I’ve already provided several different looks at the HTC First, otherwise known as the Facebook phone. I unboxed it, gave you my first impressions, and reviewed Facebook Home on the First. Now it’s my turn to really give you my thoughts on the device. Here, I’ll be going beyond its Facebookness. I’ll talk about it’s performance, how it looks, and how it feels in the hands. SPOILER ALERT: I like it.
Unfortunately, we already know that HTC and AT&T aren’t doing well the HTC First. It’s being rumored that HTC and Facebook have already given up on the device even with it being on the shelves for only a couple of months. This kind of bums me out. I could really do without Facebook Home. It’s not my cup of tea, but if I knew this device would get development support behind it, from HTC and/or the modding community, I would recommend this phone ALL DAY. The size of a the device is in a league of its own right now with devices only getting bigger and bigger, and the performance of the device is great for the price of $0.99 on contract with AT&T. My biggest fear is this device will just be left in the dust running Android 4.1.2 until the 2-year contract expires.
- The size. The size of the HTC First I think will appeal to a lot of people. It fits great in the hand. The 4.3″ display isn’t too small. It’s still bigger than an iPhone. It’s not going to take up a lot of room in your pocket and it’s definitely a device that can be used with one hand
- The build quality. The First is made by HTC. HTC consistently hits it out of the park with build quality and even with this “mid-range” device the build quality is still there. It feels solid and has a great aesthetic to it. Everyone I showed this device to liked the way the device looked and felt.
- The price. The first was initially released at $99 with a 2-year contract, but about a month ago it went down to $0.99. If you watch the video below or read further into the review, this device performs well and for 99 cents it’s a steal.
- I’m not sure how well it will continue to be supported by HTC and/or Facebook. Facebook announced themselves that you can turn off Facebook home if you want to and the device launch in the UK was canceled probably because of lack of interest. Honestly, my guess is if they just switched up the marketing campaign on the device from Facebook home to a well built mid-range Android device, it would probably be better received. So I’m cautious about recommending the device, because who knows what kind of support or updates it will receive in the future.
I mentioned already that the HTC First is considered a “mid-range” phone. However, today to the average consumer mid-range or high-end matters less. Android and device manufacturers are getting the hardware and software integration figured out well enough now that you’re absolutely going to have a good experience on a mid-range device. It’s going to work well and feel snappy 99% of the time. That being said, I’ll list the important specs and then we’ll discuss.
- Size: 4.96 x 2.56 x 0.36 inches
- Weight: 4.37 oz
- Display: 4.3” 720 x 1280 S-LCD 3 with 341 ppi
- Processor: Dual core 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
- RAM: 1 GB
- Storage: 16 GB internal storage (non-expandable, no micro-sd slot)
- Battery: 2000 mAH
- Camera: Rear facing 5 megapixel with flash, front facing 1.6 megapixel
- Data: LTE, HSPA, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS
I go over a lot of the specs in my video, but I love the size of the device. It fits well and feels great in the hand. I’m not sure what type of plastic the unibody shell of the First is made of (my guess is polycarbonate), but it feels very solid and well constructed. The First comes in four different colors: white, black, red, and a baby blue. I was given a white device to review and I was concerned that the white unibody would easily gather color from jeans or whatever is in my pockets, but over the weeks I exclusively used the device as my own it continued to look fantastic. The device has very rounded edges and the display barely protrudes from the top of the device. It has very smooth rounded lines. I really like the look of the white on black Oreo or storm trooper look, whatever you want to call it. My wife thought the device looked like it was a black phone with a white cover on it. I disagree.
The display I mentioned in my Facebook Home post and video. I love it. I love the technology HTC used with their displays and how the images look like they’re painted on the top of the glass. The 4.3″ 720p S-LCD 3 display is vibrant and a very usable size. When I compared it to the Galaxy Nexus I was using at the time, it has a pretty similar amount of screen real estate due to the soft keys on the 4.65″ GNex display.
Some may feel that the non-expandable 16 GB of on board memory may be a con. I’ve used several devices (GNex, Nexus 4, and Nexus 7) with 16gb of non-expandable on-board memory and it’s rarely an issue. Unless you’re taking a ton of pictures or loading tons of music or movies on the device, it won’t be an issue very often. You may need to clear the storage a few times over your 2 year contract, but that happens. That’s pretty normal. Plus, everything is being done in the cloud these days. I stream my music with Spotify and that really helps save space on a device.
Again, I’ll begin by referring you to our Facebook Home post and video if you’re interested in seeing/reading more about that. Facebook home is merely a launcher, so it controls the user interface and how you navigate around the device. Facebook home can easily be disabled by going into Facebook Home settings, and you can use the stock Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean launcher which is a very simple launcher. If you’re not familiar with stock Android 4.1.2, it looks a lot like what Google is still using with 4.2.2 on their Nexus devices now, but it’s lacking things like the quick setting panel, the lockscreen widgets, the new jelly bean keyboard (which can be downloaded now) and the new clock app. There are other minor differences, but those are the differences you’ll really notice. Those really aren’t a big deal not to have. Android is a wonderful thing because you can customize your device however you like. I personally don’t use the stock launcher on my device. I really enjoy customizing it.
One thing I think is really cool on the HTC First is the minimal bloatware and presence of AT&T on the device. This is another thing that gives this device an almost Nexus feel. It comes with the Facebook apps, MyAT&T, and Visual Voicemail. That’s it. It’s super minimal. Also, I know with some data plans with AT&T they include Wi-Fi tethering in the plans, but if yours doesn’t, I don’t see any way they could stop you from using it on this device. There’s no carrier installed mobile hotspot app that controls that Wi-Fi tethering, so I think you can use it at will. I can’t really confirm this because with demo devices they always give us access to Wi-Fi tethering, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.
Day-ta-day use with the HTC First was awesome. I didn’t have high expectations for the Snapgragon 400 processor. The First was the first mobile device to ship with the 400, so we didn’t really know what to expect. These days if a device doesn’t have a quad core it automatically sounds like it’s going to be sub-par, but couldn’t be father from the truth. The First was fluid and snappy. It could be because of how light the software and included apps are with the device, but even with gaming it did really well. It handled Riptide GP and Granny Smith like a champ. The HTC First was fun to game on and the Snapdragon 400 seemed like a processor you can trust to play most games. I have no beefs with the performance of the First.
Battery life was reasonable on the device. I don’t have anything quantitative to show you, but the First would normally get me through the day without needing to be recharged which is good in my book. When we’re talking about a device with a non-removable 2000 mAH battery like the First, you really want something that will at least get you through the day. I hate having to carry a charger with me everywhere. So I’m happy with the battery life provided by the First. The First will be good for an on-the-go person who isn’t always around an electrical socket.
The HTC First is carried exclusively on AT&T. I had no issues with phone calls and the First actually pulled down the best data speeds I’ve ever seen in my area. I wasn’t able to repeat those later, but it was still very impressive. The HTC First is an LTE device, so if you’re in an are with AT&T LTE service it will get great data speeds depending on where you live and how many people are using the network. Even if you’re not in an LTE area, HSPA speeds are still really respectable and make internet browsing or whatever you’re doing that requires data a pleasant experience.
Maybe I’m just feeling generous about the phone for some reason, but the 5 MP rear facing camera wasn’t bad. I guess I wouldn’t call it stellar, but I was able to take some great shots in generous lighting conditions. The HTC First uses the stock Android camera app, and it performs well with the sensor on the device. Outdoors it did great, and indoors it performed better than the 5 MP camera on the GNex I was comparing it to. Below are some side-by-side comparisons so you can see for yourself. If the 5 MP camera on the First is a hangup for you, I understand. But I’ve seen 8 MP cameras that aren’t able to put out as pretty of pictures as this 5 MP camera. If you want to preserve memories with the best possible camera on a phone out there, you’re going to have to spend more than $0.99.
By comparison, the images captured by the HTC first seem less saturated compared the the Galaxy Nexus. When comparing it to the outdoor shot with the Galaxy Note II, the First seemed more saturated. So, it may be fairly situation dependent, but I happy with the images I took with it, especially the picture of the snake.
(low light, no flash below)
(full zoom below)
Development and modding is something that’s important to me. It may not be to you. So read on if it is…
I’ve done a little sleuthing around on the internet to try and see what kind of development or modding this HTC First might gather and from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look promising. I think the First would be fantastic running CM or some other custom AOSP ROM. It’s a beautiful device with good performance, it seems like a prime candidate, but I’m not seeing the support. The device has been out for two months now, and I’ve only found one custom Sense ROM for it. It does have an S-OFF method. It does have a root toolkit. It even has TWRP and CWR recoveries, but there aren’t many developers that are spending much time trying to bring custom ROMs to the device. It’s too bad, because I think the First would be a fun device to mod and play with.
In conclusion, I really like the HTC First. I think it’s a great little device at a killer price point. My only hesitation is if it will be updated with the latest in greatest in the long run. You’re signing a 2 year contract. Is the device going to be great for the next 2 years? Is there going to be a new version of Android released and the First will never get to use the new apps developed for the new Android? This is a likely scenario in my opinion. But if you’re not worried about running the latest and greatest, this is a really good Android phone. It’s a great size and has solid construction with a beautiful display. I think if you take it and make it your own, whether you like Facebook and Facebook Home or not, you’ll like this device. I really enjoyed using it, and it was a little sad to see it go.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the device. Let me know if you feel like I missed anything. Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.