Facebook released Facebook Home on the Google Play Store last Friday, but to everyone’s surprise it was available only for US users. Starting today, Facebook users from other parts of the world will be able to download and install Home if they have the compatible hardware.
What is Facebook Home?
For those people that aren’t yet aware, Facebook Home is a home-screen replacement, which puts Facebook front and center on Android phones
As of now, Facebook Home is officially available only for the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II. It will also be compatible with the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 which are slated to go on sale by the end of the month. Facebook has also tied up with HTC to launch the HTC First which has Facebook Home as its default launcher. As of now the HTC First is only available in the US and there is no word on international availability.
Hands On with Facebook Home – Chat Heads are the Star
Since I am one of the majority who does not have a compatible phone, I took the unorthodox way and installed the patched APK on my Galaxy Nexus. Before I head further I should put it out that I am not a power user (of Facebook) and usually check it once or at the most twice a day. With the state of the official mobile apps being terrible on most platforms, my Facebook usage is mostly constrained to just the desktop.
While Facebook Home is great for power users of the social networking sites and may get a few more people using it for a bit longer, for the rest, Facebook Home will come as a big disappointment as it takes away key functionalities of your Android phone like widgets and lock screens.
To install Facebook Home on a compatible handset, one would first have to make sure that they have the updated versions of both the Facebook app and Facebook Messenger. You will also have to download the Facebook Home file which is pretty tiny.
After installing Facebook Home, your home screen will be replaced by Cover Feed. This is the core of the Facebook Home and is an easy way to connect with your friends and family. It displays posts from your news feed in a very visually appealing manner. New status messages, photos and events are displayed in snazzy looking slideshow presentation here, with moving images occupying the entire interface. When the post is just text, it shows person’s cover photo in the background, making it feel more visual. One can easily comment or just double tap to like a post. We found this to be a very effective way to display posts and was definitely better than going through our news feed in the app. To see a full picture all one has to do is long click on a post.
One can easily open Facebook Messenger, a list of all apps and also your most recently used app from the home screen, by swiping your profile picture to the left, up, or right.
Apps are all displayed on a vertical scrolling fashion and there is no way to sort out or to put apps in folders as of now. If one had home screens set up with apps before installing Home these are carried into home and swiping completely to the left will bring you to all apps.
To access notifications one has to swipe twice from the top. Also getting into the dialer of the phone involved multiple steps.
The biggest issue we had with Facebook home was that there was no support for lock screens so if anyone picks up your phone, they will see your friends posts.
While Facebook Home is nice visually, we found it to be very intrusive and obstructed the way we would like our phone to function. So we did end up uninstalling it. We wish there was a way that we could view cover feed in the Facebook app itself as a slideshow presentation.
While we did not like Facebook Home, what we really loved was the new Facebook Messenger with Chat Heads. As of now Facebook Messenger only integrates FB Messenger and SMS, but we cant wait till it has the ability to support other messengers like WhatsApp.
A Chat Head is a tiny little circle that sits on edges of your screen on top of whatever app you are using. The Chat Head has your contact’s Facebook profile picture on it, and when you tap on it, it pops out an overlay with your text conversation. It has blue bubble and green bubbles to distinguish between messenger and SMS.
We found this extremely useful as we were able to reply to our messengers instantly no matter what app we were in.
The Chat Heads can be moved about on the screen so as to not interfere with what you are doing and can be deleted by swiping it to the bottom of the screen. You can have up to four Chat Heads active at any time, including group Facebook conversations, but only the most recent one appears on the edge of your screen. When you tap it, the rest of your conversations are arrayed at the top.
The best part about Chat Heads is that it is available for almost all Android phones and all one has to do is install or update to the latest version of Facebook Messenger.
Facebook has also brought Chat Heads to the iPhone but with limited functionality. It works only within the Facebook app. One will need to update to the latest version of the app to get this. Facebook also launched a messaging feature called stickers, which are basically oversized cartoons to represent emotions. Only iOS users can send a sticker, but any user can receive it.
While Facebook Home did not appeal much to me, I can definitely see how Facebook power users can definitely get more out of Facebook using Home. So if you have a compatible handset, head on over to the Play Store and give it a try right away.
Qn: Is Facebook better off building its own phone with a more customized OS instead of skinning just a few things on Android?