender’s profile picture that offers instant access to either converse or dismiss a follower—eliminating the need to navigate through the UI and open the texting app. Up to four chat heads can appear at a time and be moved anywhere on screen, no matter what app you're using. Facebook and SMS messaging threads are easier to manage this time around as touching a chat head opens a conversation, where as swiping up minimizes the chat and dragging a person towards the dismiss icon closes it. Couldn’t be more straightforward or easier to use.
• Beautiful display: The 4.3-inch Super LCD panel might seem like a vast descent from the 4.7-inch screens that adorn the One X and One. But despite the smaller dimensions, it delivers great visual output and sharper pixel resolution than the iPhone 5, generating 341 pixels per inch in comparison to the Retina Display’s 326 ppi. The viewing angles are surprisingly effective and the brightness levels aren't overbearing on the eyes. Images, text, and videos looked clear and vibrant, too.
• Minimalist design and colorful options: Staying true to HTC’s design pedigree, the First flaunts a slim unibody constructed from soft-touch plastic that makes holding the device comfortable and much less prone to slipping out and crashing onto the ground. The device bears some resemblances to the original One series from its smooth matte finish to the contoured edges, though it's lighter at 4.56 oz and comes available in a range of standout colors: Black, Pale Blue, Red, and White.
• Good price point: A brand new Android phone with a gorgeous display, Jelly Bean, and HTC Home pre-installed for a Benjamin sounds like a deal to us.
• Home’s limitations and data usage concerns: Besides not supporting folders or widgets, Home doesn’t allow users to perform certain actions like hide certain updates on Cover Feed or return to SMS messages. Another issue to keep in mind is data usage. Why? Refreshing the Cover Feed uses data, therefore eating into your plan. Data usage can be set and monitored on three different levels (low, medium, and high) via Settings menu, but it’s just annoying to go through such a process to conserve data.
• Missing HTC essentials: When purchasing an HTC device, one expects certain components such as the incredible 8MP (or new “UltraPixel") camera, Beats Audio technology, and latest Sense features. All three are absent here. Granted you’re given a 5MP, auto-focus shooter, it runs on Android's stock interface and doesn’t produce high-quality results.
• Underwhelming performance: The combination of Qualcomm’s latest 1.4GHz dual-core CPU and 1GB of RAM fails to deliver the processing power we’re accustomed to experiencing on most HTC phones. In other words, don’t expect the blazing benchmarks of the One.
Final Say: Lets keep it 100: the HTC First is a mid-level handset that's fortunate to have Facebook’s new innovative software. Home does serve as a better alternative to the often-buggy Android Facebook app. Its features surely accommodate FB and messaging addicts, plus the ability of switching over to the Jelly Bean UI is a nice touch. But Home still needs some polishing. Thankfully, Facebook promises to update the program on a monthly basis, though it’s unknown what will follow. We can only pray an Instagram push is in the cards. So if Facebooking is your biggest vice, and you can look past the colorless spec sheet, then the HTC First is poking for your attention.