Facebook Home-coming day: HTC First hits stores; Android Messenger gets Chat Heads

The HTC First, a smartphone preloaded with Facebook Home, is now for sale from AT&T. Facebook also updated Messenger for Android to include support for Chat Heads, the feature debuted with Home last week. Home is expected to be available from the Google Play store later today.

Home is an Android homescreen experience that more deeply integrates the social network’s features into Android devices. It essentially eliminates the “lockscreen” as most people know it. Instead of displaying the time and perhaps some notifications, the screen fills with photos and updates from a user’s Facebook friends. Facebook calls this Cover Feed. Users can watch updates pan by slowly or quickly swipe through them manually. It’s possible to Like or comment on posts from this view.

We’ve been using Facebook Home for the past few days, and Cover Feed definitely feels like a better way to browse the latest posts from friends and pages. Switching back to the standard vertical scrolling feed with small images and text in the main Facebook app ends up being disappointing.

Chat Heads is the other killer feature of Home, and now it’s one that Android users can have without downloading Home and giving their homescreens over to Facebook. The social network today released an update for its standalone Messenger app, which includes Chat Heads. The feature allows users to respond to Facebook messages at any point, even if they’re on the homescreen or in another app. Users can view a message immediately or save it for later by leaving the Chat Head circle on their screen. They can also reposition the Chat Head to any area of their screen or hide it completely.

This makes going back to iOS or standard Android — where users have to open a new app to read and reply to a message and then switch back to the app they were previously in — feel slow and cumbersome. However, we have noticed issues with Chat Heads where Facebook messages are viewed on one device, but notifications aren’t cleared from another.

Home will be available for select devices, including the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, via download from Google Play.

The HTC First is $99.99 with a standard two-year AT&T contract, or $449.99 without one. It comes in black, white, red and blue. Overall, the device is comfortable in the hand and has a nice sized display without verging on tablet size at all.