- Looks slick
- Chat Heads is great for managing multiple messages
- It's free
- Cripples Android by burying information
- Chat Heads limited to SMS and Facebook Messenger
- Features very limited at launch
Facebook Home cripples Android, bottom line, and it's ultimately redundant. It offers nothing new.
Yes, Facebook Home is free, so there is no harm in trying it out, provided you can spare a few minutes. However, it’s worth asking whether or not Facebook Home lives up to any hype and betters the smartphone experience.
Zuck and company would have you believe it does. That’s why they unveiled it at a very special Silicon Valley event (kinda like Apple, and the other tech big boys), coupled it with a handset dubbed the HTC First, and are using the very first Facebook TV commercial to tout it, in prime time no less.
However, after a few days with Home, it’s tough to see what has the boys and girls at Menlo Park so excited. At its core, Facebook Home is an Android skin that either simplifies or hijacks the Android experience, depending on your point of view, by pushing Facebook content and services front and center. It consists of three main parts: a messenger app (Chat Heads), screen saver/unlock screen (Cover Feed), and a watered-down app launcher.
With Facebook Home, there is no room for what makes Android great, especially widgets and the excellent customization options. And there is certainly no room for rival services, including Twitter, Google Plus, and Google Chat, which end up buried or stashed in the Android notifications bar.
Cover Feed is a glorified screen saver, with a Facebook twist. It displays Facebook news feed photos and status updates, complete with time and location, while allowing Facebook Home users to swipe through, “like,” and comment.
Cover Feed actually does an admirable job making the smartphone food pics and random nonsense that populates most Facebook news feeds look presentable. It accomplishes this by blowing everything up to fit the smartphone screen, dimming the picture, and posting some text over it. Tapping and holding the pic will zoom out to reveal the full image. Any news feed updates without an attached image are presented with a pic of the poster’s cover photo. Links are accessible, and a tap will open them up the the user’s browser of choice. Any Facebook alerts are also presented here, front and center.
Thankfully, sponsored posts don’t show at the time of review, but future versions of Facebook Home will have ads in Cover Feed, if comments made by Facebook execs are to be believed.
By default, Cover Feed is the first thing any user will see when they power up their smartphone with Facebook Home enabled (users can have the traditional Android unlock screen appear first via the settings). Any password or PIN security is hidden behind it and only pops up when a user tries getting into an app or service. Android notifications can be pulled down and accessed from Cover Feed, which goes a long way to making Cover Feed more useful than it otherwise would be.
From Cover Feed, users have the option of moving into the Facebook Messenger app (if it’s not installed, users will be prompted), an app launcher, or the last app used.
The Facebook Home app launcher is bare bones. It consists of three home screens, each with room for 16 app shortcuts, and one “all apps” page, with shortcuts to all apps and access out of Facebook Home to the regular old Android homescreen.
From the app launcher, users can also post status updates, select or snap and post a pic, and “check in.” The picture option brings up a simplified Facebook skin over the standard Android camera. It contains no fun filters and very few options. There is no video component baked in. If users want their full-fledged Android camera, they must select it from the standard shortcut, or the standard Android camera will automatically launch from the Facebook camera if the user hits the video camera switch. The casual user will likely find it all a bit confusing.
The biggest omission here is Instagram, the photo filter and sharing service Facebook bought for a cool billion dollars last year. It’s likely Instagram functionality will come in future updates, but until then, the Facebook camera is ultimately redundant and rather pointless, as is the app launcher.
The Facebook Home take on messaging, dubbed Chat Heads, is actually quite innovative, and could prove useful should Facebook open it up to include more chat services. Right now, it only supports Facebook and standard SMS messages.
When a user receives a new message, a little Chat Head bubble will appear with the sender’s profile pic and the message. A quick tap will open up the message, and a flick will toss them away. Chat Head bubbles are similar to popups, and will appear anywhere and over any apps, which is extremely useful for multitasking purposes. SMS and Facebook messages are treated equally. Unfortunately, any Google Chats and other messages are excluded, so Chat Heads is far from universal. There also aren’t many options baked in for blocking or limiting messages, or even persistent and annoying users. Still, it’s an elegant solution, and an unobtrusive way of keeping tabs on messages, slightly better than the Android notifications bar (and only slightly). The BlackBerry Hub in BB10 is a much better solution, but the chances of that coming to Android are slim to none.
At its launch, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed Home puts the focus on “people, not apps.” Unfortunately, smartphones are also about information, and not the type that includes what your first cousin had for dinner last night. At a glance, an Android smartphone can reveal the weather, stock information, news headlines, sports scores, recent tweets, and more. A single tap can enable GPS and navigate the user home, and the awesome Google Now is just a long press away. All of this is buried with Facebook Home.
Facebook Home is also missing features, no doubt set aside for future updates. There is no video component, camera picture enhancements/filters, and users still need the Facebook app to find and make new friends, set up events, join groups, and follow interests.
Once ads start popping up in Cover Feed, Facebook Home will be extremely obnoxious. Amazon sells discounted Kindles with ads in the screen saver, calling it a device with “Special Offers.” Will Facebook discount my smartphone for the same?
Facebook Home cripples Android, bottom line, and it’s ultimately redundant. It offers no new functionality, only really serves to make news feed photos look presentable (and it better, because you can’t ignore them!), and provide a slightly easier way of managing multiple texts. Sure, it’s slick and looks great, but there are also no widgets with Facebook Home, and customization is non existent.
If slick and simple is what you want in a smartphone, get an iPhone.