Hard-core techies will probably hate hearing this, but Facebook Home, an Android interface for smartphones, will be a popular choice for heavy users of the social network.
The interface rolls out Friday for certain Android devices alongside the launch of the HTC First, the first smartphone to come with Facebook Home pre-loaded. If you're frequently on Facebook and have one of the devices that can download the interface, you may want to check it out.
Facebook Home pushes aside users' smartphone apps in exchange for emphasizing their Facebook friends. Instead of seeing a phone lock screen or an app menu, users will see the "Cover Feed," which shows the latest updates and photos posted on the social network. By swiping left or right, users can scroll through what their friends are sharing and quickly "like" the content or comment on it. If it's a photo, users can hold down with one finger to zoom in.
The interface is ideal for users who pull out their phones to check Facebook while doing activities such as waiting in line for coffee. But besides being quick, the social interface is visually pleasing. Using a Ken Burns-like effect, dimmed photos move slowly along the screen with friends' status updates hovering in the foreground. The combination makes for a look that users can leave open on their desk and watch like a digital photo frame.
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The other major feature of Facebook Home is "Chat Heads," which enables users to quickly chat with their friends no matter what they're doing on their device. Users can be playing a game of Angry Birds while a chat bubble showing their friend's face hovers to the side. Whenever the friend sends a message, the text will show up in a gray word cloud.
Users can tap their friend's bubble and the conversation will expand, letting them reply quickly without leaving Angry Birds or whatever app they're on. And if a friend's chat bubble is blocking something on the screen, users can move the bubbles to another side of the display. To get rid of chat bubbles, users can tap on the bubbles and drag them to bottom of the phone where a circled X icon appears. Chat Heads works with conversations over text message or Facebook Messenger.
Those are nice features that many Facebook users will enjoy, but there's not much else to Facebook Home. That's not a downside, but what many advanced users may not like is that they'll have to make extra screen swipes and taps to get to their apps.
At the bottom of the Cover Feed is a bubble showing the user's profile picture that users must tap and drag up to see their apps. If they drag to the left, they'll be taken to the Facebook Messenger app, and if they drag to the right, the interface will open the last app that was used.
After users drag upward, they'll see a menu featuring their favorite apps. Users can decide what apps they want there, and above the menu are buttons that users can tap on to quickly post a status or a photo or check in somewhere. If users swipe the screen to the left, they'll see a full list of all their apps.
There's a lot to like about Facebook Home, but there are also some annoying quirks.
The biggest issue I have is that there is no way to quickly launch the camera app and take a photo. Although smartphone operating systems have been evolving to emphasize their cameras and make it easier and quicker for users to capture split-second moments, Facebook Home has pushed the camera app to the back.
To launch the camera, users will have to swipe up and then tap on the camera app from their app menu or tap on the photo button at the top. That doesn't sound too slow, but it doesn't help that when I tried Facebook Home on the HTC First, the interface felt slower than most smartphone operating systems. This may be due to the HTC First's processor and not the software, but I believe it's at the very least a combination of both. When you put an interface on top of an operating system, it can cause speed problems.
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I also did not like that there is no way to quickly get from the Cover Feed to the actual Facebook app. A reason users may want to do this is because to see a photo in full screen on Cover Feed, you can do so only by holding down your finger on the screen. Not only can that be annoying, especially with your hand blocking the view, but you can't turn on its side to see horizontal pictures more fully; Cover Feed doesn't rotate. So to get from Cover Feed to the Facebook app, users have to do as they would with any other app and first swipe up to get to the app menu.