When Facebook launched Home earlier this month, it marked the first time in quite a while that I was excited to use Facebook.
What excited me wasn’t using Facebook per se, but exploring the possibilities of moving beyond the app.
Despite only being officially supported for a handful of phones, the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II, HTC One X, and the HTC One X+, and the HTC First, it is possible to get Facebook Home running on other Android devices.
My device of choice was my newish Nexus 7, which is basically a development device, so no worries about borking it seriously.
There has been rumbling about the negative reception to Facebook Home based on a relatively low number downloads, only 500,000 in the first five days, and the very high number of one-star reviews Home has garnered. One-star review outnumber all other reviews by a wide margin.
It’s a bit early to brand Home a success or failure, given its limited number of supported devices. Those reviewing it are primarily curious, early adopters, like me, who don’t fit the prime Facebook demographic anymore. Home has always seemed like a tool for avid Facebook users, and it fits that mold very well.
After a little more than a week with Facebook Home, here are my impressions.
Right off the bat, Facebook Home puts your friends’ content all up in your face, pun intended. In fact, you really can’t escape it without some effort.
Initially, Home made Facebook more interesting The full screen photos drew me in to read updates, which then reminded why I don’t use Facebook much anymore. It’s the same content, just nicely presented. This is especially true if you have Instragram-happy friends.
So, Home is really just a steady stream of imagery, which, as you’d expect, is a mixed bag. However, Home does a good job mitigating your friends’ poor content, e.g. for updates without associated photos, Facebook adds the person’s Timeline picture, a smart move.
I did find some interesting tidbits just paging through photos though, e.g. this update from Anthony (@anthonyslai)about a car that ran into the Oracle Dublin office.
I should also mention Chat Heads, the new Facebook Messenger, even though it’s a standalone update and not part of Facebook Home. When it’s not active, Chat Heads minimizes itself into a small, circular version of your friend’s profile picture which you can move around the screen as you do other things. Tapping it reopens the Messenger interface. It’s nicely done, with snazzy animations.
I tested Chat Heads out with Noel (@noelportugal) and my wife, and I really like the way it handles ongoing chats.
I don’t really have any other positive impressions to add, but that’s not to say Facebook Home is bad. It’s a very slick piece of development.
It’s just not for me, or really for anyone who doesn’t spend a lot of time using, not just browsing, Facebook. If you browse the one-star reviews on the Play Store, this impression resonates with a lot of other people.
I suspect someone like my wife, an avid Facebook user, would find it more valuable. I plan to get her to test drive it soon, so stay tuned for some ultra-scientific research.
Design-wise, Facebook Home doesn’t work with a lock-screen. You can page through updates, and I think, like and comment, without unlocking the screen. You can also see what’s installed on the device, although not open any apps.
This seems risky.
The handling of likes is rather annoying too. You can accidentally like content from Home, which could lead to rogue likes and Facebook etiquette blunders from liking and then unliking content.
Also, I don’t really care for the launcher panel Home includes. Recently installed and used apps appear in there, but it feels like a throw-in feature.
Finally, it’s predictably difficult to find your way to the standard Android desktop, which is a usage problem if you have widgets.
Most of these are design considerations that speak to the purpose for Home, i.e. making Facebook ubiquitous on the device, but Home is easy to turn off and remove. I suspect future iterations will offer more granular options that will encourage users to keep some features enabled.
Facebook Home showcases some great user experience, and you can immediately tell if you’re the target user or not. It’s clear Facebook has done extensive research to find ways to make itself more sticky for its heaviest mobile users.
I just don’t happen to be one of them, but I can appreciate the design-thinking that went into Home.
One bonus feature, at least for HTC First, is that the base OS is vanilla Android 4.1.2, without any carrier or OEM software, which is a plus.
Have you tried Facebook Home? What do you think?
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