Review: HTC First – AKA Facebook Phone

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The Facebook Phone HTC First. It’s the first device to come out of the box running Facebook Home. It’s also HTC’s first device to be running stock Android since the Nexus One. The HTC First is a great looking and feeling device. While it may feel like it could be a high-end device, it’s definitely not. It’s basically like a HTC One X and an iPhone 3GS had a baby together, and out popped the HTC First. With specs like a 4.3-inch 1280×720 resolution display, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, Dual-core Snapdragon 400 clocked at 1.4GHz, and a 2000mAh battery, it’s definitely not a high-end or a flagship device. The HTC First does run Facebook Home, but that is very easily disabled, which brings you to a fully stock Android device. It’s running Android 4.1.2 so it’s not the latest but it is stock.

Video Review

Display

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Like I said earlier in this review, the display is a 720p Super LCD display at 4.3 inches. So it does have quite a high PPI, probably the highest among mid-rangers right now at 342 pixels per inch. For me, coming from the Nexus 4, the display on the HTC First is a great looking one. The resolution on the two devices are very similar. The Nexus 4 is 1280×768 while the HTC First is 1280×720. Before I received the HTC First, I was kinda skeptical as to if I’d think the smaller display would be too small, but it seems like it’s close to the perfect size. Although I’d still prefer something in the 4.6-4.8 inch range like the Nexus and Galaxy S3. There’s a video down below which shows a comparison between the three devices (HTC First, Nexus 4 and Galaxy S3) since all of them have relatively the same resolution displays.

Design

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The design of the HTC First might look a bit familiar. Although those capacitive keys will not. I have the white model, which the First comes in a few other colors as well. On the back you’ve got your 5MP shooter with flash in the upper left-hand corner, then towards the bottom you’ll see the IMEM, S/N, SKU and all that good stuff, and below it you’ll see a variety of logos. There’s the HTC, Facebook and AT&T logo. Good thing this isn’t a Verizon phone, or that logo might be the entire back of the phone or be on the home button. On the front there’s the 1.6MP camera, along with your 720p 4.3-inch display and your capacitive buttons at the bottom which are back, home, and menu. On the top there’s the power button and headphone jack, on the right side is the volume rocker, left side is the microUSB port and SIM card slot and the bottom has your speaker.

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Overall the design is pretty nice actually. It fits in your hand quite nicely. There are a few things I’d like to see changed though. I’d like to see the charging port moved to the bottom. After having so many phones that have the charging port down there, it seems odd to charge the phone from the side. Personally, I’d like to see the power button moved to the side as well, for a couple of reasons. Most other phones have the power button on the right side, and it makes it easier to take screenshots with one hand.

Facebook Home

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We’ve already done a quick review of Facebook Home on the Galaxy S3 back last month when it was first released. But Facebook Home is a bit different on the HTC First, not by much though. Starting out, Facebook Home seems to be a bit more smoother on the HTC First. Now as much as I don’t like Facebook, I actually like Facebook Home, or rather I like what it does. As soon as you power on your phone, Facebook is right there. One thing I don’t like is that your friends pictures are always on your screen. But that’s part of Facebook’s launcher.

Facebook Home doesn’t seem to use a whole lot of data. In the settings, you can change the data usage from High to Medium or Low. Facebook Home doesn’t allow you to set intervals of when to refresh, or even let you manually refresh. It just all kinda refreshes by itself. But Facebook Home is supposed to be more data intensive over Wi-Fi. So if you have a data cap on your home Wi-Fi you might want to be careful.

Operating System – Android 4.1.2

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As we mentioned already, the HTC First is actually running stock Android 4.1.2. Surprisingly, it’s very easy to turn off Facebook Home and just run stock Android on your HTC First. In fact, in the Facebook Home settings, it’s the first setting. It is stock Jelly Bean, which means you’ve got Google Now, Project Butter and everything else that comes with Android 4.1.2. To get to Google Now, you just tap and hold the home button. To get to recents, you double tap the home button. Pretty easy right?

Bloatware

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Surprisingly, the HTC First has almost no bloatware. Of course, you’re going to have Facebook Home pre-installed. It is after all the “Facebook Phone”. But other than that, there are only two apps on the HTC First that are not Google apps. That’s the myAT&T app and AT&T’s Visual Voicemail app. That’s it. It’s very surprising to me to find that the only real carrier branding on the HTC First is the small logo on the back, and two bloat apps, that most people probably use. Good job HTC, or would that be Zuckerberg and company?

Storage

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On the HTC First you get 16GB of storage, and no microSD card. Unlike the Galaxy S4, the HTC First comes with 11.96GB of storage that the user can use. You can see my storage above, this is after using it as my daily driver for about a week. In addition USB OTG (on the go) also works with the HTC First.

Benchmarks

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Vellamo helps us test out Javascript and HTML5. You can see in the image above how well the HTC First fared. Admittedly, I didn’t expect the HTC First to be at the top, but there it was beating out some of last year’s best devices including the HTC One X, and Galaxy S3.

Basemark OS 

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This benchmark pretty much tests the entire system. The higher the score the better. We shouldn’t expect the HTC First to score as high as the Galaxy S4 and HTC One since it’s not a flagship, but I think it did fairly well.

Battery Life

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As far as battery life goes, it seems to be fairly good. There is no software optimizations for battery life on the HTC First, so it’s basically stock Android on a 2000mAh battery with LTE. According to Battery Widget Reborn, my average battery cycle is about 17 hours, give or take 30 minutes. Which isn’t bad, at least in my opinion. I’ve been using the HTC First as much as I use my Nexus 4, and it’s been on 4G LTE the entire time I’ve had it. So if you’re always on Wifi you should see quite a bit of difference in battery life. Maybe an additional 3-4 hours. You can see the screenshot from Battery Widget reborn up above.

Call Quality

Who makes calls anymore? Well I know some people do. I’ve used the HTC First to call some people on AT&T and some on other carriers, and they told me the quality was about the same as with any other phone. So it looks like there’s no compromise here.

The Network

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In my area, AT&T just launched LTE a few months ago, so in some parts of my house I get LTE and others I get HSPA+. So I took it out to an area where both T-Mobile (My daily driver, Nexus 4 operates on) and AT&T get full coverage. Data speeds on the HTC First on AT&T reached a high of 35mbps download and 10mbps upload. Not bad for LTE, although I was hoping for more. From what I’m told, that’s the average speeds here in Detroit for AT&T’s LTE network.

Camera

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Everyone wave to Canada!

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Well it’s a 5 megapixel camera with none of HTC’s photo technology and software. This means no HTC Zoe, no ImageSense or any of the other technology that the HTC One has. It’s using the camera software that’s in stock Android. It’s adequate, but of course we can always find room for improvement with camera’s on our smartphones right? You can check out a few samples above, and a video sample down below. All taken in Downtown Detroit.

The Good

  • It’s a managable size for smartphone
  • Stock Android with LTE, even Google couldn’t do that
  • Amazing display, Super LCD3 is definitely one of the best display technologies around
  • On sale for $99 on a 2-year contract

The Bad

  • Only available on AT&T
  • Might be too small for some people’s tastes
  • Comes with Android 4.1.2, not the latest version of Android

The Verdict

If you’re only looking to spend $100 on a new phone, then this is probably your best choice. If you’re looking for a “normal” sized Android phone, this is also probably the best choice. If you’re looking for a stock Android device with LTE, this is basically your only choice for AT&T. The HTC First surprised me on a few different levels, which is a good thing. When the HTC First was first announced, I thought “Did the iPhone 3GS and HTC One X have a baby?” because it looks like a cross between the two devices. But that’s about where the similarities end. The HTC First is made of polycarbonate like the HTC One X was, but it fits in your hand so nicely. Sure it has the three capacitive buttons that I’d prefer to be on-screen, but that doesn’t bother me all that much this time.

Adding the HTC First to the HTC One, HTC has made a couple of great looking, and feeling devices for early 2013. Both of them are in different price ranges and spec ranges, and both should sell rather well. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Tom’s HTC One review, you’ll definitely need to read his 3600 word review on HTC’s 2013 flagship device.

Now the big question, should I buy the HTC First? In all honesty, I’ve almost thought about getting it to replace my Nexus 4. That’s how much I like the HTC First. This is the first time I’ve even considered a mid-range device to be my next phone. If a phone like this is a mid-range device, I’d love to see what high-end devices are going to be like later on this year.

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