HTC First $350

10th May 2013 | 17:34

HTC First

The so-called Facebook phone is great once you dial back all that Facebook

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

The HTC First is a good phone, but not for any of the reasons being highlighted in its marketing. It's compact, durable and has great LTE service from AT&T. Sans Facebook Home, it's exactly the type of device we wish we'd see more often.

Like:

Finally, a 4.3-inch LTE-capable stock Android phone; Solid, durable construction with a good screen; There's stock Jelly Bean under Facebook Home; Chat Heads are fun and functional;

Dislike:

Facebook Home is a glorified screensaver; Below average camera; Variable battery performance; No removable storage or battery; The Facebook phone needs a dedicated camera button;

Introduction and design

Update:AT&T has dropped the price of the HTC First. With two-year contract, the phone is now just $0.99 cents.

Call Facebook ubiquitous and you're understating your case. Unlock any random smartphone and you're guaranteed to find a little blue F icon waiting on the home screen.

Facebook is so big, so everywhere, so omnipresent that it's already on everyone's phone, but apparently that's not enough for the sharing mogul. Now Facebook has decided to completely take over devices with Facebook Home, and has collaborated with HTC to create the HTC First, a phone meant to show just what that experience can be.

The First moniker comes from being the first phone with Facebook Home preloaded. It's a well built, unassuming little handset, nowhere near as big, flashy or as fast as the quad-core HTC One.

HTC First review

It's so subdued, you could almost mistake it for an iPhone 5 secured in a rubber case. It's a 4.3-inch dual-core handset that's currently exclusive to AT&T's 4G LTE network, going for $0.99 with two-year agreement. It comes in black, red, white, pale blue or red, and will cost you $350 at full price.

Once you dive into the software, however, the First resembles nothing else. Thanks to the Facebook Home overlay, it takes some digging to realize the HTC First is running Android 4.1: Jelly Bean with no manufacturer or carrier tweaking.

There's actually an excellent stock Android experience to be had here, one with solid battery life thanks to a small screen and restrained dual-core processor. There's also fast data service, provided by LTE coverage from AT&T. That's something you can't get on the other best stock Android experience in town, the Nexus 4.

This comes once you've disabled Facebook Home, however. With it enabled, all the basic smartphone functionality is there, it's just been buried by layer upon layer of whatever stuff your Facebook friends are posting. Posts are there right from the lock screen, using friends' cover photos as backgrounds.

Even SMS text messaging, that old standby of the smartphone, has gotten all Facebooked. On the HTC First it's been baked into the social network's own Messenger app, and displayed with floating Chat Heads icons.

So does total Facebook integration add or detract from the Android experience, or is it a whole different beast altogether? Is this a natural evolution, or has the premier service for liking cat videos and posting pics of meals growing cold finally gotten too big for it's britches? Read on for our take.

Design

Physically, the HTC First has a very manageable design. It's just 5-inches tall, like an iPhone 5. That makes it perfect for users who find large handsets, such as the Galaxy S3 and the upcoming Galaxy S4, too big.

It nestles nicely in the palm, and has a rubberized body with rounded corners like the HTC 8X. Unlike aluminum bodied phones such as the HTC One and the iPhone 5, it won't scuff easily, and doesn't need a case to prevent unsightly scratches.

HTC First review

At 4.37 ounces, it's a very balanced weight. There's enough there to be substantial, but it's light enough to toss in a pocket or purse and forget about.

HTC phones, even cheaper ones, usually have nice screens, and the First is no exception. The display is 4.3-inches and with a resolution of 1280 x 720, we're in 720p HD territory.

As is also the case with HTC phones, the color saturation is well tuned. Colors are true to life, and videos and pictures look quite good. You'd have to hold the First next to the best screens around, the HTC One, iPhone 5 or Galaxy S3, to realize it's less than premium.

Continuing with the HTC traditions, the First has a sealed body design. There's no opening it up to remove the battery or add storage, but this also gives it a very solid build quality. It doesn't feel like a phone that costs a lot of money, but it doesn't feel as cheap as, say, the HTC One VX, either.

HTC First review

Below the screen you'll find three capacitive buttons that light up when the First is active. Other than their looks, this is typical Android stuff. The back button is an arrow pointing left, home is a circle and the option button is a line or dash.

These symbols don't correspond to any Facebook features that we're aware of, so we're not sure why HTC stepped away from the typical Android design language. Maybe just to give the first Facebook phone a unique look?

HTC First review

On the back things get normal again. There you'll also find the lens for a 5-megapixel camera and an LED flash.

The First is also surprisingly restrained when it comes to branding. For the device meant to introduce the world to Facebook Home, it only has one little F logo on the back, next to HTC and AT&T's marks. We applaud everyone's restraint here.

HTC First review

On the right there's a SIM card tray, which pops out when the included SIM tool or a paper clip is inserted. Above that is the standard mini USB charging port, which struck us as odd placement. It'll only be annoying if you frequently use your phone while it's charging.

Usually the charging port is found on the bottom, below the screen, but instead that's where the First's speaker grill resides. This is the only speaker on the phone, and we sometimes had to take care not muffle it when watching videos, so it's not optimal placement.

On the upper left side you'll find a run-of-the-mill volume rocker. It's easy enough to find and press without looking at your phone.

HTC First review

At the top you'll find a headphone jack and lock button. As with the iPhone 5, it's easy to reach the lock button since the phone is just 5-inches. Tall handsets with hard to reach lock buttons on the top, like the HTC One, tend to annoy us.

One thing that strikes us as missing is a dedicated camera button. If there's actually someone out there who would like a phone built around Facebook, they would surely be obsessed with picture taking and Instagram. The lack of quick shutter snapping access is a major design fail.

Overall though, the HTC First is pleasant, if unremarkable to hold. The functional but milquetoast design of this phone, as well as the fact that Facebook Home buries the best Android functionality, reveals the sort of audience the First is chasing. This phone is for someone who wants to forget about their phone when they're not using it, and only wants to do basic things like text, share pictures and check Facebook when they are using it.

Furthermore, the immense pleasure we felt at having a Jelly Bean phone of a reigned in size speaks to oversaturation of too-large handsets in the Android market. Won't someone please make a reasonably sized quad-core LTE phone and let it run stock Android? Help us, Google Nexus 5, you're our only hope!

Interface and performance

Nevermind what Zuck and friends have preached about a phone built around "people, not apps," withFacebook Home running, the HTC First is an Android phone built around Facebook, and not much else. At least until you "fix" it by disabling Home, that is.

Facebook Home, the software the First is first with, is essentially an Android launcher. If you're unfamiliar with the term, a launcher is a program that makes over the look and feel of your Android phone, while not changing the software that runs in the background.

Android enthusiasts have been using apps like Nova Launcher to get away from the manufacturer and carrier software on their phone, often for an experience closer to unaltered Android 4.1: Jelly Bean. This means you can have a Galaxy S3 without Samsung's TouchWiz, or a One X+ without HTC's Sense UI.

Facebook Home

Thanks to Facebook Home, the First hardly looks like an Android phone. Instead, it's Facebook from minute one. Wake the phone and the lock screen is a full screen, Flipboard-style news feed.

HTC First review

If a friend posts a picture, that image takes over the whole screen, with their caption laid over it. If it's just a status update, Facebook Home uses their cover photo as a background.

Without really even unlocking the First, you can like or comment on a post. There's a familiar thumbs up and speech icon in the lower left. Also, double tapping on a post screen will give the post a like, something that's a little too easy to do by accident.

On the HTC First, any and all notifications show up on the lock screen. If you use Home on an other Android phone, only Facebook notifications will appear. While we haven't tried Home on any other devices yet, this certainly seems like the most functional version of Home.

So notifications from apps as well as Facebook show up here, in a way that combines your typical lock screen with information from Androids pull down Notification Center. Your ongoing conversations, SMS and Facebook messages, also pop up here as round Chat Heads icons. More on those soon, and in the Messaging section of this review.

The basic problem with the Facebook Home lock screen is that it's about as good as whatever your friends are posting. Sometimes you unlock your phone to be greeted by a beautiful sunset or an inviting plate of food, other times it's a badly cropped shot or something weird or rude posted by an oddball you know.

HTC First review

Often it was creepy to have Facebook Home - and therefore our friends - be the first thing on the First's screen. Locking eyes with an old friend we hadn't seen since college first thing in the morning was startling, so was being confronted by a really bizarre Ralph Steadman painting someone had as a cover photo.

Ok, so it's something of a glorified screensaver starring your friends, but we don't mean to trash it completely. Though it's not as good as Flipboard, it is a visually optimized feed, and like good old Facebook, it's fun to browse during idle moments.

It actually reminded us a lot of Blinkfeed, HTC's feed aggregator from the HTC One. Comparing the two, we prefer Blinkfeed, which integrates your Twitter account, as well as information that's actually useful, like calendar events and a weather report. It also doesn't hang out on the lock screen, so it's not nearly as in your face.

But as with Blinkfeed, it's insidiously easy to turn your brain off and "channel surf" this content. If you've ever felt ashamed at the time you waste robotically scrolling down News Feed into weeks old content, prepare for some cardinal sinning. Still, it's good presentation, and an excellent way to waste time on your phone, but we'd prefer to have it as a sort of "full screen" option for the Facebook app, rather than the welcome mat for our phone.

HTC First review

There is a Facebook Home Settings app, but it didn't offer any options for manually controlling who or what shows up on the lock screen. We're assuming it's managed by the same algorithm that determines News Feed content, so people who you interact with the most will dominate the feed, and people whose posts you hide or ignore will be rarer.

We're also wondering what the data use numbers from this thing are like. In the Facebook Home Options, there is a Data Use setting that defaults at medium, and can also be set to low and high. While we doubt that it sucks any more data from your plan than a typical Facebook check, the fact that it'll be constantly opening has us wondering.

We've reached out to AT&T and HTC for comment, and will update if they provide an estimate.

Alright, enough about the Home lock screen, lets dive into this thing. When you're ready to unlock the First, it's a typical slide to unlock. Touching the round icon of your profile pic, you can slide up for Apps, left for Messenger and right for your last app.

HTC First review

Go up for apps and you'll find a simple black tray that you can fill to your hearts content with icons. No widgets though, that's one thing Facebook Home does away with entirely. Apparently Facebook and HTC are in agreement that the smartphone experience is no longer about widgets.

So no widgets, but you can go crazy with the apps. There doesn't seem to be any limit on the number of trays you can have. We created eleven mostly blank trays before the phone started to stutter a little bit. That's even more than seven Jelly Bean typically provides.

Spare trays form to the right, but a list of all your apps is to the left. This is a typical Android division Home leaves intact, making it easy to get into your most important apps, but not hard to get at the rest, either. There's also a Google search bar at the top of this list.

The closest thing these trays have to widgets would be a few social options at the top. You can easily update your status, post a pic or check in somewhere with these links.

Users of lock screen passwords should note that there's no security prompt on Facebook Home until you attempt to dive into an app. That means that someone can peruse your feed, comment on and like posts without hitting a password prompt.

HTC First review

This is best suited for someone who doesn't use any sort of security, since having the prompt appear one or two screens in is a bit disorienting. We started off using Facial Unlock, which we've grown to like from using the Nexus 4 and the HTC One. On quad-core devices such as those it's the fastest way to securely unlock your device. The dual-core First was just a tad slow on the uptake for this method, so we switched to a PIN, and eventually just settled for no security other than our own watchful eye.

This wasn't a deal breaker for us, as we find guarded lockscreens a bit superfluous anyway, but it's another thing that will have power users scoffing at Facebook Home.

Chat Heads

Although it's more for the Messaging section of this review, there's one last notable part of Facebook Home we need to touch on here, mainly because (unlike Home) we actually like it and plan to use it. It's Chat Heads, Facebook's fun, visual way of multitasking with conversations and whatever else you're doing on your phone.

HTC First review

Basically, when you get a text or Facebook message, a little round icon appears on your screen. over whatever you're currently doing. This isn't the case with every app, Chat Heads won't pop in over Netflix or games like Cut the Rope. A good rule of thumb is that any time you can pull down the notification center, Chat Heads will show up.

If you have more than one chat going on, the icons stack, and fan out when selected. Chat heads can be moved around, but snap to the side of the screen. To be rid of them, you toss the icon towards the bottom of the screen, which brings a new level of satisfaction to actively ignoring a text.

It's a fun interface, a rare combination of both functional and cute, and the only aspect of the new Facebook Home we plan to use after this review. However, we had a few problems with it. SMS text conversations didn't pull profile pictures from our Google contacts. Instead they just had a bland gray SMS icon.

More on the fun, and the few failings, of this system in the Messaging portion of this review.

Android 4.1: Jelly Bean

Remember when we told you that underneath all this Facebook there was a crisp, clean version of Jelly Bean running on the HTC First? We'll it's the truth! It's not 4.2, the latest version you'd find on a Google-sanctioned Nexus device, but it's a darn sight better than the Android 4.1 you'll find on most phones, without all that manufacturer tweaking of the good old stock OS.

HTC First review

Yep, it's here, although it takes a bit of digging to get to. To find it the first time, enter Facebook Home, slide over to the left for that full list of apps. Scroll all the way down to where you'll find the More icon. Touch that and boom, you're on a familiar Android homescreen, widgets and all.

Kind of a funny place to hide your Android skeleton, eh Facebook? Almost as though you didn't want people to find it. Now, now, we're being harsh. You do give us the chance to use the Android launcher rather than home, in the form of a default app prompt that comes up. Make Android your choice and every time you hit that circular home button, you'll be back in Google country.

You can easily switch between the two by going into Settings>Apps and then hitting the options button (the rightmost Android button, the dash on the First) and changing your app defaults. You'll still have Facebook Home as a lock screen, and even that can be done away with by going into that Facebook Home Options app where there's an option to entirely disable the thing.

You can also access Google Now with a long press on the middle Android button. A double tap will give you recent apps, and a touch of the right option button brings up wallpaper, app management and system settings options. This is all works the same way whether you're on Facebook Home or the Jelly Bean homescreen.

HTC First review

So once you strip out the extra Facebook fat, you've got pretty lean, mean Android 4.1: Jelly Bean machine here, and the only one that's a manageable 5-inches and LTE capable. Given that, we have a feeling the First may develop a sort of second life as the mid-range of choice among Google geeks. It could be the affordable alternative for those who find the S3 too big in build or price tag.

We actually do think the First is worth owning in this regard, at least until some other manufacturer releases a similar stock handset (not likely), or until the we see an LTE version of the Nexus 4 on more than just T-Mobile (also not likely), or until the rumored Google Nexus 5 shows up with LTE capabilities (a lot more likely). Until then, we could be looking at the next cult Android phone.

Performance

Full HTC First specifications:

  • 1.4 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 1GB LPDDR2 memory
  • 16GB internal storage (no SD support)
  • LTE capable
  • 2000 mAh battery

HTC First review

While we're mixed (and leaning towards "no") on whether or not anyone should actually use Facebook Home day-to-day, it runs quite well for being such recently released software. We've yet to try it on other devices, but it's all very snappy on the First. Whether you're coming in from the lock screen or diving into an app, it all moves just as quickly as a well optimized dual-core device should.

There were only occasional performance lags, mostly ones we'd chalk up to launch hiccups. A couple times we woke our phone up to find a loading icon rather than a fresh image from the Feed. A moment of slower data service is probably to blame there. We also had a few random stalls when launching apps, and the processor did bog down when we had a lot of app updates downloading, but that's to be expected.

Both the coders behind Facebook Home and the designers of the HTC First should be praised for building something so well optimized. There's raw talent and some clever thinking here. If only Home were more feature rich we could begin to approach an Apple level of hardware and software harmony.

HTC First review

Pure Jelly Bean runs just as well on the First, because of course it does. It was always a big step up performance-wise from Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich, landing at a crucial time when a lot manufacturers were leaping dual-core to quad-core builds.

At 1.4 Ghz, the First is just a smidgen faster than its mid-range ICS cousin, the HTC One VX. That phone is clocked at 1.2 Ghz, so it's slightly slower, but the First runs circles around in day-to-day use, and the smart money says Jelly Bean is the reason.

Overall, the HTC First is just a very good dual-core phone. If that appeals to you, or if you know someone who wants a phone "that's just a phone," and doesn't want to pay too much, or dislikes a device as big as an S3, steer them towards the First. Give them a hand disabling all that Facebook nonsense that they'll hate, but then they'll have a very functional little phone, and won't have paid too much for it.

Contacts and Calling

Hey, this thing is still a phone, remember? Not just a way of commoditizing your day-to-day life for your friends to like, comment or grow jealous over. The HTC First still has to make calls and keep track of your contacts.

Calling

Call quality on the HTC First was merely average, and we'd put the blame on budget hardware, not AT&T as a carrier. We've had years of experience with AT&T's service, and we think the clarity and reliability of its talk connections has come along way since the wave of gripes in the initial iPhone era.

HTC First review

During our testing in the San Francisco Bay Area, we never had a single dropped call, nor were we ever without service.

Our calls, however, were rather quiet. While this was no problem when talking on the phone at home, we often found ourselves maxing out the volume when chatting outside or in public places. Voices were also a little fuzzy, with occasional crackling.

If you're hard of hearing, or often find yourself straining to hear friends over the phone, the HTC First is not a good choice for you.

Also, when using Facebook Home, the dialer is little further away than it usually is. On Android you can generally slide to unlock directly into the dialer, but not with Home. Instead, it's been given placement as the first icon on your app trays. It seems that the Facebook phone is a texting machine first, actual phone second.

However, return to the Jelly Bean home screen and you'll find it sitting on the dock, as usual. Disable Facebook Home altogther and you'll be able to access it directly from the lock screen.

Contacts

That dialer icon is also the gateway to your contacts, which are run in stock Android fashion. You can also get there through the People app, but it's somewhat buried on Facebook home.

HTC First review

Contacts import readily from Gmail as well as Google Plus. You can also bring in Outlook contacts, Twitter folks, and, of course, Facebook. As usual, Android asks if you'd like to bring in every contact, or just ones with phone numbers. It's a handy way of keeping people you don't actually communicate out of the list.

All in all, it does a fine job, especially if you're someone who uses Gmail or Facebook a lot. However, this is actually one place where we wouldn't have minded the HTC touch. The company's software does an excellent job of combining duplicate contacts, even when there are discrepancies between the two.

We'll get into this more in the messaging section of our review, but our only real disappointment was that Chat Heads failed to use Gmail profile pics to decorate icons for our texts with friends. It's too bad, since that's a touch we really enjoyed.

Otherwise though, this is pretty much the stock Android experience with a bit of Facebook aesthetic layered on top.

Messaging

More so than with most of the phone's features, Facebook Home has overhauled the Messaging on the HTC First. SMS text messaging has been combined with the Facebook Messenger app, and Chat Heads icons hang out on the screen to remind you about developing conversations.

HTC First review

If nothing else, rolling texts into Facebook Messenger helps keep things neat. As with most things regarding home, the more you use Facebook, the more useful it'll be to you. If you're someone who frequently communicates by both SMS and Facebook message, you'll probably like this a good amount.

It's not perfect though. For example, SMS and Facebook messages threads are kept separate, meaning if you're messaging and texting the same person, it'll be treated as two separate conversations. So much for helping to tidy up your inbox.

Our biggest gripe is that while text conversations show up in the First's Messenger app, they don't show up on the Facebook website. That means that if someone sent you important information via text such as address, you can't hop on Facebook.com and copy paste it into a Google Maps search.

You also can't send a text from Facebook. Perhaps that would have been too tall an order, but it nonetheless strikes us a very large missed opportunity. One of our favorite features with the iPhone 5and iOS 6 is iMessage, where your instant messages and texts are one in the same. You can essentially text from your MacBook, and there's zero discrepancy between the messages on your phone, computer or other Apple device.

HTC First review

Facebook had a chance to start building an ecosystem with some truly useful features, and, for some reason, didn't jump on it. Instead, it seems like texting and messaging were combined just so everything shows up as a cute Chat Head.

In case you've forgotten, Chat Heads are those fun, easy to manipulate floating icons of your friends heads that pop up when you get a message or text. They pop up and float over basic apps like email and the browser, allowing you to jump between texting and most tasks.

Chat Heads pop up on the Facebook Home lock screen, and the regular Android home screen. They'll float over any app where the notification center is still accesible. They'll also never overcrowd your screen, since they stack, and fan out when selected.

The main advantage Chat Heads have over managing unread messages in the notification center is that they don't disappear once you've addressed them. They hang out until you dismiss them, launching your friends head towards the bottom of the screen like a basketball. It's as fun as it sounds.

HTC First review

So they're shaped like your friends' heads, except when they're not. During our review time, text message Chat Heads failed to use our contacts Gmail profile picture. They just appeared as boring gray orbs with "SMS" written on them. We're not sure the cause of this, and we've contacted HTC to see what's up.

Facebook messages, on the other hand, used pictures just fine and looked very nice.

So while there seem to be some bugs to work out, Chat Heads are still fun and actually pretty useful. Best of all, they can be used independently of Facebook Home. While we personally have no plans to use Home after this review, we will continue to use Chat Heads on our own device.

But just like Facebook home, if you feel like rejecting their presence entirely on the First, that's your prerogative. There's good old fashioned Android Messaging on here, and it works just fine.

HTC First review

All the messaging programs use the default Jelly Bean keyboard. It's a fine stock keyboard, with decent predictive text. Still, the best part about Android is being able to download third-party keyboards. Our personal favorite is still Swiftkey, but there are plenty of solid options to choose from.

Read more: 9 best Android keyboard apps reviewed and rated

Email

Finally, for email, the HTC First does the typical Android thing and comes with both Gmail and an a stock Email program that can communications from Outlook, Yahoo and every other program under the sun.

HTC First review

The interfaces of the two are markedly similar, to the point where they're pretty much the same program. For Gmail only users, you'd might as well just stick to the Gmail app. If you use more than just Google's email service, the Email app is good option for having all your inboxes in one place.

To summarize, the messaging experience on the HTC First is one of the few places where Facebook's presence actually elevates things. While they're still a little creaky, Chat Heads are fun and functional, and it's very nice (and smart) of Facebook to let you use them independent of Facebook Home.

However, none of this is exclusive to the first. You can download Chat Heads on almost any more-recent Android phone, so that steals a bit of the First's thunder. There's even a version for iOS 6 now.

Lastly, being able to do away with Chat Heads, as well as Home, will please those who simply want a stock Jelly Bean experience from the First.

Battery life and connectivity

HTC Phones have developed a bit of a reputation for unreliable battery life, exacerbated by the closed body design of its phones, rendering the battery unswappable. The HTC One X and One X+ were real power drainers, and while the HTC One has improved on this, it'll still draw down pretty quickly if you go nuts with it.

HTC First review

Just like those phones, the HTC First is a sealed design. Within the body there's a 2000 mAh battery.

The First's battery has better stamina than most HTC phones we've used. With light to moderate use, it has no trouble getting the through the day. We often found it at around 60 percent when we were turning in for the night.

Heavy use, however, has the potential to drain it pretty fast. Gaming, big downloads or lots of media streaming will drain the phone before the day is out.

Connectivity

Never mind Facebook Home, the real special thing about the HTC First is that it's a stock Android phone with LTE service. That's a very rare thing.

HTC First review

It's also AT&T's LTE service, which is blazing fast here in the San Francisco Bay Area. During our testing, we did occasionally drop to regular 4G, but our connection was still quiet fast.

Our data speeds were consistently in the double digits, and usually above 20 Mbps. Sometimes it was as high as 40 mbps. That's as advertised, and impressive.

Currently, this is the fastest data service you can find on a stock Android device. If the First achieves any sort of status outside of being the first device with Home, it will be for this.

Maps and apps

All talk of a Facebook Phone aside, at its core the HTC First is an Android 4.1: Jelly Bean device, and therefore gets its apps from the Google Play Store.

HTC First review

Of course, it does manage its apps differently, using those app trays we talked about and not letting you deploy widgets. But if you get sick of that, you can just use the regular old Android home screen.

And as we've said, the HTC First is a dual-core device. In day-to-day use you'd be hard pressed to notice that this isn't the latest tech. Going from screen to screen and using basic apps, the First performs admirably. High end games, however, are what push it over the edge.

Graphically intense titles like Asphalt 7 and Modern Combat 4 had noticeably longer load times than on a quad-core devices, such as the HTC One X+ or the Galaxy S3. But during general gameplay, the First handled the action surprisingly well. However, when things got really hectic, with lots of cars or soldiers on the screen, there were drops in frame rate and some stuttering. We'd call it playable, but not an optimal experience.

HTC First review

Lower end titles like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope didn't give the First any trouble. This isn't a gamer's phone, but it's capable, and plays those time-passing ninety-nine cent titles just fine.

Google Maps

It's an Android phone remember? So Google Maps is the mapping and navigation service of choice here.

HTC First review

Google Maps has always been number one in our hearts for navigation, but it's come a long way over the years. It now offers 3D rendering of buildings, and even interior mappings of popular places.

It also offers turn-by-turn navigation, which managed to keep up with us as we drove around the city.

AT&T apps

HTC First review

While neither AT&T nor HTC have done any fooling with good old Android 4.1, AT&T has given the First its typical injection of most useless apps.

My AT&T, which lets you check your remaining minutes and billing cycle, and AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, which helps you find mobile hotspots provided by the carrier, aren't bad, but the rest are pretty easy to ignore.

The always baffling AT&T Navigator is here; baffling that it charges for mapping service that's inferior to the free Google Maps.

However, in an extremely rare move, these apps can actually be uninstalled! This is not the case on even some of the HTC's best devices, like the HTC One. Looks like Facebook might have exercised some real muscle here, and we're happy to see it.

Camera

The HTC First sports a 5-megapixel lens, with is pretty below average for this day in age. This is one place where the First's budget build really bumps up against its supposed status as the Facebook phone.

Sharing photos of your friends, your meals and some possibly regrettable moments your friends will untag themselves in is a big part of the Facebook experience. The First's camera isn't capable of creating share-worthy in anything but the best of lighting.

HTC First review

The camera's lens is also flush with the back of the phone, making it easy to smudge. You'll have to give it a wipe every so often, or shots can come out blurry.

We also think the lack of a dedicated shutter button is a big mistake. The ultimate Facebook device needs fast snapper access. Every Windows Phone 8 device has one, a decision that struck us as really smart. And Microsoft would claim that Windows Phone was already putting people first.

At least Facebook favorite Instagram is pre-loaded on the First. That way you can slap a filter on your otherwise ho-hum shots and make them worth looking at.

Camera samples

HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First

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HTC First review

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HTC First

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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HTC First review

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It's obvious that keeping the first Facebook Phone affordable was a priority, but corners have been cut in places where that make the First less than ideal for the most "important" Facebook task: taking and sharing pictures.

HTC First review

This sort of camera performance is to be expected on a mid-range device, but the Facebook phone should be able to readily take the most share-worthy of shots, and it simply can't. Just 5-megapixels and no physical camera button, also this is the one of a few places where the stock Android sofware we love so much let us down.

HTC has put better camera options on cheaper phones, such as the One VX, so it's a shame the First didn't get any love here. At least there's Instagram preloaded on the device, but it almost feels like it should be stock camera option here. This was supposed to be the Facebook Phone, right?

Verdict

The HTC First, the so-called Facebook phone, isn't really the ultimate device for sharing on the world's premier social network. Instead, it's a not at all bad mid-range device, blessed with a stock version ofAndroid 4.1: Jelly Bean and LTE service from AT&T.

Still, it's hard to recommend that your average user buy a device and disable its primary selling point, in this case Facebook Home. Instead, what we have here is a good Android device for phone geeks on a budget.

We liked

The overall build of the HTC First is very nice. It's rubberized and tough, as well as a reasonable size. It's not that we dislike the big Android phones like the Galaxy S3 and the HTC One, it's that we wish they weren't the only option. At 5-inches the HTC First is a breath of fresh air.

We also love that it's running stock Android 4.1: Jelly Bean. That's as new as you can get short of Android 4.2 on the Nexus 4, and it helps get the most out of the First's dual-core. This is a phone with surprisingly smooth performance.

HTC First review

The HTC First also has service from AT&T's large LTE network, which is a major feather in its cap.

As long as you stick normal tasks, it also has all day battery life, thanks to its dual-core processor and smaller 4.3-inch screen. A lot of big, 1080p LTE handsets struggle to cross this finish line, but not the First. However, heavy Wi-Fi and LTE use will drain it down.

We also quite like Chat Heads, the best thing to come out of this whole Facebook Home thing. Of course, you can get them on nearly any newish Android phone, but still.

Also, the HTC First has deeper Facebook Home integration, with more alerts popping up on the Facebook home lock screen. That's nice, if you plan to actually use Home.

We disliked

Facebook Home. It's a glorified screensaver that makes merely unlocking your phone an unpredictable experience. Still, it can be disabled, so it's really not such a big deal, but we are worried about how much data it will consume, since you refresh it every time you unlock your phone. We're still waiting for an answer from HTC on that one.

HTC First review

We also don't like that it takes away our widgets, and prevents us from making folders. It makes Android feel like iOS.

The First's camera is just 5-megapixels and takes noisy, static-filled shots. This is actually one place where the stock Android software failed us. We miss the snapper from the HTC One VX, with its bevy of options.

The lack of a dedicated shutter button is a massive oversight. Everyone we know on Facebook snaps and shares pictures constantly, so a phone with no quick camera access (and mediocre image quality to boot) will never be the true Facebook phone.

It also lacks removable storage and battery, but this an HTC device, so we're basically being a broken record with that complaint.

The First's inconsistent battery performance is troublesome. We could text and talk practically all day, but gaming, downloading and heavy surfing brought the battery down much faster than we'd like. The Android enthusiast crowd isn't going to like that.

We liked Chat Heads, and actually want to keep using them, but the fact that they often failed to load our friends' profile pictures for SMS messages really spoiled the fun. Hopefully that gets fixed soon.

Final verdict

Should you buy the HTC First as the Facebook phone? No. Should you try to make Facebook Home part of your everyday Android experience? Sure, give it a try, but you'll soon see why we don't recommend it.

We found it creepy to constantly see pictures of friends and their friends (basically strangers) popping up on our phone. And never knowing what you'll see when unlocking your device adds some dread to an innocent question such as, "can I see your phone for a second?"

HTC First review

However, it's the perfect phone for a certain type of Google geek. Currently, there's no other 5-inch stock Android phone with LTE from AT&T, going for a dirt cheap $0.99 (with two-year agreement). If you have the wherewithal (it's not very hard) to disable Facebook Home, you're looking at the best, and most affordable, mid-range Android phone currently on the market.

Despite the guff we've given Facebook Home, we're hoping the HTC First won't be the last attempt at a Facebook phone. Sure, Home needs work, but all the First needed to be the perfect social phone hardware-wise was a better camera. If your snapper can't help a plate of tacos get at least ten likes and a "yum," then you're not quite there yet.

The HTC First is a good phone, but not for any of the reasons being highlighted in its marketing. It's compact, durable and has great LTE service from AT&T. It could become the next cult Android device, and might even be the last decent dual-core handset ever made. Sans Facebook Home, it's exactly the type of device we wish we'd see more often.

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