HTC First review

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

HTC First review
HTC First review

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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.