While the HTC First will be the first smartphone to ship with Home out of the box, Facebook did release the launcher for a select few Android devices, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of those to take part in the launch.
NOTE: Smartphones and tablets that are not officially supported (like the Google Nexus 7 by ASUS) can still get Facebook Home by installing the modded app files directly.
At its core, Home is an Android launcher that integrates SMS and MMS into its Facebook Messenger application. The combination of the regular Facebook app, Messenger, and Home all provide the "full" experience of the new experiment.
The question is, do we want this?
Getting Facebook Home up and running is easy enough. Simply install the three apps onto your GS3.
When you first open the Facebook Home app, select Home as your "Always" default launcher.
Now, let's breakdown this new Facebook experience.
There are definitely some cool aspects to FB Home, so let's take a look at some of them.
- Cover Feed
Upon installation (and signing in), you start with FB Home's main screen. It's your news feed presented with scrolling pictures and statuses. On the bottom center, you see your profile picture bubble. This acts as a sort of lockscreen navigator; press and move to the right for the last used app, to the left for Messenger, and up for Apps (you can also tap the Home key for apps).
You cycle through your News Feed by flicking left and right. Tap the screen once, and you'll notice your profile picture goes away, and you can "like" and comment right from the post. You can also press and hold down to see full photos.
- Unified Messaging and Chat Heads
FB Home uses its Messenger app to direct not only FB messages, but also all SMS and MMS messages. When you receive a message, it will pop up in the middle of your screen. Tap the message to go to the reply screen. Once there, you'll notice your sender has now become a Chat Head.
Chat Heads will accumulate as people message you and will stay persistent on your screen. You can move them around as you wish and flick them to the bottom to remove them.
- Unified Messaging and Chat Heads
No, you didn't accidentally scroll back up to the "good" section. While many will like both these features, many will be bothered by them or slow to adapt. True unified messaging would be great, but this isn't that.
FB messenger is great, but it isn't the only form of messaging most of us use. Along with SMS/MMS (which again, are incorporated), there are several other very popular messaging apps in play these days, like WhatsApp, Kik, Google Voice, and more.
For me, unless they are all incorporated, I'd prefer to keep them separate. Plus, combining standard and FB messages in one makes it harder to distinguish what type of message is being sent. What if you meant to send a text, but instead sent a FB message to someone that maybe has never installed the Facebook app on their device. They never get your message, and you think that they're ignoring you.
In a similar vein, Chat Heads may be cool to some, but to others are nothing more than a gimmick. Personally, I prefer a simple icon on my status bar to a small circle hanging out in the corner of my screen, persisting through whatever I'm doing.
You will notice that after installing FB Home, pressing the Power or Home button takes you directly to the Cover Feed. This is great when you have your phone, but what if a friend or colleague picks it up to check the time and is now staring at your buddy's post about "getting wasted", accompanied with a picture of said buddy making inappropriate gestures with a Subway sandwich.
Or worse, your device is stolen and now some stranger has access to not only your Facebook, but your messages, pictures, everything.
Luckily, a quick trip to Settings will fix this; hit Menu and select "Home Settings".
Simply uncheck "See Home When Screen Turns On", and you will go back to having your lockscreen activate when hitting the Power or Home keys.
Now that Facebook will be front and center of your Galaxy S3, it's going to be constantly using data to keep your Cover Feed updated. This is not only a drain on your battery, but also your providers data plan. Another trip to FB Home settings can resolve this issue.
Select "Data Use", and you can choose from three settings. The higher the setting, the more data is used for updates and picture quality.
Some good, some bad, lots of ugly.
- Where Did Android Go?
One glaring area that FB Home will need to address is its complete dumbing down on years of Android innovation. The beauty and functionality of Jelly Bean is all but invisible while using FB Home.
Say goodbye to your beautiful home screens. Gone are widgets and folders, replaced by a boring app drawer and four screens for customizing your apps, with quick buttons for "Status", "Photo", and "Check In".
What would a Facebook app be without concerns for our privacy?
The FB Home app itself does not require any permissions from our device, but the main app is a privacy nightmare. The difference now is, Facebook will always be on. It will always be tracking your location, monitoring what apps you are downloading and using. It'll know that is you spend 8 hours a day in one location, you are either at school, work, or home. It'll know that you run every other day because it knows you use your running app on alternating days.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already stated that ads will be incorporated into FB Home. Does that mean that you'll see ads for running shoes before you hit the track? You may be an ad for a bar or restaurant when you get off work or are sitting in traffic. No one can know for sure yet, but we do know that access to our data is out there.
But here's the thing:
Yes, Facebook will have a greater look into our phone habits, and through that, our lives. But doesn't Google and Apple do the same thing? Maybe we trust those companies more, so when they take and use our information, it bothers us less (or not at all). This may be a case where Facebook's reputation paints them in a dirty light, but it's too early to assume maliciousness.
Unless you are an extremely heavy Facebook user, take a hard pass on FB Home for now. You can use the messaging app and still have chat heads and unified messaging, if you like that sort of stuff.
Look for some major updates from Facebook on their Home app. Remember that they sold HTC on shipping a phone with FB Home, and if they don't want it to be the last phone they ship their software with, Facebook will be hard at work for the next iteration of their launcher.