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Facebook Home

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CNET Editors' review

Facebook Home is a full-on launcher replacement for Android phones that places Facebook's many services at the core of your Android smartphone experience. So if you don't like Facebook, then move on.

Launchers are full-on custom replacements that do more than just give your phone a new coat of paint. Facebook Home not only splashes your home screen with full-screen photos and status updates, but also blurs the line between SMS and Facebook chat. Though your main Android operating system still powers your device under the hood, your phone will hardly be recognizable when compared with the stock Android experience, let alone any other manufacturer-centric launchers like HTC's Sense, MotoBlur, or Samsung's own TouchWiz.

Let's start with what's positive: There's no denying that FB Home is slick. Everything from status updates, panning photos, and the overall cycling of your friends' minute-to-minute activity is displayed via what Facebook calls "Cover Feed." Menlo Park's big blue is seriously reaching for your focus and attention when it comes to friends. Each status update is accompanied by a picture in the back, which is intelligently darkened to make the actual text appear more legible. Double-tapping lets you "like" a status, though you can respond in the more traditional sense by tapping the "Like" and comment icons located on the bottom row. Newer notifications will pop up in the foreground and can be swiped away just like the stock Android 4.0 notification bar.

Facebook makes great use of minimal presentation to highlight Cover Feed.

(Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

The lock screen, itself, is also very much like Google's own circular lock; dragging your circular lock to the left, top, or right will trigger different actions. By default, left navigation will take you to Facebook's hybrid SMS/Messenger list, while top navigation will take you to a standard set of pages, where your apps currently reside. You can also quickly post your own status, take photos, or check in by swiping up and tapping on the respective action. However, if Facebook did take Google's cue for this, then I'd have hoped they'd take it a step further by allowing the top three options as defaults, as well. Certainly, there's enough screen estate, since it's essentially a lock screen.

Speaking of Messenger, one of the coolest features that comes with Home is Chat Heads, a pop-up circular icon of your friends that notify you of any incoming messages. They'll appear over just about anything you do on the phone and can easily be removed just by dragging to the bottom of the screen. Chat Heads can be stacked and moved around in a way that's intuitive and arguably even playfully reminiscent of VH1's old "Pop Up Videos" series. Kudos to Facebook for allowing us to keep this feature, even after disabling Home.

Whether it's SMS or Facebook Chat, Home doesn't choose sides.

(Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

Relearning the process of accessing and interacting with your currently installed apps isn't too bad, but not exactly intuitive. Home lists your currently installed apps and sorts it according to how it exists on your launcher prior to installation. Taking a cue from iOS, if you swipe over to the far left panel, a master list of apps will be displayed, waterfall style. However, there's a strange "More" icon that just takes you back to your stock launcher, which seems weird.

This leads us to our biggest gripe with Facebook Home: Not only does Facebook make accessing other apps a chore, but your "friends" can quickly turn from points of interest into disruptions. While some have kept their Facebook friend numbers limited to an intimate amount, others tend to hoard them into the hundreds -- even thousands. And if the Web version of the News Feed didn't convince you that it's time to slim down your friends list, then Cover Feed surely will. Not long after installation, I found myself swiping 12-20 times through, until finding a status I cared about (and I have the oily grease marks on my phone to prove it). Just wait till the ads come marching in.

I wonder if iPhone users would say the same for Android.

(Credit: Screenshot by Eddie Cho)

The bottom line is that Home is pretty, silky smooth, and well... it's Facebook. It's a reimagining of the popular big blue experience, and also a sign of things to come. But its current iteration, as a confining presence on my phone, is like a guest who is quickly overstaying his welcome (which, admittedly, may be due to my having to learn how to navigate my phone again). But hey, Chat Heads is nice.

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