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Saturday, April 27, 2013

HTC First review

Is it just reference hardware for Facebook Home, or a true candidate for your next smartphone purchase?

There are few things in the mobile industry that have been constant over the last few years, but one that has is the rumor of a mythical "Facebook Phone." The idea of a phone that could only interact with people and services around Facebook didn't make a whole lot of sense to most people -- and apparently it didn't make much sense to Facebook itself either.  Because rather than a proper Facebook Phone, at a press conference on April 4th we were given this, the HTC First.
In many ways the First itself isn't supposed to be the big story. You wouldn't be alone for thinking it is simply a hardware platform to show off what seems to be Facebook's true end-game -- the Facebook Home software. There are far more users in the world that own one of the recent flagships from HTC or Samsung that will install Home from the Play Store than there are who will buy (or even be aware of) the First. This realization certainly calls into question why Facebook even bothered to have its own phone made in the first place.
So does Facebook actually care about the success of the First, or did it ask HTC to throw together a cheap device from the parts bin to show off Home at the press conference? After spending some time with the device, we think it may be a bit more substantial than that. There are a whole lot of intriguing aspects of the First that may just have you considering it as your next device.
The Good
You just can't beat the quality of HTC's recent screens, especially at such a high pixel density. The First is a refreshing step down to a form factor you can actually operate in one hand, and the understated industrial design looks great to our eyes. Even with less than bleeding edge specs, the First performs extremely well in daily use. If you don't like Facebook Home, a relatively clean version of Android 4.1 awaits you underneath.
The Bad
Facebook Home just isn't going to work long-term for a vast majority of users, and it's a relief that it can be turned off. The speaker and vibration motor quality remind you that some corners were cut to save costs on the hardware. We can live with capacitive keys, but there is no reason in 2013 to have a hardware Menu key on your Android device. Camera quality is better than average, but isn't going to blow your socks off.
Considering that Facebook Home can be completely disabled, the HTC First may be the decently -spec'd 4.3-inch device that many users have been clamoring for. But if the improved ergonomics of a smaller device aren't a driving factor in your smart phone buying decision, there are likely better ways to spend your $100 on-contract at AT&T. If you're indifferent on screen size and simply want a well-designed and solid performing phone, the First may be just what you're looking for.


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