It's time for a PhoneDog Snapshot Review, where we take our typical two-part review and condense it down into a tiny little video that's loaded with information! Today, the HTC First.
The HTC First is the first Android smartphone to launch with Facebook Home installed, marking Facebook's attempt to get into the smartphone world in a larger way. Facebook Home is also available for the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S 4, HTC One, One X, and One X+ - the HTC First is simply the first branded device to launch. Packing a 1.4 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 CPU, the First offers a respectable 4.3-inch 720p HD display, 5-megapixel camera with 1080p HD recording, 1 GB of RAM, 2,000 mAh battery, and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It's available in four colors - black, blue, red, and white - from AT&T for $99.99 with a two-year agreement.
It's a signifiant improvement over the HTC ChaCha/Status, the first branded "Facebook phone." HTC First ditches the physical keyboard (which was a nice feature on the ChaCha), and brings in a faster CPU, higher resolution display, and better camera. Instead of a simple "F" button, the First offers Facebook Home out of the box, which gives a deeper level of Facebook integration. It's a dramatic improvement, but the same experience can be had on higher-end smartphones as well.
If HP's webOS were still around (particularly under the Palm brand) and they were making hardware, this is what I imagine it would look like. The body is coated in a soft touch shell that's similar to the material on the HTC One X+, and the company logos are small and at the bottom of the unit, giving it an untouched feel (perfect for those that don't care for company branding).
For a first version, Facebook Home is surprisingly quick and easy to use. Once the shortcuts are committed to memory - things like double tapping to like a status, remembering how to quickly post a status, and more - the interface is easy to use. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean powers the HTC First, and unlike the HTC One, there's no Sense 5 presence here.
There's two angles to push with the HTC First. First, it's the primary flag carrier for Facebook Home. While you can get the software on the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S 4, HTC One, One X, and One X+, the First will offer the experience from the point of sale. Second, it's one of the few devices out there that offers a stock build of Android that can be enabled if desired. Once Facebook Home is disabled, the user is left with a clean version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean - unlike most offerings from major OEMs, HTC included.
The ability to shut down Facebook Home and use stock Android is a huge perk for those looking for an original Android experience. On top of that, the phone feels nice in the hand, and so far, battery life has been decent.
For the target demographic of this device, the specifications are more than acceptable. For those seeking either a mid-sized phone or a stock Android device with 4G LTE capabilities from a mainstream carrier (or both), the HTC First will likely be underpowered in the specifications department. It re-ignites the debate of mid-range phones with less-than-high-end specs.
The question remains, even for die-hard Facebook users: do those that spend nearly every waking minute on Facebook want an application that limits regular functionality of their smartphone on a device that's mid-tier, or is it wiser to pick up a high-end phone and download the same application? Facebook Home is available for top-tier contenders like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4, and the functionality of the application is largely the same across devices. HTC First gives Facebook a solid presence in the retail space, and it's a vanilla Android phone that will fit in any pocket. That said, most folks will want to consider the high-end alternatives instead.