Facebook needs to make more money from its mobile presence, especially after it has become a public company, following an IPO with lots of ups and downs. And the latest weapon that Facebook wants to use is Facebook Home, a user interface layer that basically “overtakes” your home screen, populating it with its own notifications. This has been possible only on Android, because unlike iOS, it is open source and it allows for customization. That’s how some OEMs have managed to “veil” stock Android versions with their own skins.

Facebook has partnered with HTC to release the Facebook Home for the first time on HTC First (marketing pun?) which we saw how it looks like thanks to some early leaks. The device is not a top of the line smartphone and maybe the preinstallation of the Facebook Home application is just another selling point. We take a look at the first reviews to have a better understanding of both the device and the software novelty from Facebook.

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HTC First with Facebook Home Reviews

Facebook and HTC seem to work together pretty well – if you recall, HTC ChaCha & HTC Salsa (which aren’t being produced anymore) were also dubbed Facebook phones. Of course, back then, a simple button that would allow for quick Facebook access was enough to call it like that. HTC First is aimed at those that spend a lot of time on Facebook and use it as their main online communication service. But is this all that it can do? Let’s dig deeper.

Hardware & Design

If you’ll have a closer look at the pictures in the gallery, you’ll see that HTC First’s design doesn’t surprise you at all. It doesn’t have too many things to make it stand out, thus making it a perfect mid-range smartphone. But that’s the conclusion only if you look at it. If you get the chance to hold it, as reviewers have done, you realize that it’s actually pretty nice to hold in one hand. Dieter Bohn with The Verge:

Because of its small size, the First is a pleasure to hold. It nestles comfortably in one hand in a way that few popular Android phones do these days. More so than the iPhone 5, too, thanks in large part to its rounded edges and corners. It’s about 0.35 inches thick, which doesn’t put it into the world of crazy-thin phones, but neither is it chunky.

Dieter goes on to observe that HTC First is somewhat similar to the iPhone 3G/3GS, which is like a delayed compliment. The rounded edges and matte plastic usually makes one say a certain device feels cheap, but not this time. Another thing that you notice (or don’t?) is the light weight – only 124 grams (4.37 ounces). Brad Molen with Engadget says that HTC First’s design and build makes it seem like a playful device, even somewhat similar to the Nokia Lumia 620:

The First is by no means a “premium” smartphone, especially when compared to the aluminum beauty of the iPhone 5 or the HTC One. Still, it feels almost classic in its simplicity without coming off as too cheap. Best of all, again, it comes pretty close to the ideal size for a phone that you’d want to use in one hand.

Here are the full specs of the HTC First:

  • Dimensions: 125.99 x 65.04 x 8.89mm (4.96 x 2.56 x 0.35 inches)
  • Weight: 4.37 oz. (124g)
  • Screen: 4.3 inches, 1,280 x 720 (341 ppi), S-LCD2, non-PenTile
  • Battery: 2,000mAh Li-Polymer (non-removable)
  • Storage:  16GB internal, no external
  • Camera: 5MP, BSI, f/2, 28mm lens rear; 1.6MP, BSI ultrawide angle front
  • Video: 1080p / 30 fps (rear); 720p (front)
  • NFC, LTE, Bluetooth v4.0, WiFi
  • SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, CPU 1.4GHz dual-core, GPU Adreno 305
  • Android 4.1.2 (stock) + Facebook Home
  • Micro-USB, Micro-SIM

The HTC First comes with the traditional touch-sensitive keys: back, home, and menu. As for the physical buttons, we have a volume rocker on the left side, power button on the top where we also find the 3.5mm jack. The speaker is on the bottom and the microSIM tray and microUSB port are to be found on the right edge. Josh Constine with TechCrunch :

The glass screen seems to curve down at the thin bezeled edges into the surrounding plastic case and its matte finish. There’s not a sharp edge to be found, nor any cold glass or aluminum. Rather than a triumph of industrial chic, the First feels cozy — dare I say sensual. It’s thin, and the plastic helps keeps the weight down despite the 4.3 inch screen. Between the rounded edges and sleek figure, it’s a breeze to slide into your pocket.

Display & Camera

What’s really good about this phone is the display: at 4.3 inches, it has a 1,280 x 720 resolution which means it has a 341 ppi density, even bigger than the iPhone 5. Dieter observes that the HTC First comes with the right color balance, having no complaints about it. However, under bright sunlight, the screen might become difficult to see. Viewing angles are also quite good, even at almost 90 degrees. Therefore, you shouldn’t have too many complaints with regards to the 720p resolution Super LCD display.

picture taken with htc first

Don’t expect any UltraPixels in the HTC First’s cameras. And when it comes to rating the experience with the 5 MP camera, the opinions of reviewers are shared. While Florence Ion with ArsTechnica is satisfied with it, saying the following:

Although most manufacturers play up the high megapixel count on their handsets’ cameras, the HTC First makes do with only five megapixels. The phone took great pictures where there was proper lighting, but it had some issues in lower-light settings, especially with dull or incandescent synthetic lighting.

Brad is definitely expecting for more:

In terms of performance, color representation on the rear camera was incredibly accurate, but every other aspect of the module was subpar: low-light shots didn’t live up to the expectations set by the specs, many daylight images suffered from soft focus and the level of detail was less than pleasing. Again, we’re trying to keep in mind that this particular device isn’t meant to be performance-driven, but we were really hoping to upload some spectacular shots from the First and share them via Home. Unfortunately, this activity was kept to a minimum.

All in all, if you really intend to take picture and to share it instantly on Facebook, then the quality of images this camera offers is just about right. And considering that you’re paying $100 to get it on a 2-years contract from AT&T, it’s not such a bad deal, after all. But for those looking for their next smartphone to be uber-fast and to take super awesome pictures this just might not do it. For those that don’t mind too much about crisp quality in their images, it will prove to be alright.

Performance & Battery Life

On the performance chapter, the HTC First comes with pretty decent specs, being powered by a 1.4 Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. Also, because it has LTE capabilities, it makes the most of AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Jessica Doulcourt with Cnet had no problems at all with the browsing and processing power of the device:

Real-world tests also yielded speedy results, with Web pages loading expediently, and apps downloading from Google Play in a few seconds. I was also able to stream music and video seamlessly over 4G. On the processing side, the phone’s 1.4GHz dual-core Snapdragon chipset seemed to handle itself well, certainly well enough for the category of phone. Apps loaded quickly and gameplay, while not the most crystal clear or finely detailed I’ve even seen, was immersive and smooth.

Florence has a valid point when she observes that albeit the device is definitely not slow, we might feel the difference a year from now, when the processor might become too “old” for some. Brad also praises the processor beind HTC First and notices that it’s the first time such a combination has been used:

This is the first time we’ve reviewed a handset with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset, Adreno 305 GPU and 1GB RAM. As the name suggests, the 400 isn’t quite as heavy-duty as the quad-core S4 Pro, Snapdragon 600 or 800, but as a 1.4GHz, dual-core, 28nm piece of silicon, it seems just about right for something like the First. It’s not meant for power users, but it still needs to have enough oomph to ensure the phone’s performance — or lack thereof — doesn’t harm Facebook’s brand along the way.

A very important part of a new smartphone is the battery. With a 2,000mAh one, HTC First wants to make sure that it will be enough for your daily needs, promising up to 14.3 hours of talk time and up to 18.2 days of standby time. Vincent Nguyen with SlashGear is also impressed with the battery life but he notices a problem with Facebook Home that could be fixed in a future app update:

What you don’t have manual control over is how much often Facebook Home refreshes. Facebook has adjusted the default behavior depending on whether you’re connected to WiFi or cellular data, but there’s no manual override, and as such you’re at the mercy of what Facebook and HTC believe to be the most sensible settings.

Even if the battery might prove to be enough for your needs, Dieter warns to be careful on how you use the phone:

I’m more impressed with the battery life, which shouldn’t be a surprise since we’re looking at a fairly power efficient processor and a smaller-than-usual screen. The First is powered by a fully-enclosed 2,000 mAh battery, which I’ve found more than sufficient to get through a day of regular usage. Under stress, it can draw down pretty quickly, so you’ll need to keep an eye on it. One day I spent about an hour tethering and streaming video with a weak AT&T LTE signal and killed off 25 percent of the battery. That sounds pretty dire, but the phone managed to hang on for another 16 hours after that with regular usage and a stronger signal.

Facebook Home

For many out there, Facebook Home is an intriguing concept and it definitely comes with a few drawbacks. For others, a feature like Chat Heads might be enough to win their hearts away. But now matter how much we will talk about Facebook Home, the best way to say your opinion about it will be to test on your own. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to test the beta build of Facebook Home on your Android phone or tablet.

Facebook Home will also soon come to the following devices: HTC One, One X, One X+, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S4. Wired reviewer Alexandra Chang was also impressed by the Chat Heads feature, saying the following:

An innovative interface that makes messaging a truly multitasking experience. Full-screen Cover Feed images are pretty and won’t drain battery or data. Simple integration of a complicated web service that doesn’t take away from Android’s strengths. Tactile navigation is smooth and sensible. An easy way to spend more time on Facebook.

Also, what’s interesting about HTC First’s software, as Vincent rightly observes, is that the devices comes with a pure, stock Android. Was it done to “welcome” Facebook Home? What’s that Cover Feed they’ve been talking so much, you might wonder? Brad puts is as simple as simple:

Cover Feed is the first thing that pops up when you turn on or wake your phone from sleep (you can change this in the settings if you prefer). And it’s like a surprise party every time you perform either action: the lights come on and you never know what you’re going to get, since the screen dynamically changes to reflect the most recent Facebook or Instagram post.

and he also explains the app launcher and the menu:

The app launcher is a series of panels, each one comprising a 4 x 4 grid of app icons in a minimal Holo-themed box. Facebook tells us there is no limit on the number of panels we can utilize, other than our own app count; we made it up to 12 before ceasing our efforts, and there was still room for more. Unfortunately, there’s no option to add widgets or folders.

The biggest concerns that folks might have with Facebook Home on their devices revolve around two important things: data usage and battery life. Facebook has promised to update the Home application monthly, so they are expecting possible serious battery drainage. But, unless you have an application to monitor your data usage, then it might become a real problem.

Video Reviews

For those that didn’t bother reading all of the above (believe me, I don’t blame you), here are the video reviews, probably much easier to digest.

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