April 4, 2013 -- Wait, a Facebook phone? Why? Isn't the Facebook app enough?
That's something I've heard a number of times in the last week as news and rumors of Facebook's phone swirled.
Today Facebook unveiled Home -- its software that will morph Android phones into, well, Facebook phones. No, the company isn't making a phone of its own, though it has partnered with others like HTC to make phones that run the software.
The software, as you might have guessed, is a lot more than an app. But will you want it and how does it work? We got some of those answers today at Facebook's headquarters.
How Does it Work?
On April 12 you will be able to download Facebook Home from the Google Play store on a select number of phones, including the Galaxy S3 and the HTC One. That will install Home, which includes the Facebook app and a whole lot more. It's an entire new Facebook experience for your phone.
The main home screen has been taken over by what Facebook is calling Cover Feed. Cover Feed is really a visual way of viewing your News Feed. It will cycle through images and updates. You can hold down an image to comment and see more information. Centered on the bottom of that Cover Feed screen is a small circular icon with your profile photo. Hold down on that and you will be able to get into your apps or Facebook Messenger.
Messenger also has a few cool tricks. When you get a new message from a friend a small little circle with their Facebook photo will pop up. That's called a Chat Head. These little icons can pop up within other apps and you can tap it to automatically start chatting with someone. For instance, you can be looking at a map in Google Maps and message your friend, "Where are you?"
Overall, the design of the software is very clean and playful. It was also fast from what I could see in the short demos. But it certainly will be a big change for those that have gotten used to the look and feel of Android. You can still download apps for the phone and if you don't like the Home interface, you can disable it.
How is that HTC First Phone?
The software will be available for a few Android phones, but will also come preloaded on HTC's First phone. The First has a 4.3-inch screen, AT&T LTE, a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and a 5-megapixel camera.
Like HTC's other phones, the First has a really nice industrial design, with rounded edges that make it very comfortable to hold. And because it has a 4.3-inch screen it's not too hard to manage. However, while I didn't get to put the phone through the paces, the specs, including the 5-megapixel camera, leave a bit more to be desired. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel camera and the iPhone 5 an 8-megapixel camera.
That said, it will be $99.99 -- $100 less than those higher-end phones -- when it goes on sale at AT&T on April 12. It also comes in different colors, including red, black and blue.
Am I Going to Want This?
So are you going to want the First or even the Home software? It really depends on who you are. If you are already living in the Facebook app on your phone all day long, then Home certainly seems worth a try. Chat Heads shakes up mobile messaging and you can still download and use other Android apps.
However, for those that prefer to just check in on Facebook from time to time, the Facebook app will, as many have said, continue to be good enough.