Tags ‘Facebook Phone’

The Facebook Phone Consensus From 7 Reviews: An Impressive First Try For $99

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 9.14.54 PM

Why trust one reviewer to tell you what phone to buy? Better to get a consensus, and across reviews by seven leading publications the verdict is that the HTC First features a stylish yet casual design, efficient messaging, reliable battery, and an addictive feed-reading experience. But its “apperating system” is confusing, the camera fails in low light, it sacrifices widgets, and has privacy issues.

(Hint: the answer to my initial question is “So you don’t have to read two hours of HTC First reviews like I just did.”) But after writing my own long review and poring over New York Times prose, Ars Technica stats, The Verge’s details, and our own MG Siegler’s colorful take, I can tell you Facebook faired surprisingly well despite its inexperience in the handset world.

The HTC First is not going to change Facebook-haters’ minds, but it will magnify the love of fanboys and draw casual users deeper into the social network. The phone  piggybacks on Android, turning bland parts visual while leaving an unadulterated OS for those who want to leave Home. If Facebook’s hope was to boost engagement and get an education in mobile operating systems, Home and the HTC First lay a strong foundation.

But don’t take my word on whether to pre-order. Here are the highlights from some of the best gadget reviewers and tech pundits in the business. Be sure to click through to their articles to get their full opinions.

Ars Technica’s Florence Ion:

The First is a very stylish, well-built phone, once again proving that HTC has a penchant for design.

The Chat Heads feature can best be described as the roommate who quietly knocks on the door and then cracks it open to see if you’re busy. Chat Heads try hard not to distract you so that you can continue to multitask, but they want to subtly alert you that someone has sent you a message.

I can see the placement of the micro-USB port becoming a bit of an issue in situations where the phone is charging and it needs to be laid horizontally or placed in a car holster for navigation. It’s also awkward trying to type with both hands when the phone is plugged in.

The screen size wasn’t much of an issue except when reading e-books and text-heavy webpages. Fortunately, there is an option in the Settings menu to make the font bigger, which actually helped significantly.

In performance tests, the First had results similar to the Samsung Galaxy S III. It appears that Home doesn’t use up that much battery life either, despite its ingrained status within the Android operating system. Overall, the handset was fast and speedy. It didn’t feel like a mid-range handset.

The Verge’s Dieter Bohn:

Because of its small size, the First is a pleasure to hold. It nestles comfortably in one hand in a way that few popular Android phones do these days.

Text is perfectly readable at nearly 90 degrees.

The screen is very difficult to see in bright sunlight. The First’s camera feels like a throwback to an earlier age when smartphones were nigh-useless in the dark.

Video on the First is equally forgettable, amplifying hand-shake and displaying the jelly movement effect so common on low-end cameras.

The HTC First is running stock Android 4.1.2, almost completely unpolluted with apps from AT&T or HTC.

If you’re a Facebook devotee, or just want a cheap phone that runs well, by all means check out the First (but test the camera before you leave the store). If you absolutely want a smaller-sized Android phone with LTE, the First is probably the best option out there right now.

Overall score of 7.9 out of 10

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg:

I found Facebook Home to be easy to use, elegantly designed and addictive. Although I’m a regular Facebook user, I found that, with Home, I paid more attention than ever to my news feed,

The idea is that during spare moments—say, while waiting in a line—you’ll get immediately hooked by Facebook.

Facebook Home blocks the one-step camera icon some Android phone makers place on their lock screen to allow you to take pictures without first unlocking the phone.

With Home, Facebook is essentially staging a land grab of Android. Because it’s so dominant, it makes it less likely that a user with limited time will launch Google products that compete with Facebook, such as Google’s own social network, Google+, or rival services from other companies, such as Twitter.

Engadget’s Brad Molen:

Since the First was built to impress the Facebook-savvy, we shouldn’t be surprised that this is one of the most playful-looking handsets HTC has ever made.

We also need to point out the lack of an LED notification light, which seems like a huge oversight given Facebook Home’s heavy emphasis on alerts and other notifications.

Unfortunately, there’s no option to add widgets or folders.

By far, our greatest concern with Home is the impact that it could potentially have on data usage, since it dynamically updates Facebook’s news feed in the background. Fortunately, Facebook includes a three-tier data usage and image quality setting (high, medium and low). The toggle becomes handy for smaller data plans or if you’re getting close to your limit, but oddly a WiFi-only option isn’t available. In our testing, we consumed 93MB in four days on the medium setting; at that pace, Home would snatch up 698MB in a month. Think about it this way: if you have a 2GB plan, Facebook Home would take up more than one-quarter of your data allotment, on the medium plan alone. Now imagine how much the high-usage scenario destroys the average consumer’s data plans. Use Home responsibly, folks.

Widget lovers will quickly become frustrated by their inability to access their favorite ones without jumping into the stock launcher each time

Fortunately, the 2,000 mAh Lithium-polymer cell was enough to keep us going for 14 hours of solid use, with Home running on medium usage the entire time.

All of our cellular connections have been consistently good and the volume was more than sufficient.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, and surprisingly polished for a 1.0 product.

In its current state, Home isn’t the best fit for productivity-minded people, although it does offer a bit of mindless entertainment for anyone just looking to burn a minute or two throughout the day

To put it bluntly, Home won’t convert non-Facebookers into believers, and it won’t encourage people to sign up for the service; it will be a failure in that sense. It may, however, turn casual users into more habitual Likers, commenters and posters, and we have a feeling this is exactly the kind of success Facebook is hoping to reap.

GigaOm’s Om Malik:

Facebook has made Android faster by removing a lot of crud that typically ships with Android on carrier-branded phones.

For a service that is supposed to bring us updates in real time, this isn’t close enough. You can actually feel the slow speed (and infrequency of updates) of the feed when you compare it with the desktop feed which moves at a faster pace.

The phone has a soft-touch rubber design which is easy to grip and it is something I appreciate because my phone keeps dropping from my hand.

Bottom line: I am unlikely to use this device. But if you are a Facebook addict, are on a budget and have solid AT&T coverage in your area, this might be a good one for you.

The New York Times’ David Pogue:

On the app launcher: If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. In removing the app-launching function from the Home screen, Facebook has wound up having to reinvent the way you open programs on your phone, and the result feels like a hack.

Chat Heads are fun and effective, but Facebook’s engineers appear to have overlooked one small detail: Chat Heads are useful only when you receive a message. How are you supposed to initiate a conversation? For that, you have to duck into your app-launcher screen and fire up the Facebook or Facebook Messaging app.

What does Home add, really? Yes, the ability to see incoming posts on your Home screen; you save one tap. But is it worth losing widgets, wallpaper, app folders and the Android status bar in the process?

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler:

It’s really good. I like the HTC First with Facebook Home (the official name, I think) more than the Nexus 4, but less than the iPhone 5.

[On Cover Feed] It’s surprisingly addictive…because you can swipe to scroll through these images/statuses all without unlocking the phone.

I think Facebook has really nailed the interaction element on the home screen. I actually wish I could use Instagram and other visual feeds this way as well

On top of that are the beautiful, elegant notifications that Facebook has created. Simply put: I like them more than both Android and iOS notifications. They feature big, clear app icons (or a person’s face if it’s a Facebook notification) and a snippet of the message you’re receiving.

I’ll be curious to see Facebook Home running on other hardware like the Galaxy SIV, but I think the fact that you won’t be able to get third-party notifications would be a deal-breaker for me.

[On password entry]: This is where things start to get a little weird…sometimes you’ll be asked to enter your password from the app list, sometimes before it.

Even weirder is that you can actually do a few types of Facebook actions — both liking and commenting — without entering any password. In fact, there’s no way to password protect these actions, as far as I can tell. Someone could definitely take your phone and leave comments galore on your friends pictures, no questions asked.

Chat Heads. Awful name not withstanding, this is absolutely how messaging should be done on a smartphone. Rather than making you open a separate app to get and respond to messages, Chat Heads put a user’s face…on top of whatever you’re doing on your phone.

[On design flourishes] These touches, while seemingly trivial, give me the same type of feeling I get when using iOS. You can tell that a lot of time and care has been put into the user experience here and it shows, in spades.

Still, it’s hard to believe this is only Facebook’s first take at Home. This is a very polished and impressive first entry into the space.


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Josh Constine

April 10th

Gadgets

Facebook Phone Review: “HTC First” Decorates Home With Extra Alerts But A Shabby Camera

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After years of rumors, the Facebook Phone aka the HTC First finally launches April 12th for $99 on AT&T. It’s light and supple, plus comes with a suped-up version of Facebook Home pre-installed that pipes in non-Facebook notifications, but the 5MP Camera is a let down. If you’re highly social, want a mid-range handset, crave email alerts, and aren’t a photo buff, the First could be a great fit.

Considering this is Facebook’s first time really getting its hands dirty with a handset, I was very impressed with the First. Its comfy feel and soft edges make it a joy to hold. The 720p, 341 PPI screen is sharp, though not blazingly bright.

Facebook’s launcher replacement runs great on the First’s modified version of Android Jelly Bean 4.1, which is responsive and fun to play with. Home’s Facebook Chat/SMS multi-tasking is a game-changing efficiency booster, and the detailed screen makes laying back and watching Cover Feed photos stream by very relaxing. Unlike the downloadable version of Home that becomes available for five other handsets on Friday, the optimizations made to Android let the First display notifications from any app on your Home/lock screen, rather than just those from Facebook.

But in getting the price down to $99 on contract, Facebook and HTC sacrificed camera quality. Its 5MP can’t compete with the 8MP of the cameras on the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S III which crowd its price range. Home also buries access to camera beneath an extra tap, which might make you miss some spontaneous candids. You can disable Home completely, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

That’s my short take. Now let’s look a bit closer.

Video Review: Hands-On With Everything

Hardware To House Your Friends

When I first got my hands on the HTC First during the demo session blitz after the launch event last week, I was so fixated on the Home software that the handset’s hardware kind of faded into the background. It wasn’t until I got my review unit that I realized that was the point. The First is designed to get out the way so you can focus on the people instead. It accomplishes that by feeling downright friendly in your palm.

The glass screen seems to curve down at the thin bezeled edges into the surrounding plastic case and its matte finish. There’s not a sharp edge to be found, nor any cold glass or aluminum. Rather than a triumph of industrial chic, the First feels cozy — dare I say sensual. It’s thin, and the plastic helps keeps the weight down despite the 4.3 inch screen. Between the rounded edges and sleek figure, it’s a breeze to slide into your pocket.

Specs Aren’t Its Specialty

The First’s specs place it firmly in the mid-range handset market. That’s why HTC didn’t trumpet them too loudly at the launch event. But other than its camera, it holds its own in its class alongside the 4S and S III.

The LTE connection is very speedy, the screen is colorful and clear, and NFC is a nice bonus. The battery life is decent, but goes quick if you’ve got the brightness turned up to take advantage of Cover Feed. The last 15% of the battery seemed to drain infuriatingly quickly, which can be rough when you’ve been rationing and expect that much juice to get you to the end of the day. Thankfully the micro USB charger fills up relatively fast, though the phone won’t automatically turn back on once it’s banked sufficient electrons.

Here’s the First stacked up against the 4S and S III:

A Nicer Home

Facebook went out of its way to declare that Home doesn’t require a forked version of Android, and that it didn’t build some “Facebook OS” — except it did. Mark Zuckerberg noted that the First’s operating system was optimized for Home. Later, HTC confirmed to me it worked with Facebook to alter some of the Jelly Bean frameworks. This gives the HTC First’s version of Home a big improvement over the standard downloadable homescreen replacement app that also launches April 12th.

The First’s homescreen and lock screen can display big notification tiles for anything that appears in the Android notifications tray. This includes Facebook alerts about tags and likes, but also incoming emails, calendar appointments, Twitter replies, and more. The downloadable version of Home only shows Facebook notifications. Surfacing a wider set of alerts could attract more business-minded consumers, in contrast to the general opinion that the HTC First and Home are for teenagers.

As for the standard Home features, they work great, but are merely a reason to own some phone that can download it, which doesn’t have to be the First. Cover Feed fills your home and lock screens with a full-screen, one-story-at-a-time stream of the best updates from your news feed. It only works in portrait mode, which is a bit odd considering so many photos these days are shot in landscape. A Ken Burns-style slow pan effect makes sure you see most of an image in the 5 seconds before a new one slides in. If a friend shares a pure text update or link, you’ll see their cover photo behind words. The big images and large fonts on the sharp screen make Cover Feed a great laid-back experience, perfect for laying in bed. It makes the standard Facebook app’s news feed look sterile and stagnant by comparison.

My favorite feature of Home on the First was Chat Heads, the chat multi-tasking system. Incoming Facebook Messages and SMS appear as little bubbles of friends’ faces that persistently float over the top of whatever app you’re using as you navigate around the phone. Tap one and your message thread drops down in an overlay on top of your current screen, allowing you to look at something like a Map or Yelp, and then quickly open a conversation and relay information you just learned, bouncing back and forth without having to open and close the apps like with standard “multi-tasking” on iOS and Android.

Buried In The Basement

To leave Home, you tap and hold your profile picture at the bottom of cover feed and drag it in one of three directions. Left for Facebook Messenger, right for the last app you used, and up to open your app favorites screen. You can customize this with whatever apps you want quicker access to, or swipe right to reveal your full list of apps.

You can turn off Home with a few taps of of the Home settings menu to get a more standard Android experience. If you don’t though, there are a few things you give up. Rather than being able to access Google Now and search from the home or lock screen, you have to open the app drawer and slide right to get access to the search box. You can luckily hold down the Home button on the First to instantly conjure these though.

What’s more problematic is that the standard Camera app is totally buried in the app drawer so you can’t access it for spontaneous candid shots. When you do get it open, the 5MP camera takes soft, almost blurry images, and is even worse in low light. This is the worst part of the HTC First.

For Facebook F(r)iends, Not Photo Afficionados

Facebook’s goal is to wrestle more control of the mobile ecosystem away from Apple and Google, and the HTC First could be a smart initial move. The device isn’t perfect, and considering Facebook’s recent focus on photos, the lackluster camera seems incongruent. But Facebook’s probably wasn’t expecting to hit a home run on its first swing. It has a lot to learn, and by working closely with HTC it likely gained a ton of insight on what to do next.

It could be a long time, if ever, before Facebook has the skills to make a premier smartphone to challenge the latest Apple and Samsung models. But the mid-tier market is large and that’s Facebook’s game — scale. It wants to connect everyone, not just those with hundreds and hundreds of dollars to throw down on a handset.

The HTC First is aptly named. It’s just the first “Facebook Phone”. Facebook has devised the Home Program where it will offer other handset manufacturers guidance on how to fiddle with the versions of Android they run to optimize Home. It might take six months, but I expect some OEMs will bite. If you’re deadset on getting a Facebook Phone, this probably won’t be your only option.

In the end, if you want the latest mobile technology, the First lags behind. Still, it’s a great device beyond the camera. So if the HTC First’s strengths align with your priorities, go ahead and pre-order.


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Josh Constine

April 10th

Gadgets

Mobile

Facebook Home Android APK Leaks Ahead Of Official Release This Friday

facebook-home

Android users will get the chance to try out the official public release of Facebook Home later this week, but if anyone is really impatient a beta version has leaked and is available to try now (via Verge). MoDaCo has published the beta (which is actually made up of three separate APKs covering the Facebook app itself, a new Messenger app and the Home/launcher app.

Another benefit of the pre-release version of Home, besides getting to try it out early, is that it works on a wide variety of devices beyond the five specified by Facebook as being compatible in the event it held last week to officially announce Facebook Home. The only requirement seems to be that the device has a maximum resolution of 1280×768, and that a user is able to completely uninstall their existing Facebook app. The Nexus 4 is therefore a viable candidate.

Functionality is somewhat limited, however. Chat heads doesn’t work as of yet, for instance. But Cover feed appears to function as intended, and all the settings appear to be there. The settings reveal that in choosing where your Home content comes from, you can both enable and disable updates from Pages and status updates from users in your network. You can also enable or disable the notification/status bar at the top of the screen for a more edge-to-edge Facebook experience.

The leak shows that there doesn’t really appear to be any huge technical barrier to putting Facebook Home on a wide variety of handsets, which is good news for users who don’t own one of the five devices initially set to receive it. If you’re interested, you can head over to MoDaCo to download the APKs and try this our yourself, but as with any side-loaded software, remember you do so at your own risk. Friday might just be a little too far off for some curious folks, however.


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Darrell Etherington

April 8th

Gadgets

Mobile

Facebook Home Android APK Leaks Ahead Of Official Release This Friday

facebook-home

UPDATE: The leaked Facebook Home APK described below no longer works, as FB has cut off service since it isn’t fully complete. Luckily, you only have to wait another few days to get your hands on the official release.

Android users will get the chance to try out the official public release of Facebook Home later this week, but if anyone is really impatient a beta version has leaked and is available to try now (via Verge). MoDaCo has published the beta (which is actually made up of three separate APKs covering the Facebook app itself, a new Messenger app and the Home/launcher app.

Another benefit of the pre-release version of Home, besides getting to try it out early, is that it works on a wide variety of devices beyond the five specified by Facebook as being compatible in the event it held last week to officially announce Facebook Home. The only requirement seems to be that the device has a maximum resolution of 1280×768, and that a user is able to completely uninstall their existing Facebook app. The Nexus 4 is therefore a viable candidate.

Functionality is somewhat limited, however. Chat heads doesn’t work as of yet, for instance. But Cover feed appears to function as intended, and all the settings appear to be there. The settings reveal that in choosing where your Home content comes from, you can both enable and disable updates from Pages and status updates from users in your network. You can also enable or disable the notification/status bar at the top of the screen for a more edge-to-edge Facebook experience.

The leak shows that there doesn’t really appear to be any huge technical barrier to putting Facebook Home on a wide variety of handsets, which is good news for users who don’t own one of the five devices initially set to receive it. If you’re interested, you can head over to MoDaCo to download the APKs and try this our yourself, but as with any side-loaded software, remember you do so at your own risk. Friday might just be a little too far off for some curious folks, however.

To install the Facebook Home beta, first make sure you’ve uninstalled both Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Then navigate to your device’s security settings and then tick the box that allows you to install apps from unknown sources. Then download the APK files above to your computer. Plug in your Android device and make sure that it has USB mode enable, or download Android File Transfer if you’re on a Mac. Drag and drop the three APK files to your device, preferably in the “Downloads” folder.

On your Android device, if you don’t already have one, download and install a free file manager application from Google Play. The free and aptly named “File Manager” does the job. Within that app, navigate to where you copied the Facebook Home APK files from your computer, and tap on each to install them.

Once they’re installed, sign in to Facebook with your credentials, and then activate Facebook Home. It’ll take a few seconds to load, but should quickly go from a gray screen to photos from your FB feed and a home circle with your face at the bottom. You can choose to have pressing the home button on your device activate FB Home by default, or your default launcher, and you can change these settings at any time in Android Settings.


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Darrell Etherington

April 8th

Gadgets

Mobile

5 Best Facebook Home Alternatives for Android

Facebook Home, the social network's new user interface for Android, won't be available for download until April 12th. Even when it hits the Google Play Store, Home will only run on 7 phones, one of which is the newly-released HTC First that has it preloaded. Fortunately, you can get a more immersive Facebook experience on your Android phone today with these apps. More »


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Avram Piltch- Laptop Mag

April 5th

Uncategorized

5 Best Facebook Home Alternatives for Android

Facebook Home, the social network's new user interface for Android, won't be available for download until April 12th. Even when it hits the Google Play Store, Home will only run on 7 phones, one of which is the newly-released HTC First that has it preloaded. Fortunately, you can get a more immersive Facebook experience on your Android phone today with these apps. More »


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Avram Piltch- Laptop Mag

April 5th

Uncategorized

This Week On The TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast: Facebook Phone AKA The FF

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This week on the TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast we talk about bold moves by Verizon and T-Mobile and the Facebook Fone and Facebook Home.

This week we welcome Darrell “Patents” Etherington to our soundstage and I’ve removed quite a bit of the messy static.

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3pm Eastern and noon Pacific.

Click here to download an MP3 of this show.
You can subscribe to the show via RSS.
Subscribe in iTunes

Intro Music by Rick Barr.


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John Biggs

April 5th

Gadgets

Why Your Shitty Android Phone Won’t Get Facebook Home

So Facebook Home is coming to Android phones. But just the good Android phones. The HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, Note II, and the new HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, and HTC First for now. That's it, that's the list. If your phone is more than a year old, no Facebook Home for you. And that's how it has to be, really. More »


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Kyle Wagner

April 4th

Uncategorized

What Are Facebook Chat Heads?

One of the centerpieces of Facebook's new interface are "chat heads," Facebook's vision for the way that we should do messaging. Sounds fun! But what are they, exactly? And will they really change how we communicate? More »


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Mario Aguilar

April 4th

Uncategorized

HTC First: Pure Facebook Phone (Update: Hands On)

The HTC First is a new smartphone that's deeply integrated with Facebook Home. The AT&T phone runs on a modified version of Jelly Bean and it's the only phone to come pre-loaded with Facebook Home. More »


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Leslie Horn and Andrew Tarantola

April 4th

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