Facebook describes Facebook Home as means of turning your Android phone into a 'living, social phone'. Most Android phone users would argue that their smartphones *are* 'living, social' devices, so you have to ask: what's the point of Facebook Home? See also: Facebook Home, HTC First FAQ: What you need to know. Read our updated HTC First review.
It's easiest to define Facebook Home by what it isn't: it's neither a phone nor a mobile OS. And it's not just an app - although you will be able to get Facebook Home on a limited number of handsets as an Android app via the Google Play app store. Facebook describes Facebook Home as 'an experience that lets you see the world through people, not apps'. Facebook Home then is software that dedicates your smartphone to Facebook, although you also need to have the Facebook app installed in order to make Facebook Home work. See also: How to get Facebook Home on your Android smartphone.
Thus Facebook Home may be of interest to some people - but it does leave some serious questions: how do smartphone makers feel about their devices being hijacked in this way by Facebook? After all, Samsung and HTC both heavily customise Android in order to provide their own user experience. And given that the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One are among the first handsets to be compatible with Facebook Home, how many users of such high-end devices want to change their already curated experience into a Facebook world? Take a look at 31% of people want a Facebook Phone: 56% do not.
Our colleague Armando Rodriguez - TechHive's Android guru - has spent some time with Facebook Home on the HTC First, and he gave us the benefit of his experience. Facebook says that it's going to update Facebook Home at least once a month like it does with other mobile apps, and it'll be interesting to see how Home evolves as it gets updated. But here is a review of how Facebook Home works right now, using the HTC First. We'll be updating this review as we spend more time with Facebook Home after it launches next week. (You can read the TechHive Facebook Home piece here.)
Home will be available as a free download from the Google Play Store starting April 12. Home works on the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Home will also work on the HTC One and Samsung GALAXY S4, and - according to Facebook - will be on more devices 'in the coming months'.
Hands on with Facebook Home: what it's for, how it works
"Facebook Home puts Facebook front and centre," Armando says, describing the overall effect of Facebook Home. "[Facebook Home does] away with the traditional Android interface in favour of a simplified home screen that displays your friends' photos and status updates."
And it works well. Answering the question of what is the point of Facebook Home, Rodriguez suggests that the overall feel of using Facebook on your phone is less intimidating than Android's occasionally counter-intuitive ways: "It's all very slick. Home makes Android look and feel much less intimidating by hiding things like the app drawer and notification shade. You can still access these features using simple gestures, but the app drawer is modified to let you quickly update your Facebook status, post a photo, or check in to a location."
Hands on with Facebook Home: Chat Heads feature
One major feature of Facebook Home is 'Chat Heads'. To use Chat Heads you have to have the Facebook Messaging app on your smartphone. Facebook Home, Facebook Messages, and the Facebook app all come pre-installed on the HTC First.
Rodriguez explains how Chat Heads works: "When you get a new message, a Chat Heads icon shows up - it's a little circle with your friend's Facebook photo in it.
"Tapping the circular photo jumps you straight into the chat. It's really seamless, and I was able to browse the Iinternet while carrying on a conversation with someone's Facebook friend."
You can have an unlimited number of chats running at once, says Armando, although having too many Chat Heads windows open could adversely affect your phone's performance, according to Facebook.
But it's not all good. In his tests Rodriguez found that you can't start a new conversation with someone using Chat Heads. You have to go into the Facebook Messages app and press and hold a bit on a conversation in progress in order to get it to show up as a Chat Heads conversation.
Facebook Home: other features
Other features include 'Cover feed'. This replaces your phone's lock- and home screens. Facebook describes it as 'a window into what's happening with your friends', and in essence it's a feed of information - including photos and over media - showing what your friends are posting.
Equally underwhelming is the Notifications feature. In Facebook Home when something happens on Facebook that's directed at you, like a friend posting on your timeline, you'll receive a notification with their profile picture. To open notifications, you just tap them.
Facebook Home: first impressions
Rodriguez feels that Facebook Home is promising, but currently offers little more than a good-looking interface for the existing Facebook app - and you do need the Facebook app to make most things work. "The limited nature of the launcher means it won't appeal to power users or people who don't want to be connected 24/7," he says.
Hands on with the HTC First
The HTC First will be the first phone to ship with Facebook Home pre-loaded on it. It will be available in the US next week, and in the UK during the summer. US pricing is a very reasonable $99, so expect it to be priced to shift in the UK. It is a basic Android smartphone with a 4.3-inch, 720-pixel display. As well as Facebook Home, of course, it runs Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean). Because of this you still get access to traditional Google apps and features duch as Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Now. The HTC First has a 5Mp main, rear-facing camera, and a front-facing webcam for video chats and taking self portraits for Facebook.
Rodriguez spent some time with the HTC First, and these were his initial thoughts on the build and design: "This smartphone is made of a soft-touch material that makes it comfortable to hold, and its slim and lightweight design should make it easy to fit into virtually any pocket."
General performance was okay, too: "Jumping among apps - the official Facebook app, Facebook Messages, the camera app, and the Chrome browser - happened without much issue. I was surprised by how smoothly some of these Facebook apps ran on the phone and by the overall performance of Facebook Home."
Overall then the HTC First is interesting only because of its close integration with Facebook.