Hands on with Facebook Home

My original plan to test Facebook Home was to use it the entire weekend. I lasted five hours. Facebook Home is an interesting idea for Android devices, allowing you to live inside the Facebook ecosystem. But in reality, Facebook Home destroys the majority of what makes Android great, requiring multiple steps to complete simple tasks and completely lacking that easy Android usability.

The HTC First demo that Facebook gave promised lots, like easy notifications of Facebook messages, calls from contacts and email. These notifications are probably available on the HTC First, but use one of the other supported devices (in my case, a Samsung Galaxy S3) and you get whole other experience – no notifications outside Facebook, a stunted launcher and a lack of multitasking.

Facebook Home doesn’t want you to use your phone

I was skeptical of Facebook Home when it was announced and wondered how much integration it would have with other services and apps on my Samsung Galaxy S3.

Facebook Home is a launcher and requires permissions to run over the existing skin. My stock TouchWiz launcher is customized with the apps I use frequently and similar apps are in folders. After giving Facebook Home permission to run, the main screen became a Facebook status update. The first impression is that Facebook Home looks sleek. By default, Facebook Home hides the Status Bar, making it impossible to see network strength, battery status, or standard notifications.

The first time I opened the app launcher, I expected all the apps in folders and on the home screen to be placed on the first screen. Instead, Facebook Home only added a few of the apps, and onto two pages. It was strange to see the majority of my common apps, like TouchWiz email, Kakaotalk, Google Calendar, and Twitter not added. It felt like Facebook only wanted the bare minimum of non-Facebook apps to be added. Of course, swiping will bring up your full list of apps, but not even adding the phone app is bizarre!

Switching apps is annoying. You can either launch the app launcher to see your app pages or swipe to the last open app. You can’t even see notifications while Facebook Home is running – instead, you have to open an app to access the notification bar. Facebook Home by default hides the status bar, so when my phone vibrated with a notification, there wasn’t any extra information.

Security is another concern. The demo didn’t show anything about security, but when using Facebook Home with my phone lock settings still enabled, I found that it wasn’t designed to work with existing security seamlessly –  instead, Facebook Home works around it. Cover Feed is enabled by default as the first thing you see when you wake up your phone. You can still swipe through posts, but the moment you need to get into an app, unlocking the device defaulted back to TouchWiz’s two screen security.

It’s even more disturbing that you can open the Settings menu showing options to logout, open settings, and find out “About” Facebook Home from the lock screen. You still have to unlock the device to get into these settings, but why would Facebook ever allow the options on the Cover Feed over the lock screen?

Non-existent Notifications

The HTC First displayed a good sample of possible notifications Facebook Home should give when receiving anything. During the tests with Facebook Home on the Samsung Galaxy S3 though, the only notifications I received were Facebook notifications like a comment on a Wall post and a Facebook Messenger Chat Head. I can’t even consider the Facebook Messenger Chat Head notification as part of Facebook Home because the standalone Messenger app that now supports the feature.

I tested getting Gmail, a phone call, email through another account, and voicemail, and received zero notifications. I could only see the notifications after opening a separate app, in this case the Facebook Home settings. Notifications are a big part of smartphones and Facebook Home didn’t want to let me see any of them.

A Feed of Nothing Relevant

Facebook Home doesn’t communicate with preferences very well. In the Facebook app, I have my News Feed set to show the most recent posts and content. Cover Feed shows top stories which can vary by date. Swiping through Cover Feed showed posts from days prior, rarely a post that was within the last couple hours unless it had some sort of interaction.

I would have thought that Facebook would allow users to customize their feeds, but it appears that this option doesn’t exist. Even more annoying is that Facebook Page Manager has no direct access to Facebook Home so you are still tied to the Facebook or Facebook Pages Manager app to make changes.

Facebook Home is so focused on being a window into your News Feed that it forgets other purposes of Facebook, like managing pages and controlling your personal account. It breaks the normal functionality of an Android phone by forcing you to add steps to access apps.

Not even worth it as a demo

The idealistic thought that Facebook users want to always be connected to Facebook is idiotic. The integration of Facebook Home as a launcher is too insidious because it takes over the core of the phone – apps and communication.

With notifications being blocked by the “beauty” of Cover Feed, apps hidden by the app launcher, non-existent widgets, no quick search, and stunted security options; Facebook Home is a tech demo to sell a device, but not something to use every day.

I honestly tried to last as long as possible, but Facebook Home made my S3 unusable for my daily needs. It forces you to focus on what it wants, not what you need, and has some gaping flaws on devices other than the HTC First. Facebook Home should also have been developed for devices running older versions of Android – it doesn’t make sense to install a launcher on Android 4.0+ unless it’s for more customization. For most users, Facebook Home is actually a step backwards, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be aware of its own limitations.

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