Demystifying Facebook Home and the Facebook Phone

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Facebook recently unveiled two new products: Facebook Home for Android and the HTC First. I’ve seen a fair bit of confusion about what the difference between these products is, so let’s talk about what Facebook Home is, what the HTC First is, and how they differ.

Let’s start with the basics: Facebook Home is software that runs on Android. In fact, it basically takes over the Android interface; think of it as a “skin” that sits on top of Android that changes your overall experience and puts Facebook front-and center. It’ll be available on April 12 as a free download for a select number of phones, including the Galaxy Note II, the Galaxy S III, and a few others. Facebook says that support for more devices will arrive in the coming months.

That means both your home and lock screens will be completely dominated with content from Facebook, whether it’s new photos or status updates from your friends, new messages or — I imagine soon — advertisements.

Facebook Home also combines text messages and Facebook messages in one inbox. When a new message arrives, you’ll see a picture of the sender pop up no matter what app you’re in. You might be playing “Words with Friends,” for example, and a Chat Head will pop up. Facebook Home is Facebook unlike you’ve ever experienced it before.

And then there’s the HTC First, which is another variation on the “Facebook Phone” idea we’ve been hearing about for so long. We’ve seen two other “Facebook Phones” from HTC in the past, the ChaCha and the Salsa. The ChaCha launched in the United States on AT&T as the HTC Status, but it was generally considered a flop because it didn’t offer much Facebook integration other than a simple “Facebook button” on the bottom of the device.

In an effort to avoid another flop, HTC and Facebook worked together more closely to build on the lessons it learned with the earlier failed smartphones.

The HTC First will launch with Facebook Home pre-installed out of the box (but you can turn it off for a pure Android experience). The phone will debut on AT&T on April 12 for $99 with a new two-year contract, and it offers a relatively basic feature set — but the hardware specs are quite respectable. You’ll get a 5-megapixel camera, a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and a sharp 720p HD display. Those specs are behind those of the higher-end models like the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, but they’re enough to handle the focus of the phone: Facebook Home.

The first reviews of the First are starting to pop up—I’ll have my own unit in the coming weeks—but so far industry pundits seem relatively pleased with the experience.

Neither product will satisfy the masses of mobile consumers, but both allow hardcore Facebook users to dive into the social network as much as possible.

It’s like taking Facebook with you wherever you go. For better or worse.

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