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Hands On with Facebook Home

When Mr Zuckerberg first gave us a glimpse of Facebook Home at the start of the month I thought it was a flawed concept. Then when they released this video last week I thought it was a really flawed concept. Having used Facebook Home for the past week, was I too quick to judge?

When I finally saw it pop up in the Google Play store this week I decided to put my preconceived notions about Home aside and give it a whirl. Immediately after installing my whole phone changed. It was as if I had just switched operating system, I was no longer on Android I was on Facebook OS.

Facebook Home is effectively a launcher and replaces your home screen with a full-screen sliding news feed. The user interface now consists of a tiny bubble of my face which can be dragged left to launch Messenger, up to access the app launcher, or right to open my most recently used app. These are the only options available to you and everything else is hidden away behind fiddly drag and swipe options.

Facebook Home

The Facebook Home UI.

All of this sounds lovely in Facebook land where guys dressed in hoodies and flip flops laugh at videos of screaming goats all day, but for those of us who want to use our phone for tasks outside of Facebook it is a real hindrance. My apps aren’t just there anymore, I have to go through a series of steps open them. And my widgets have completely disappeared, which for any Android user is like losing a limb. Important features that I had customised to be accessible with one touch such as Google Now, Twitter, Phone, Messages, and Email now take several actions to access. I counted that it took me 5 different actions to open Gmail as opposed to one before. I can’t even see basic information such as the time, notifications, battery indicator, or the weather.

Home also takes over your lock screen and only allows you to unlock your phone after you choose a specific app to open, it then takes you to your old lock screen where you still have to swipe and enter your pin. So effectively it adds two or three extra steps to unlock your phone. This is a real inconvenience, although it can be disabled in the options.

Facebook HomeThe news feed itself doesn’t exactly lend itself to the full screen experience. Images don’t fit on the screen properly and look dark and pixelated, even high-res images. The posts displayed on Facebook Home appear to be completely random, sometimes it would show me something posted 5 minutes ago and other times it would show a post from 3 days ago. With such a push for content to be instant Home seems to be overwhelmingly slow and irrelevant. Home is also very slow, after pressing the home button on my device when inside another app it sometimes took 5 seconds to load the Facebook Home screen. Another issue I found was that after scrolling through a number of posts there was no way (that I could find, anyway) of returning to the most recent post.

Engagement is one thing about Home that is easy and intuitive. Simple ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’ buttons in the bottom left hand corner work nicely, although I did find it easy to accidently hit the ‘Like’ button (always awkward).

One of the most talked about features on the launch of Home was Chat Heads. Despite the name, Chat Heads is a feature that makes a lot of sense. One thing that has always bugged me about the phones I’ve owned (both Android and iOS) is that messaging takes you out of whatever you are doing. Chat Heads tackles this by allowing you to view and reply to a message on-the-fly without it interrupting what you are doing. This feature works quite nicely and is something I would like to see implemented into Android.

Facebook Home Chat Heads

How Chat Heads appear.

So after using Facebook Home I’ve decided I’m probably not the target market, but even looking through the eyes of an avid Facebook user I can’t see the benefits of it over the standard Facebook app. It’s clunky, disruptive, slow, and actually makes the whole Facebook experience rather tedious. The main reason I, and most people I know, own an Android device is for the customisability, Facebook Home takes all of that away. It cuts off access to your widgets and home screens and makes it difficult to access other apps. It’s early days, and it may well improve with future updates, but I fear that once Zuckerberg and co. roll out ads on the platform it will be even more unusable.

I’m not alone in my feelings toward Home, the app has an unimpressive 2.2 star rating in the Play store. Here are a few comments from other users:

“Not an intuitive app. Made my phone so frustratingly complicated to use that I uninstalled after just four or five hours.” – Victoria Wiley

“It limits my phone. If I wanted a single company to take over my homescreen appearance, I could use an iPhone.” – Lee Milstein

“Not intuitive and it makes my phone butt ugly.” – Ric Brown

Although, it seems to have won a few fans:

“It does exactly what it’s suppossed to do. It has a beautiful interface and is quite handy for people that use fb often.” – Keanu James

“Simple and easy to use. I love it.” – Gregory Ro…

Have you used Facebook Home yet? What do you think of it?

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