We got a chance to take the HTC First for a spin today, which is the first official ‘Facebook phone’ that comes pre-loaded with the Facebook Home user interface. Though you can download the Facebook Home UI as a replacement for your widgets and pre-loaded UI on some of the more popular Android phones starting April 12th, the pre-loaded and embedded experience on the HTC One hardware promises to be more integrated and offers for more integrated notifications.
Facebook and friends were light when it comes to announcing some of the specs for the HTC First at the launch event at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California headquarters today, but from what we got to see, it looks like a pretty fluid experience despite the heavy graphics. Facebook’s engineering and development team says that the social network giant is using a physics-based engine to allow for some of the animations–like dragging and dropping the Chat Heads or opening the launcher.
When you turn on the phone itself, you’re greeted with a combination lockscreen-home screen. It gives you access to your Facebook feeds immediately. The UI’s simple and clean, and you can swipe across to see more recent posts or posts that have gained a lot of traction. Picture posts showcase the photos and text is smaller. Text-based posts highlight the words that your friends have so thoughtfully written and is showcased against the cover photo. Tapping and holding on the photos in either case would allow you to have a full view of the photo.
And if you want to find more posts from your friend, tapping on the friend’s name would open the traditional Facebook app and give you more details. Think of the new home screen as a Facebook ticker, like a stock market ticker for stocks updates.
The phone does have a 720p HD display, a 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front camera, and an optimized battery that should get you through at least a working day, according to one Facebook employee who’s been working on and testing the phone, though your mileage will vary depending on usage. Settings could also help limit the data you consume by changing update frequency as well as downloading lower resolution images.
In terms of Android, the phone is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. You do have access to Google’s acclaimed Google Now voice search and predictive info cards. Google Now is accessible via a search bar at the top of the apps drawer or by pressing the center button with the circle on it and holding it–that’s the home button.
The nice part is that notifications are now displayed front and center. Whether this is intrusive or smart depends on your own needs, but Facebook says that you won’t miss a notification this way. Gmail alerts and other apps can take advantage of this notification engine.
And lastly, similar to Apple’s iMessage that incorporates carrier-based SMS and MMS messaging along with the proprietary iMessage to communicate between iOS and OS X devices, Facebook’s new Chat Head will allow you to integrate Facebook Messages with SMS/MMS as well. If you get a message, regardless of what app you’re in, a head will pop-up. A brief preview will appear and you can reposition the head anywhere you want on the home screen. It’s nice if you want to ignore the message and not address it until later. You can also swipe to dismiss as well.
The HTC First is a very capable mid-range Android 4G LTE smartphone available at an affordable $100 on AT&T with a two-year contract. It’s a phone that puts Facebook at the center of the UI and it’s a nice way for people who need to stay on top of their social network.
We’re still looking to see how Facebook can evolve the Home UI further to accommodate other users, such as business users and pro-sumers to add value there.
The HTC First comes in a matte finish and will be available in a number of vibrant colors at launch on April 12.