|Introduction And Specifications|
For many users, smartphones are tools that are more about the software and user experience than the hardware. Of course, you still need adequate hardware and smooth performance to ensure a good experience, but beyond that, there are plenty of users who are attracted more to software and easy-to-use features than anything else.
As the first phone to ship with Facebook Home preinstalled, the new HTC First smartphone is hoping to attract users who care most about the Facebook experience on their phones. Facebook Home is deeply integrated with Android. With Facebook Home, you’ll see notifications, Facebook status updates, photos, messages, and more directly from the phone’s home screen. You’ll also get additional functionality such as Chat Heads and an App Launcher. Recognizing the social experience on a phone is a key feature, HTC also loaded the First with Instagram.
In terms of hardware, the HTC First features middling specifications. You’ll find a 1.4GHz dual core Qualcomm 8930AA processor as well as 1GB of RAM inside this phone. The First features 16GB of onboard storage and lacks a microSD card slot. You can pick up the HTC First exclusively from AT&T for about $100 with a contract. The phone is available in four colors: black, white, red, and pale blue.
|Design and Build Quality|
If you’ve spent much time with any of today’s high-end Android smartphones, the first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the HTC First is its size. It feels considerably smaller than many of today’s popular high-end Android smartphones that feature relatively large screens such as Samsung’s Galaxy SIII or Note II. That said, the phone still has a very nice 4.3-inch screen that supports a resolution of 1280x720 and packs 341 pixels per inch.
In terms of size, the HTC First measures 4.96 x 2.56 x 0.35 inches and weighs 4.37 ounces, making it slightly larger and heavier than Apple’s iPhone 5 but smaller and lighter than Samsung’s Galaxy SIII. For a quick comparison, here’s how they compare:
The exterior of the HTC First features a soft finish that wraps around the rounded edges of the phone. The First has a shiny black front that tends to attract fingerprints, but it’s no worse than other phones we’ve seen. Below the screen, you’ll find Back, Home, and Menu buttons. The front-facing 1.6 megapixel camera resides in the upper left corner of the front of the smartphone.
On the left edge of the HTC First, you’ll find the volume rocker. The right edge of the phone houses the microUSB port and microSIM card tray. You’ll find the power button and a 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge of the phone.
When you flip the phone over, you’ll see the rear-facing 5 megapixel camera and LED flash in the upper left corner as well as a HTC logo, Facebook logo, and AT&T logo at the bottom.
In examining the phone, you’ll notice it doesn’t have a removable back plate. Thus, the battery is integrated and cannot be replaced by the user. Also, there is no microSD card slot so the 16GB of integrated storage is all you get.
|User Experience & Facebook Home|
Although Facebook Home is available for a handful of phones via the Google Play Store, the HTC First is the first smartphone to ship with this experience preinstalled. Facebook Home is integrated into Android to the extent that it takes over some of the features on the phone, such as the home screen.
As soon as you power on the First, you’ll see the clock for a brief moment before the screen changes to display posts from your Facebook news feed. This feature is known as Cover Feed. With Cover Feed, you can quickly and easily see what your friends are up to, swipe to see additional posts, double tap to like a post, press and hold to zoom out on a picture, and comment on a post directly from the Cover Feed screen. Notifications also appear on the lock screen on top of Cover Feed content.
Facebook Home Cover Feed and App Launcher
By tapping the screen when viewing Cover Feed, your Facebook profile picture will appear. You can then drag your profile picture to access the Facebook Messenger, apps, or your most recently accessed application. With Facebook Messenger, you can send and receive texts and Facebook messages from the same spot.
Thanks to a feature known as Chat Heads, you can keep chatting with friends even when you’re using other apps. This feature places a small picture of your friend near the edge of the screen. You can move the head around and it will snap to the side. To view and send messages, simply tap your friend’s picture. When you’re finished chatting, drag the Chat Head to the bottom to remove it.
Facebook Home Chat Heads
Facebook Home also comes with an App Launcher that provides quick and easy access to apps. By default, the primary App Launcher screen links to Phone, Settings, Maps, Chrome, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Google, Play Store, Camera, and Gallery. You can swipe your finger left to access all apps or right to access an additional App Launcher screen. Above the App Launcher, you’ll notice a Facebook bar that lets you update your status, upload a photo, or check in to a location. You can customize the App Launcher to your liking. When viewing all apps, a More button at the bottom will take you to a traditional Android Home screen.
Without Facebook Home, the HTC First is a pretty standard Android device with five traditional Android home screens. You will find many of the standard Android apps such as Chrome, Google+, Navigation, and Play Store in the all applications list. The HTC First also comes pre-loaded with Instagram.
The HTC First ships with the Android keyboard. If you want additional keyboard options such as Swype, you’ll have to download them.
Google Now and Instagram are included on the HTC First
|Camera And Battery Life|
You’ll find a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera on the HTC First. The lens on this camera supports an aperture of f/2.0. There’s a small LED flash to the right of the lens. The software that accompanies the camera is pretty basic, offering five scene modes (Auto, Action, Night, Sunset, and Party) along with flash controls and the ability to adjust the exposure and white balance.
Images taken with the First’s camera were usable, however they were not as good as many camera phones we’ve used in the past. Many of our images seemed flat and dull. For a phone that has such tight integration with Facebook for social networking, we would have liked to see a better camera on this phone.
HTC First Battery Life
You’ll find a 2000 mAh Li-polymer battery in the HTC First. As mentioned earlier, this battery is not removable. AT&T claims you should get up to 14.3 hours talk time or up to 18.2 days standby time from the First’s battery.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the HTC First's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes, we loop the page and also setup a screen lock utility that keeps the display from sleeping during the test. Battery life is measured down to the minute the smartphone shuts down. The Wi-Fi radio is enabled in this test to simulate battery life in real-world web browsing over a wireless connection.
For this test, we set the HTC First's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The HTC First lasted 9 hours and 20 minutes untethered before it powered down, providing one of the longest lasting phones we have in our charts.
Note: this review has been updated to reflect more accurate battery test numbers.
Next, we'll take a look at how the HTC First compares to other smartphones with a few benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace.
Overall, the HTC First performed very well in the Linpack tests, earning third place in both the multi thread and single thread tests. Only the LG Optimus G and HTC Droid DNA outscored the First.
GLBenchmark is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated in it. We specifically used the Fill Texture Fetch suite to measure raw texture fill rate and the Egypt Off Screen test to measure 3D performance in frames per second. The Off Screen test renders workloads at 1280x720 for all devices, but off-screen, so Vsynch and screen refresh are not limiting performance.
In the Egypt Off Screen test, the First earned fourth place, beating a handful of devices by a single frame per second. In the Fillrate test, the First performed better than other Android smartphones we’ve tested but it still comes in behind Apple’s iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S.
An3DBench XL is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes.
The HTC First doesn’t earn a top spot in any of the An3DBench XL components, but its scores are still very respectable. In the Magic Island test, the First earns the sixth spot on the list. In the Ninja’s Garden test, the First earns the fifth spot.
The main attraction of the HTC First is the fact that it’s the first phone to ship with Facebook Home preinstalled. The phone also comes pre-loaded with Instagram. For heavy social network users, these features may be important.
Facebook Home provides some unique and cool features that you won’t get elsewhere. Cover Feed puts news from the people you care about front and center on the phone. Chat Heads provides an easy way to message people while also using other apps on the phone. The App Launcher isn’t anything revolutionary, but it gets the job done.
While the HTC First isn’t going to compete with high-end smartphones in terms of specifications, it doesn’t have the same high-end price tag. The phone is currently available for about $100 from AT&T and it comes in four colors.
While we were unimpressed by the First’s camera, we also have to keep in mind that this smartphone carries a price that’s significantly lower than today’s top-end phones. Given this, you have to expect some sacrifices. One of those sacrifices in this phone is the camera. Two additional sacrifices are the lack of a microSD card slot and user replaceable battery.
In real world use, the HTC First was responsive and offered respectable performance as well as speedy browsing capabilities on the go thanks to connectivity to AT&T’s 4G LTE network. It’s also a very pocketable phone with a vibrant and colorful display. If you're a heavy Facebook user in the market for a new, affordable smartphone, and like the features offered by Facebook Home and the HTC First, it's a sleek, well build device worth checking out.