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Summary:

The HTC First is the debut device powered by Facebook Home, an app-meets-skin that focuses the phone experience to all things Facebook. There is a lot to like and a lot more to dislike in the device. Here are my impressions.

Facebook Android Home
photo: Om Malik

My distaste for the privacy challenges of Facebook and its apps including the Home is pretty well documented. As we move into the connected age and build a quantified society, Facebook’s dark shadow looms over us like a menacing monster. So perhaps that made me an unlikely reviewer of the HTC First, which is the first official phone that comes with Facebook Home, a hybrid app-skin environment for Google Android.

Since I don’t really review devices like my talented colleague Kevin Tofel, I will restrict myself to things I like and dislike about Facebook Home. And then, I will share my quick impressions of the actual hardware. So here we go – and please don’t treat this as anything more than just my impressions!

What I like about Facebook Home (on First)

  1. Facebook Home is visually very attractive and makes Android a lot more attractive and qualifies for “good” sobriquet. I wouldn’t expect anything else considering that the company has been stockpiling nuclear arms of design war. It reminds me of some of the elements we loved in Al Gore’s book, Our Choice, which was published to the iPad by Push Pop Press. (Facebook acquired that company and Push Pop co-founder Mike Matas works at Facebook.)
  2. Facebook has made Android faster by removing a lot of crud that typically ships with Android on carrier-branded phones. It has taken many design and use-case cues from iOS and Facebook’s iOS app and applies them to the Android environment. For instance, notifications are much more improved, not just for Facebook but also for other applications.
  3. The check-ins and process of taking photos are more tightly integrated and are simpler to use.
  4. Facebook Home took its inspiration from the “Launcher” category that is extremely popular in Asia and made a far superior product. Home is a very polished product and focuses the phone owner’s attention on all the right things. (I remember buying similar skins for Windows XP and Windows 98, back in the day when it was a thing to do.)

What I dislike about Facebook Home (on First)

  1. For a service that is supposed to bring us updates in real time, this isn’t close enough and it is clearly working on Facebook Time. Facebook hasn’t been able to fine tune its algorithm and as a result it shows only a very specific kind of update — big bold pictures — from your newsfeed. You can actually feel the slow speed (and infrequency of updates) of the feed when you compare it with the desktop feed which moves at a faster pace.
  2. It is still hard to do many of the basic Facebook tasks on Facebook Home.
  3. While I appreciate the unified messaging option of Facebook Home, the new “Chat Heads” feature is not as easy to use. For example, If you hit five (or more conversations) it takes over the entire screen. It is quite intrusive and really hard to get rid of the chat screen.
  4. I found navigating between Facebook Home and the Android environment a little confusing and jarring — enough to feel the difference.

And now about the hardware:

  1. HTC First has a 4.3-inch display. It is powered by a 1.4 GHz dual-core Qualcomm 400 chip and it comes with 16 GB of storage and an adequate 1 GB of memory. It uses Android 4.1 Jelly Bean as the base operating system.
  2. The phone has a soft-touch rubber design which is easy to grip and it is something I appreciate because my phone keeps dropping from my hand. In this age of giant Android phones (and phablets), the 4.3 inch screen device is actually a pleasant change.
  3. Despite the company’s claims, the HTC First isn’t very responsive and feels underpowered. I have used the Nexus 4 and let’s just say, this feels like a mid-range smartphone at best.
  4. It started out as very responsive, but over a couple of days of use, I felt that swiping between apps, messages and photos wasn’t as brisk.
  5. The device’s look is a little dated and reminds me of iPhone 3GS.
  6. It gets really hot and the battery isn’t anything to write home about.
  7. AT&T’s LTE network isn’t as good as advertised, slowing down in places during my tests which also showed connection drops.

Bottom line: I am unlikely to use this device. But if you are a Facebook addict, are on a budget and have solid AT&T coverage in your area, this might be a good one for you.

 
  1. Apple fanboi and Android hater reviews the HTC First – waste of bandwidth

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    1. We know you’re cool because you use the word “fanboi” .

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      1. Matt ‽ Rooney Friday, April 12, 2013

        Extra clever too, using the -i version to subtly communicate his super-grownup assessment that apple users are somehow less masculine than he. What a clever boy!

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  2. Om,

    As some on who fears the “menacing dark shadow” that facebook casts, I would really like to hear your take on AT&Ts Adworks Lab products, as well any insight any insights you have into their partnership with Mastercard.

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  3. And get ready for what ads on android will now be made to look like: Chat heads.

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    1. Any thoughts on what those ads would look like @dmitri?

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  4. Michael Williams Friday, April 12, 2013

    Who’s paying for the bandwidth those ads are going to consume? I may be stupid enough to pay AT&T for service but why would I ever want to pay for advertising that counts against my monthly data cap? I thought we were moving beyond the cable company conundrum; I’m paying for cable television service but yet I’m still forced to watch 16 minutes of advertising for every 44 minutes of programming. For some silly reason I don’t think FaceBook “Home” advertising is going to be a simple “banner” ad. The sticky, rich multimedia experience that will be the ad experience of FaceBook Home is going to be a life-sucking battery-killing minute of my life I plan on skipping…To continue using your phone, please watch the following advertisement from one of our partners…

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    1. Every 5th or 10th pic on the homepage is a stealthy ad, with extra buttons to skip after 5 seconds or to go to the good/service advertised. Youll find the ads are high quality photos, that feature items that are liked or searched on facebook. Similar to the ad structure on Flipboard.

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  5. AT&T’s LTE is fine. That stab was uncalled for. It’s actually faster than Verizon’s.

    Launcher replacements aren’t just popular in Asia.

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