The HTC First features a wrapper or skin that covers its existing Android operating system so that Facebook-related apps and alerts are front and center on the device. Photo:AFP / Josh Edelson
The HTC First, appropriately named as it will be the first smartphone to come with the Facebook Home suite of apps pre-installed, officially arrives in US stores this weekend.
Exclusively available from AT&T, the network provider claims that the HTC First will be marketed as a flagship device and, as such, the company is expected to pull out all the stops in trying to promote it to the widest possible audience.
Though dubbed the "Facebook Phone," it is an Android-powered handset like any other from Samsung, LG or HTC itself. What makes it different is that the standard operating system has been wrapped in a Facebook-themed layer bringing the social network front and center and pushing everything else into the background.
Its official reveal on April 4 generated lots of publicity, but is the phone any good or is it simply a triumph of style over content?
The overall consensus appears to be that if a consumer is also a power Facebook user, than this is the device they have been waiting for.
"It's all very slick. [Facebook]Home makes Android look and feel much less intimidating by hiding things like the app drawer and notification shade. You can still access these features using simple gestures, but the app drawer is modified to let you quickly update your Facebook status, post a photo, or check in to a location," said Computerworld's Armando Rodriguez. He also liked the look and feel of the handset itself but noted that its hardware specifications were nothing to get excited about.
A point on which CNet's Andrew Hoyle is in agreement. "In hardware terms, the First doesn't have much to offer over the competition, so I'm hoping it's going to come with an affordable price. The software is where the excitement lies though, and there's much to like about Facebook's Android skin, as long as you're a heavy user of the social network. It looks neat and it seems a handy way of always being up to date on your friends' antics."
However, despite the limitations of its Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, with Adreno 305 GPU, 1 GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, Engadget's Brad Molen was impressed with its performance in terms of its primary function -- access to social networking. "We're also pleasantly surprised by its rounded edges and matte rubberized shell -- both result in a comfortable and pleasant feel when cradled in the hand. The 4.3-inch 720p screen seemed bright enough under the demo room's task lighting, though it's obviously not as sharp as the [flagship HTC] One's. Flipping through Home's UI felt zippy enough thanks to that dual-core Snapdragon processor, but it didn't strike us as a super speedster either. Of course, we doubt it's really meant to be the most powerful device on the block: the First appears to be aimed not at power users, but at Facebook connoisseurs that simply want to be connected to friends and family as often as possible," he wrote.
AT&T is expected to offer the HTC First for $99 on a two-year contract or for $449 without contract.
In Europe, long-time Facebook partner France Telecom has confirmed that it will be exclusively launching the handset in France and the UK but is yet to give any details regarding availability and pricing, other than to expect a summer launch.