Launched in the midst of much higher-profile devices, one of the best mid-range smartphones – one that stands for much more than just another mid-range phone – has suffered from a terrible case of bad timing.
After spending 11 days with the phone, our full review of the HTC First went live one week ago today. When we first caught wind of the First, there really wasn’t a lot to get excited about. It was, in a sense, the elusive Facebook phone; its specifications were mediocre; its build and design were plain and simple; and it came pre-loaded with Facebook Home.
There was nothing about the First that I, personally, cared to see or experience. In fact, the single most exciting thing about its existence – we thought, at the time – was the fact that it would finally put an end to the endless rumors of various phones made by Facebook or by a partnering manufacturer.
However, after just a few days of using the First as my personal daily driver, I grew a soft spot in my heart for the device. It was more than just another mid-tier phone destined for failure, and certainly much more than the Facebook phone we never really wanted in the first place.
Underneath all that Facebook muck was one of the best was one of the best decisions HTC has made since the Nexus One: stock Android. A total of five quick button presses, or about three seconds, is all it takes to completely incapacitate Facebook Home, and you have yourself a completely stock Android experience. Next to no bloatware, minimal carrier or manufacturer influence and the buttery smoothness of pure, unadulterated Jelly Bean.
And, for some, this would offset the need for off-the-chart specs. The First comes with a comparatively underpowered chipset, the 1.4GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 chip. But in our comparisons and in the review testing, we found it holds up quite well. In fact, it was neck and neck with the Nexus 4, powered by Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro. The First, in our comparison, was only ever a split-second behind the Nexus 4 in everything we put them through.
The hardware is quaint and simple, but the device feels fantastic in the hand. The 720p 4.3-inch S-LCD display is easily the best looking display under 4.7-inches. And the LTE speeds were some of the fastest we’ve ever experienced in testing, averaging well above 35Mbps and often reaching speeds upwards of 50Mbps down and 18Mbps up.
Point being, although the specifications are not top-tier, the HTC First is actually a nice little device, a device that we fear will ultimately be overlooked and fall short of its true potential.
Why? There are a multitude of reasons – it’s a perfect storm of unfortunate events and timing.
For example, HTC, AT&T and Facebook decided the best time to announce and launch this device was at the very apex of the hype surrounding the two most popular and highly anticipated Android smartphones of 2013: the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4.
Then there’s the marketing. There may be over one billion monthly active users on Facebook, 680 million of which are mobile users. But to many, Facebook Home comes off as potentially overbearing. I can’t imagine many outside the target demographic care for a more in-depth Facebook experience for mobile. That’s only half the story, though. The First is the first (and only … for now) smartphone to come with Facebook Home pre-installed. And it’s marketed as such. The HTC First and Facebook Home are synonymous. In marketing, one does not exist without the other.
In actual usage, this is a totally different story.
In fact, I wrote a piece last week explaining that I would actually recommend the Galaxy S III or another higher-end smartphone that is supported by Facebook Home to someone looking for a better Facebook Home experience. The true defining feature of the First is the fact that it comes with stock Android underneath.
The First is perfect for those seeking a mostly stock experience, a smaller device with decent specifications and an all-around balanced device with decent performance on all fronts. It’s affordable and a great device.
But, truthfully, the only people stock Android will appeal to are likely the ones who also want all of the best specifications. Why would anyone wanting a stock experience not also buy the HTC One, Galaxy S 4 or even the Galaxy S III and flash a stock Android ROM (once available) to their phone?
The only legitimate answer to that question is the price. At $99.99 with a two-year agreement, the HTC First is $100 cheaper on contract than the HTC One and Galaxy S 4. But for most specmongers, price is a less important factor.
Point being, the HTC First is, unfortunately, undervalued, undermined, underestimated and will ultimately come up far short of its true potential. It will hardly be a blip on the map in comparison to the HTC One, much less the Galaxy S 4.
Although I said I would carry the First, like many of you, I’ve fallen for the One or some other high-end phone. But there may be some out there who are true to their roots and have taken the plunge. Tell me, ladies and gents. Have any of you picked up the HTC First to be your personal daily driver? Or was Facebook Home enough to immediately turn you away?