What has very often been rumored as a Facebook phone turned out to be not exactly that yesterday. Instead, we got the aptly named Facebook Home – it is, in fact, a new home (screen) for Android phones.
A phone was also announced (the HTC First), but besides being the smartphone equivalent of a comment section nuisance, there’s not much new or exciting about it (we’ll get to its redeeming qualities later). What is new, and possibly exciting depending on how and how often you use Facebook, is Facebook Home. The idea behind Facebook Home is essentially the same as the idea behind UI skins like Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense – a new way to interact with the same basic Android operating system. Facebook Home, unlike those two, has much more in the way of integrated features, and changes up the user experience a little more dramatically. You’ll also be able to download it for free from Google Play on certain Android phones soon.
Facebook Home emphasizes Facebook integration – the first thing you’ll be doing is logging into your account. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that the lock screen and the home screen are the same. It’s called the Cover Feed, and will feature pictures and status updates from your friends, slideshow style, which you can like by double tapping. We understand that ads will occasionally pop up here, as well. The pictures will take up the whole screen, so you’ll be getting one update at a time. Overlaid on those photos will be any recent notifications, and this is one area where those who buy the HTC First will have an advantage – the First will have all phone notifications featured here (Facebook notifications and things like missed calls), while the downloadable version will only show Facebook notifications.
On the bottom, you’ll see a small circle with your profile photo. Tapping on that will take you to the non-Facebook parts of your phone – frequently used apps, a list of all your apps, and all that good stuff. You can drag that picture to the left to open up Facebook Messenger, or right to open up the app you used last.
Of course, you’re never away from Facebook on a phone with Facebook Home on it. You can receive new messages and respond while using any app, without leaving the app. Instead, Chat Heads appear – tiny bubbles with the profile pictures of your friends. Thanks to contact information integration, those Chat Heads will keep a running conversation going across media, whether it be Facebook Messenger, IM, or text. Tapping on a Chat Head brings up the conversation, overlaid on whatever app you are using. The Chat Heads themselves are small enough to not be intrusive, and can be dragged around and placed wherever you want them to be on screen.
So, what does a phone running Facebook Home really offer you? Two things – instant gratification when it comes to seeing friends’ status updates, and totally integrated messaging that can be accessed while you’re using apps. That second one sounds like something a lot of people would like – conversations and multitasking tend to go hand-in-hand these days, and not having to leave an app to continue a chat using Messenger sounds pretty nice. For those who like to customize their Android experience, Facebook Home probably won’t be of interest. This one is mostly for the heaviest of Facebook users.
That brings us to the HTC First, which will be the first phone that comes with Facebook Home pre-installed. It’s 4.3” with a 1280 x 720 resolution screen, a mid-range 1.4 GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, a 5 MP camera (1.6 MP front-facing), and NFC. It won’t have LTE support. It’s a mid-range phone, which is significant – all of the other smartphones that will be compatible with Facebook Home are the flagship models from Samsung and HTC. If you want an affordable phone with Facebook Home, the HTC First is your only option for now. You can grab it now from AT&T for about $100 with a two-year contract. On April 12, Facebook Home will be available as a free download for the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4, and Samsung Galaxy Note II.