The HTC First is a curious one. On one hand, it is the smartphone on which the brand new Facebook Home will debut. On the other, it is just another Android phone. There is perhaps no other phone in recent memory where the spotlight has been more on the software rather than the hardware components. Having said that, the specifications sheet of the HTC First isn’t really lacking in any aspect. There is a capable processor under the hood and the HD display is just about right. But let’s take a closer look at each of the parts that make up the whole of HTC First.

OS – Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Facebook Home
Clearly, Android’s Jelly Bean UI is buried deep underneath all the Facebook Home customisation. In this regard, the HTC First is no different from several non-Nexus phones. However, Home itself is a different take on Android skins. The changes start with the lockscreen which also displays notifications. You can check out each notification or gather them all and save them for later perusal. The app drawer is accessed by dragging your profile picture up. Dragging the picture to the right takes you to the last opened app, while on the left is the Messenger, which unifies SMSes and Facebook messages. The first screen within the app drawer will always be populated with your pinned apps, while your entire collection is a right-swipe away.

The homescreen for Facebook Home is actually called cover feed. Photos and posts that would normally show in your News Feed on Facebook will show on your cover feed. You can swipe back and forth through them to view them at your own pace. Double tapping a photo or status means you have ‘Liked’ it and you can even quickly comment. Chat heads are an essential part of the Home experience. Basically, they let you quickly read and reply to messages while you're using other apps. They appear on the top of any open app and you can tap on a head to reply. You can use your finger to move chat heads around your screen and drag them to the bottom of the screen to close them when you're done chatting. You'll also get your text message notifications through these chat heads.The app launcher also allows you to update your status, post a photo or check into a location. These are located on the top of the pinned apps list.

The lock screen on the HTC First

The lock screen on the HTC First

Cellular – 4G ready
As a phone launching on AT&T, the HTC First will be able to access the carrier’s LTE networks. Besides the 4G capability, we have HSPA+ readiness, along with the usual GPRS and EDGE connectivity.

Display – 4.3-inch 720p display
While a 720p display might seem so last year, bear in mind that the First is not a flagship by any stretch of the imagination. That place firmly belongs to the HTC One in the company’s portfolio. In any case, the 4.3-inch 1280 x 720 display on the First should be more than enough for the out-of-the-box software experience, which is akin to the immersive visual experience of Facebook’s new News Feed. From the first images of the phone, pictures look brilliant and crisp on the compact screen, while the high resolution should prove to be handy for browsing the web.

Form factor – No aluminium, lots of rubber
As HTC phones go, the First is more different than similar to the company’s other devices. There’s no aluminium in sight and the entire shell is covered in rubberised material. Overall, from the images, it looks like it would be comfortable to grip and the rounded edges ideally shouldn’t dig into your palms. As for the navigation buttons, HTC (or Facebook, perhaps) has gone with three capacitive touch buttons for back, home and menu. The home button does triple duty, with a double tap activating the Recent Apps screen and a long-press calling up Google Now. Overall, the handset is plain looking but in a fashionable way. The First will be available in red, black, white and light blue.

Cover Feed constantly cycles through the status updates and photos from your News Feed

Cover Feed constantly cycles through the status updates and photos from your News Feed

Wi-Fi – The whole package
HTC has thrown in everything you could have hoped for including dual-band capability. The First supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n bands. Multimedia content can be sent to your TV or HTPC thanks to the DLNA support and Wi-Fi Direct can be used to share files with other phones on the same WLAN connection. It also has Android’s standard Wi-Fi hotspot capability to share the phone’s Internet connection with other devices.

SoC – Qualcomm MSM8930AA Snapdragon 400
We haven’t seen this particular SoC in many devices, but a dual-core 1.4GHz CPU should help in delivering smooth performance. Couple that with Project Butter of Jelly Bean and you have an able smartphone. Then there’s an Adreno 305 GPU and 1GB of RAM. Expect the HTC First to blaze through most everyday tasks.

You can 'Like' any photo or status by double tapping on it

You can 'Like' any photo or status by double tapping on it

Internal storage – 16GB
The internal storage in the HTC First is capped off at 16GB. There is no microSD card slot, so what you get out of the box is final. This could be a sore point for many fans, who normally bemoan the lack of a microSD slot.

Cameras – 5-megapixel rear camera with LED flash and 1.6-megapixel front-facing
Sorry, Ultrapixel fans, you won’t be getting the larger sensor from the HTC One. Instead, there is a 5-megapixel unit on the back. It comes with 4x digital zoom, 1080p full HD video recording, while the device supports 720p HD playback natively. On the front is a 1.6-megapixel camera, which should be good enough for video calls and for updating your profile pictures with self-shots.

GPS
Nothing out of the ordinary here, but the lack of GLONASS is surprising as it would improve times for location lock and subsequently for Facebook Check-in.

NFC
The HTC First has an NFC chip and should play nicely with speakers that have this technology. However, the NFC chip might be missing on some international variants.

Battery – Non-removable 2000 mAh battery
Given the specs of the phone, this battery capacity should be good enough to last the entire day. Of course, we are yet to see how HTC has gone about the power optimisation in the phone, so it could be that the current capacity is not enough. Plus there is the fact that the First will work best with constant data connection to sync with Facebook. So it could adversely affect the battery life. In typical HTC fashion, the battery is non-removable, so forget about carrying an extra one with you.

Here's a closer look at the HTC First:[@galleryid:311213]

The bottom line
Facebook Home does bring a totally new experience to Android. But the question of course is do you need it? If you are a Facebook junkie, then the answer is staring you in your face. The HTC First will allow you to use Facebook unlike any other smartphone. However, Home is also coming to other devices in the near future, so buying a brand new HTC First might not be a good proposition if you already have a top-end Samsung or HTC phone. However, for those looking to switch to a new phone or coming from iOS or WP8, the HTC First is a good option. For the subsidised price of $99 (approx Rs 5,500) for a two-year contract, it’s also affordable. If the phone launches in India – and we would be highly surprised if it didn’t in as large a Facebook user base as ours – expect it to be priced around the Rs 20,000 mark. The software is exciting, and there's much to like about Home’s neat clutter-free UI design. However, if you are not that into Facebook, then you best give the HTC First a miss.

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