Just a few taps in the settings turns the First into an entirely new device
When we reviewed the HTC First, we found the hardware and performance to be decidedly top-notch considering its pricing and placement in AT&T's lineup. For $100 on-contract -- or $449 off -- you could have a phone with a great screen, acceptable specs and a form factor that fits in your hand without contortion. Discussion of the HTC First then took a turn towards intrigue when it was discovered that you could quickly and permanently turn off the Facebook Home software. It continued when we then saw that sitting underneath Home was something that genuinely looked like stock Android 4.1.
Just like any other Android launcher, there are no strings attached here -- turning off Facebook Home disables it until you choose to turn it back on. A small, well-built device that can simply be changed over to run a more vanilla Android experience is something that many have been looking for as average screen sizes have ballooned in the last couple of years. So what's it like to use the HTC First with Facebook Home permanently turned off? Well, it's actually a generally great experience. Stick around after the break and see some of the details.
The best way to describe what is lurking underneath Facebook Home on the First is a "vanilla Android experience". We're not going to say that it's "stock Android" nor will we go anywhere near calling this a "Nexus", but you're getting about 98-percent of what you would expect on a stock 4.1 Jelly Bean phone. Some notable changes are the inclusion of a couple AT&T apps for managing your account and voicemail, as well as a few settings menu items. You'll be forced to see a hideously large NFC icon in your status bar when NFC is turned on, as well as AT&T's advanced Wifi settings for managing hotspots and an AT&T Software Update settings item.
But once you quickly get past those few small changes, the entire user experience of using the First is dramatically improved without Home. Functionally, nothing has changed in the software aside from HTC's inclusion of double tap and long-press actions on the capacitive keys to enable multitasking and Google Now. For those traditionalists that want a standard launcher with widgets, app icons and folders the First turns into an absolute joy to use. The software is snappy and responsive -- no matter what you may think about the specs -- and everything just works the way you expect it to.
With such solid software available from just a quick dive into the settings, we can easily recommend the First as a device to someone who never intends to use Facebook Home after they take it out of the box. This isn't the "Facebook Phone" if you don't want it to be -- it's just a nice Android phone.