The First is an intriguing new phone from HTC, sporting a 4.3-inch 720p screen, 4G connectivity and a dual-core Qualcomm processor. Rather average specs there, but it's not the hardware that makes the First interesting.
It'll be loaded as standard with Facebook Home, Facebook's new Android software. Rather than act as a normal app, Home is a launcher for Android, replacing your usual homescreens and backgrounds with a skin showing your Facebook friends' updates.
The software is certainly an interesting move by Facebook, but it can also be downloaded on a selection of other Android phones (note: some of the photos below show it on a Samsung Galaxy S3). The First, then, will need to stand up on its own as a handset, with or without Facebook Home.
It's due to launch on 12 April in the US only, with a UK launch to follow in the coming months. EE will be exclusively offering the First on its 4G network "this summer", although it wasn't able to give a more precise date. We'll update this article when we find out more.
It also hasn't mentioned how much it's planning to charge for the phone. My hopes aren't high for a budget blower though, as EE charges a hefty whack for its 4G service. HTC's own One SV is a mid-range 'droid which earned only 2 stars in our review due to EE's pricey tariffs.
By the summer though, other 4G networks might have launched, hopefully forcing down EE's prices, so we'll have to wait and see what the final price tag will be.
Rumours have been circulating for a while now that Facebook would unveil its own operating system for a phone and although that's not exactly what it's done, you'd be forgiven for thinking it has. Home, as it's known, runs on Android, but replaces the home screens and other software put on by the manufacturer.
Turn the phone on and you're met with pages to scroll through. Each of these will show an image of a Facebook friend -- or a snap they've uploaded -- together with status updates and so on. It effectively puts the content you'd normally see on your Facebook news feed on to your homescreen for immediate access. If you look at your phone every 10 minutes to see what's new with your friends, this makes it much easier to that -- it's definitely a phone for Facebook addicts.
New items load in the background while your phone's off, meaning there's always new stuff to look at -- but that also means it's constantly chewing through your data.
Images are displayed cropped to full-screen, but press and hold and you can view the whole picture. At the bottom you'll see the comment box, letting you share your thoughts on the post directly from the homescreen, rather than opening an app. Double-tapping, meanwhile, lets you like the post.
You'll see your Facebook profile image at the bottom of the screen the whole time. Pressing and swiping in a direction will let you access system settings or your list of apps. As it's still fundamentally Android software you'll still be able to install and run any of the hundreds of thousands of apps from the Google Play store you normally would.
When your friends sends you a text or Facebook chat message, you'll see their face pop up in a little balloon, hilariously called a 'Chat Head'. Daft name aside, it alerts you to the message when you're in an app and will remain floating there, wherever you then journey in your phone. To open the message, simply tap on the floating head. It'll open in a window above the app you're currently in, so you don't have to jump in and out of different apps.
In theory, it allows you to deal with the message only when you're ready, but not forget that a message has arrived. I can't help but feel, however, that it could quickly become annoying -- an icon in a status bar still seems the most unobtrusive solution. I'll see exactly how Chat Heads works when I go for an in-depth hands-on with Home, but again, it seems designed for people who use Facebook Chat more than any other app.
You'll get the floating head notification if you receive a message over SMS or through Facebook. Sadly, it doesn't do the same if you use services like What's App or Google Chat. It also doesn't give you indications when you receive a mention on Twitter or any other social service. It's possible Facebook could allow developers to build in this functionality, but it wasn't willing to comment on whether it's being considered.
Design and features
The First is perhaps the most uninspiring phone ever to come out of HTC's design team. The back is a plain expanse of grey plastic, broken only by the camera lens in the top corner. There's none of the two-tone effect you'd find on some of its older mobiles and there's no red Beats Audio logo on this model.
It's constructed from plastic, rather than the sturdy, luxurious metal of HTC's flagship One. I'll leave judgement on exactly how it feels in comparison to the One for the full review. It'll come in four colours -- grey, white, pale blue and red -- but whether all these colours make it to the UK hasn't been announced.
The front is mostly taken up the 4.3-inch display, which has a respectable 720p resolution. At the bottom are the three standard Android navigation touch-sensitive buttons for settings, home and back. It'll come with 16GB of storage and there's no option to expand it with a microSD card, so be careful what you download.
Around the back is a 5-megapixel camera. I wasn't able to see any examples from the camera, so can't comment at this stage as to how good it is. It's not the same 'Ultrapixel' camera as you'd find in the One, and with a much lower pixel count than its stablemates, I'm not expecting much. Hopefully it'll at least be adequate for Facebook posts.
The phone is 4G-enabled and will be launching exclusively with EE and its 4G network here in the UK. If you're not on EE yet, but fancy the First, you might want to consider switching over. There's no word on whether other networks will be getting in on the action, so it could be an EE exclusive for a while.
In hardware terms, the First doesn't have much to offer over the competition, so I'm hoping it's going to come with an affordable price. The software is where the excitement lies though, and there's much to like about Facebook's Android skin, as long as you're a heavy user of the social network. It looks neat and it seems a handy way of always being up to date on your friends' antics.
It's too early to tell though whether the interface will work as smoothly as Facebook promises. One thing's for sure -- if you're not that into Facebook, you won't like this phone.