The HTC Salsa is winging its way to stores near you, looking to bring a little more Facebook to your phone. We’ve been playing with the new mobile phone so we can detail all the Facebook features it offers, and how they differ from the regular HTC Sense set-up.
When the HTC Salsa was launched at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, HTC were being cagey about letting people play with the phone. Our brief hands-on time with it there didn’t really give us a sense of how the Facebook integration would work because the software wasn’t complete. Now we've had plenty of time to play with it and discover some of its secrets.
The HTC Salsa steps up as a direct rival to the INQ Cloud Touch, offering very similar hardware specs. Then you have the INQ Cloud Q and the HTC ChaCha and a rumoured Facebook phone from Vodafone offering a QWERTY Facebook experience. If you’d ever wanted a mobile phone that offered you a little more Facebook than before, your time has come.
Starting from scratch
Whenever you set-up a new HTC device you are taken through a series of steps to get the phone connected to your network (both in the social and data senses). The first immediate and obvious difference between the Salsa and other HTC Sense devices is that you are asked to sign into Facebook first, and through the regular Facebook for Android interface rather than Facebook for HTC Sense.
There are essentially two Facebook elements at play on the HTC Salsa: Facebook for Android (left, above) and Facebook for HTC Sense (right, above). The former is the app which all Android users can download via the Android Market, the latter is a customised version of HTC’s Facebook integration that exists on their current Android devices. Think of Facebook for HTC Sense as a network of features rather than a central app.
It will be no surprise to HTC users that you’ll already be signed into HTC’s social application Friend Stream when you complete that initial Facebook log-in, as well as the official Facebook for Android app. Using both apps, HTC weaves together the Facebook experience on the HTC Salsa. The experience is mostly seamless, but you’ll know which Facebook app you’re in because Facebook for Android uses a blue colour scheme whereas Facebook for HTC Sense is charcoal grey like the rest of HTC Sense.
It’s worth remembering that Facebook for Android is already packed with functionality and is fully integrated, so all Android phones will let you share photos to Facebook and all Android devices (except the Google Nexus S) will also integrate your Facebook contacts into the address book if you want. So the real question is how does the HTC Salsa better the existing experience?
It’s a button
We, perhaps unfairly, previously described the HTC Salsa’s Facebook button as a “pimple” on it’s chin. The placement does look a little odd, but in a world of touchscreen phones where differentiation is hard to come by, it’s certainly prominent.
In use we haven’t had a problem with the button placement, we haven’t hit it by accident and it resists a passing brush with a finger. It is also backlit, pulsing to let you know that you can “Facebook” something, so when you open a particular app, you’ll find it blinking at you, begging to be pressed.
Poke the button on the homescreen and you’ll be taken to an update screen so you can type in a status update to your own wall, or, by touching the “Post to” box, you can select a Facebook friend and post directly to their wall. In terms of design it looks almost identical to the existing Friend Stream update window.
A long press of the Facebook button takes you directly through to a Facebook Places update. Again, this isn’t the Facebook Places section of the Facebook app, it’s HTC’s own version (and not to be confused with their existing Places app). It contains the same content repackaged essentially, but we like the fact you can get direct access to Places for a quick checkin.
Widgets, Facebook Chat
For the first time in HTC Sense we see weather moved out of the default clock widget on the front page. This widget isn’t new, it’s an existing option in HTC Sense linking through to Friend Stream, and you can swap it back for the weather version if you like. Clicking the link takes you back to All Updates in Friend Stream, more on which later.
Facebook Chat gets its own widget which is new however and will show you which of your friends are online so you dive straight into a chat with them. You can also toggle your online status in chat, so you can go offline if you don’t want to be disturbed. The widget is supported by the Fb Chat app, which is what you head into when you select someone to chat with from the widget.
Again, this is an HTC spin on Facebook chat, so it essentially duplicates functionality that already exists in the Facebook for Android app. It is something of a double-edged sword however as there is a degree of consistency lacking between the two Facebook Chat offerings. If you stay in one Chat window there are no problems, the conversation progresses as normal. However, head back to the homescreen and you’ll find that the notification you receive alerting you to a new message takes you to Facebook for Android rather than HTC’s version.
We also found that you don’t get a complete conversation history across the different apps that offer Facebook Chat, which can potentially be confusing. This isn't necessarily HTC's fault, but it is something to be aware of.
Just a twist on Friend Stream?
As we said at the start, Facebook for HTC Sense powers much of the HTC Salsa, so it feeds into Friend Stream in the usual way. Arguably you could use Friend Stream for much of the Facebook functionality that the HTC Salsa offers. The clock widget pulls on Friend Stream updates, for example, so it isn’t specific to Facebook if you also sign into Twitter for HTC Sense too.
Once you start exploring the Facebook-specific functions on offer in the Salsa you’ll see how closely related they are to Friend Stream both in terms of design and functionality. This makes much of the Facebook functionality consistent with existing HTC features, but there is a marked difference in style between the two sides at play. In essence, it isn’t as visually seamless as INQ’s integration of Facebook on their rival device.
Moving around Facebook content within Friend Stream is easier than the native Facebook for Android app thanks to HTC’s tabs across the bottom of the page, but once you sign into Twitter, you might find there is so much content in Friend Stream that you lose track of your Facebook content.
Facebook isn’t just about what you do within the Facebook world, it’s about how you draw in elements of real life to share, inform and entertain your friends. So far we’ve looked at the standalone functionality of the Facebook button, but it also serves to instantly integrate various other elements into Facebook. (These are all powered by the adapted version of Facebook for HTC Sense on this device.)
Fire up the camera and you can use the Facebook button to take the shot and instantly jump to the upload screen, where you can pick the album you’re uploading to, tag and set a caption and so on. Sure, you get Facebook sharing through the native Facebook app anyway, but in this case you save yourself a button press, so it all seems faster. The same applies to video sharing too.
There is also an Auto upload option in the camera settings where you can select to upload your photos directly to a Facebook (or Flickr) album. You can select whether you want to do it over the 3G network or on Wi-Fi only, select the privacy settings, the target album and so on.
Head over to an interesting website and a press of the Facebook button takes you to an instant sharing page, making it really easy to spread the word about funky websites, much easier than the three presses you’d need to trigger Facebook sharing from the HTC Android browser, or the multiple presses you’d need to copy and paste a link into a Facebook update. There is an obvious space for the thumbnail that will accompany the post (see above) which never appeared when we tested it, but was included when it landed on Facebook.
Sharing to Facebook also works in the HTC Music player. Press the Facebook button and the song information will be added to the status update window for you to post.
The Facebook experience on the HTC Salsa is different from the rest for the HTC line. The button does add a range of easy options that cuts out a number of on-screen presses and we like the fact you can opt to take a photo with the Facebook button and have the process of sharing it instantly under way. We also like the long press that will let you jump instantly into Places to checkin.
One oddity that the arrangement of Facebook for HTC Sense throws up is the use of the back button. As Facebook for HTC Sense doesn't appear as a central app you can access directly, you expect the back button to return you to the page you accessed it from - the camera, a webpage, etc. Instead, the back button steps you back through pages you previously accessed in Facebook for HTC Sense, so remember to switch back to the app you were in, rather than using the back button to return.
There is also some confusion around notifications, we found they pushed you to Facebook for Android. This can disrupt your Facebook Chat and it would have been nice to see one seamless approach to Facebook rather than both the native Android app and the HTC Sense approach, but you can’t complain about the lack of Facebook functionality.
How is it as a phone? We’re in the process of running a full review of the HTC Salsa, so check back in the next couple of days for the final verdict. UPDATE: You can read the full review here.