Although neither HTC, AT&T or Facebook consider the HTC First to be the Facebook phone in any official capacity, that’s exactly what it is to the rest of the world. It’s phone that HTC and Facebook worked on for “a really long time”, the phone that was talked about in dozens of rumors over the course of two years, the phone that comes pre-loaded with Facebook Home. The Facebook phone.

But is it really a Facebook phone? Does it really only appeal to those seeking a greater Facebook experience?

According to the marketing, we have no reason to think otherwise. Every advert, every mention of the First plugs Facebook like it’s going out of style, and rightly so. The HTC First wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Facebook Home, at least not in the same context.

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Although not officially the so-called Facebook phone, the marketing suggests otherwise.

In fact, if the HTC First were to exist and the whole Facebook Home idea never happened, I’d bet money that it would come with Sense 4.5, that it would be mostly ignored and undermined (more so than it already is) and its full potential would never be realized – just like every other mid-range phone ever. I’m not even sure we would have appreciated the Snapdragon 400 chip inside and the story it tells for the future of mid-range smartphones, because the First is part of a larger story.

When I got the email that I’d be reviewing the HTC First, I let out an innate groan. I never turn down work, especially not a review. They’re fun. Strangely enough, I really enjoy reviewing devices that aren’t so … fun and exciting for two reasons: they force you to think subjectively, to approach the device from another user’s perspective, and they allow me to flex and exercise my criticism muscles.

I just never get excited until the doorbell rings and I get the device in my hands. It can be likened to a puzzle of sorts that you ultimately have to solve in a 3,000-word (or longer) review.

(There is an exception to this, mind you. I hated every minute of reviewing the Motorola Flipout and a few other devices.)

When I was watching the Facebook press event on April 4, I actually liked the look of the First. The specifications didn’t seem too bad, aside from the camera. And the only thing that truly turned me off was the idea of Facebook being the core experience of the device, the main UI and UX.
I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of Facebook. I’m on there daily, but mainly just to skim and keep in touch with my offline friends and family members. (I mentioned on a few of our live shows that I have a sister in Alaska who just has a new child. If it weren’t for Facebook, it would have been days before I got the news or saw pictures of my new niece.) The majority of my social interaction is on Twitter and, more recently, Google+.

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As intended, Facebook Home looks great. But for anyone who doesn’t care for Facebook, it’s not all that interesting or useful.

Facebook, outside of a close circle of friends and the few family members that actually use it, Facebook is the place for all of the people I’ve met throughout my life that I don’t ever really talk to – many that I never really care to talk to ever again. Nothing against them, but we just don’t have a lot in common, and most of them don’t have anything interesting to share or say.

And that is what I imagine Facebook to be for many of us who spend the majority of our lives online talking about nerdy and techie things, who have a different view and use case for the Internet.

Facebook has over one billion monthly active users, however, and I totally understand that Facebook Home and the HTC First (or any subsequent Facebook Home device) has a target demographic.

In my full review, I attempted to approach the HTC First from multiple perspectives: from the viewpoint of an avid Facebook user looking for a better mobile Facebook experience, from the perspective of a non-techie who is looking for a mid-range phone but doesn’t necessarily care for Facebook and from my own perspective, a nerd at heart who doesn’t like Facebook and swoons over stock Android.

I have spent nearly two weeks using the HTC First as my primary device. And despite my initial grumbles, I have actually taken a serious liking to the phone. On top of that, I found that, unlike many mid-tier devices, it appeals to a seriously wide array of consumers.

But the strangest thing is that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the First to everyone looking for a cheap smartphone and a better Facebook experience. For some – especially those with larger hands, prone to taking a lot of pictures or storing a lot of multimedia – I would likely recommend the Galaxy S III. Facebook Home has support for the Galaxy S III and AT&T, the only carrier offering the First, offers the Galaxy S III for $100 with a two-year agreement, the same price as the First on-contract.

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With Facebook Home disabled, the HTC First offers a buttery smooth stock Android experience.

And for anyone looking for a stock Android experience, it would be a toss-up between the Nexus 4 and the First. In our comparison between the two, they’re actually quite evenly matched. Sure, the Nexus 4 has slightly better specs and is cheaper off-contract. But the First has LTE and a much better display, albeit smaller. The only true advantages of getting the Nexus 4 are the advantages synonymous with the Nexus brand, rapid updates straight from Google and massive third-party development support.

I’ve even considered picking up the HTC First for myself. Seriously, if an HTC One weren’t on its way to me right this minute, the HTC First would be at the top of my list of phones to carry. In fact, it still may be. The only true complaints I had with the First were the microUSB port placement, the size (it’s a tad small for my stubby fingers) and the limited storage. For me, the better display and LTE trump the shortcomings of the Nexus 4.

Through disabling Facebook Home, the HTC First becomes an all-stock Android phone with decent specifications and an overall experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, for most, I would say the First is better without Facebook, that stock 4.1.2 is the best feature of the First and there are better smartphones compatible with and more suitable for Facebook Home.

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