One of Facebook’s greatest strengths is its ability to make hundreds of friends seem only a few keystrokes away. Now, a smartphone is trimming those few keystrokes down to one.
This week, I tested HTC’s appropriately named Status, the only smartphone in the U.S. with a dedicated Facebook button, located just below its QWERTY keyboard. This button is designed to make Facebook easy to access no matter what you happen to be doing on the phone. The button even glows when users are doing something on the phone that they could potentially share with their Facebook friends, such as visiting a website.
The Status costs $50 with a two-year AT&T contract, and monthly data plans for the phone cost $15 for 200 megabytes or $25 for two gigabytes; monthly voice plans start at $40. The Status runs the latest version of Google’s Android operating system and has HTC’s Sense user interface, which gives the phone a polished overlay and some extra options for personalization. An HTC spokesman wouldn’t say whether the company was making other devices for other social-networking services like Twitter or Flickr.
But does this Facebook button make a big difference? It certainly lessens the steps for certain Facebook tasks on a smartphone. Take “checking in” to Facebook Places, a way of tagging oneself in a geographic location and also seeing who else checked in there or who else “likes” the place on Facebook. This process usually requires opening a phone’s Facebook app, opening the Places tab in that app and waiting as the nearby Places list is populated before choosing one and checking in.
HTC Status has a Facebook button below the keyboard.
With the HTC Status, a list of nearby Facebook Places appears after just one long-touch of the Facebook button, so people can check in faster. I found that I was more inclined to check into places using this button—or I would at least hit the button to quickly see what check-in points were nearby.
Other aspects of this Facebook button are little more than parlor tricks. For example, each time I opened a new website in the HTC Status’s Web browser, the button glowed a few times to remind me that I could hit it and immediately share that page’s URL to my Facebook wall. Strangely, this happens only on the main website pages, like WSJ.com or CNN.com, rather than on individual articles within those websites. I’m much more likely to share a single story with friends rather than a news site’s home page, so the glowing button seems pointless. I could still hit the Facebook button while reading each article to share it with friends.
If you’re a super sharer who wants every photo captured on your phone to be sent directly to Facebook, the HTC Status has you covered—without even touching the Facebook button. A settings menu within the phone’s camera lets people choose if they want images automatically uploaded, whether on Facebook or Flickr and when to share—immediately, daily or only in WiFi coverage areas (to save on data usage). I tested this by taking photos, and they instantly appeared on my Facebook wall.
If you’d rather not have your photos automatically uploaded to Facebook, a touch of the Facebook button when one photo or video is selected uploads just that photo or video to your Facebook wall.
Other functions of the phone’s Facebook button include its ability to share song information—album, track title and artist—with friends on one’s Facebook wall. The phone’s Facebook button glows when a song is playing to remind users that this one-touch sharing is possible. If the song can be bought on Amazon, a link for people who want to buy the song will also appear in that Facebook post.
To quickly jump to a friend’s Facebook page, I tapped the Status’s Facebook button while looking at a friend’s contact card on the phone. To post a regular status update to Facebook from the phone, a quick tap on the Facebook button opens a dialogue box for posting updates on your own wall.
Facebook button aside, what else about the HTC Status is noteworthy? I really liked the full QWERTY keyboard; its large keys were a pleasure to use for typing.
Still, since the Status’s physical keyboard doesn’t hide under the phone’s screen, the screen is only half the size of the device, or 2.6 inches.
And even though its touch screen is capable of multi-touch gestures, like flicking to scroll and pinching to zoom, this small surface will feel restrictive for people who are used to larger touch-screen surfaces.
The Status has a 5-megapixel camera with a flash and autofocus, as well as a front-facing camera. Calls on it sounded fine, and its tapered build and light, 4.57-ounce weight made it easy to hold and carry.
If you’re a heavy Facebook user—especially if you frequently share content with others—the HTC Status will make those updates easier and faster. But its overall approach isn’t startlingly different enough to make people give up their current phones.
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org