HTC First smartphone will please Facebook junkies

Reviews of the HTC First indicate that Facebook addicts will love its installation of Facebook Home. Otherwise, it doesn't seem special

Smartphone connoisseurs may be anticipating the upcoming release of the HTC One, but the rest of the world can't stop talking about another HTC phone due out Friday, the First.

Unlike its high-powered cousin, the excitement behind the First isn't about the phone's processing power, awesome display, or camera. The First is grabbing headlines because it's the first smartphone you could honestly call a "Facebook phone." That's because when AT&T releases the First on Friday for $99 with a two-year contract, it will be the first smartphone to come with Facebook Home preinstalled.

We offered our early impressions of the HTC First last week; stay tuned for our official review coming soon. In the meantime, here's a look at what the rest of the Web has to say about HTC's First, the closest device yet to an actual Facebook phone.

Middling hardware

If you're looking for a phone that will dazzle you with specs and original design, the First is not for you.

The First features a 4.3-inch display with a resolution of 1280-by-720 pixels at 341 pixels per inch, a dual-core 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor, 16GB of onboard storage, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 1.6MP front-facing camera, 802.11a/g/b/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and LTE. The phone runs Android version 4.1, Jelly Bean.

The Verge called it a throwback in design to the era of the iPhone 3G and 3GS.All Things D called the phone "unremarkable," while USA Today said it was "capable, but not exceptional." The New York Times' David Pogue summed it up best saying, "[The First is] plastic, dull, uninteresting. It's so generic, it should come in a plain white box with that says PHONE on it."

Smartphone photographers should also take note that most reviewers said the First's camera held up very poorly in low light situations and offered average performance under well-lit conditions.

Facebook addiction enhancement

While the hardware might not be stunning, the appeal of Cover Feed apparently is. Cover Feed is a reimagined version of Facebook's news feed. Instead of viewing a stream of updates, Cover Feed delivers updates to your phone's home screen, occupying your phone's display with full screen photos.

The effect of Cover Feed, according to All Things D's Walt Mossberg, is mesmerizing. Mossberg also said that "with Home, I paid more attention than ever to my news feed, Liked items more often, and used Facebook's Messenger service more often."

USA Today's Ed Baig had a similar experience, "For better or worse, I found myself weighing in with more "likes" using the HTC First compared with when I look at Facebook on my computer."

Stock Android on LTE, Facebook ads

The beauty of the First is that you can turn Home completely off. This leaves you with a mostly stock Android device running Jelly Bean.

There are a few installed apps from AT&T and HTC, according to The Verge, but for the most part it's just plain old Android without an annoying manufacturer overlay such as HTC's Sense. The only other significant alternative for getting a device running stock Android right out of the box is Google's Nexus 4. Unlike the 3G-hobbled Nexus 4, however, HTC's phone runs on faster LTE networks.

And, almost every reviewer remarked on the fact that, while they haven't arrived yet, Facebook ads are coming to the HTC First. Even though you're paying $99 for this phone with a two-year contract, you can still expect Facebook to deliver ads via Home.

Nobody knows what these ads will look like so it's not clear how intrusive they will be. Nevertheless, if you already hate seeing ads on Facebook's mobile apps, this may give you pause before diving in for two years with HTC's Facebook Phone.

Gain Facebook, lose Android

Home is an Android app launcher that works together with the Facebook and Facebook Messenger Android apps to create a Facebook-centric experience on your smartphone. If you own an HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, or Samsung Galaxy Note II, you can also download Home on Friday to create a Facebook phone with your own handset.

Since Home just an Android overlay, this can apparently cause some collisions between Facebook's interface and Google's mobile OS.

Ars Technica warns that both Facebook and Android offer system alerts, which mean you can end up with a dual-notification stream. You also lose out on Android widgets on the lock screen with Home since this is all about Facebook notifications, and not updates from Gmail or Google+.

Baig wonders if Facebook Home is worth the tradeoff of sacrificing valuable home screen real estate for a pure Facebook experience. And Pogue went further than that, suggesting Facebook Home was not "worth losing widgets, wallpaper, app folders and the Android status bar in the process."

Overall, the opinion of many critics is that the First is a good phone to get, as long as you love Facebook. If you want the Facebook experience out of the box, then the First is the phone to get.

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Ian Paul

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