If you want to do more on your smartphone than just use Facebook, then you don’t want Home.
Introduced last week, Home is the new interface the social network has designed for Android smartphones. Instead of applications or widgets, Home puts Facebook pictures and posts front and center.
The problem with Home is that it offers both more and less of Facebook than many people are likely to want. Although it puts Facebook at the center of your smartphone experience, it offers only a limited slice of the social-networking site and little ability to customize your experience.
I’ve been testing Home for the past several days on an HTC First smartphone, which is — as the name suggests — the first device to come with the software preinstalled. Consumers were able to buy the First or download Home to a handful of other Android devices as of Friday.
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The Home software replaces not only the default Android interface, but the lock screen as well. When you turn on your phone, you see a picture posted by one of your Facebook friends, the time, a virtual button with your face on it and, in the middle of the screen, any alerts or notifications you may have. If you leave the device on — but don’t touch it — it will flip through a succession of pictures with status updates overlaid on top, one at a time, all full-screen.
But Home is about more than just Facebook posts.
One of its other major features is a new way of sending messages that allows you to chat with your Facebook friends even when you leave Home. Friends with whom you are exchanging Facebook or text messages show up as “chat heads,” which are your friends’ Facebook profile pictures that have been turned into round virtual buttons.
These buttons sit on top of Home or other applications. If you tap on them, they’ll display your ongoing conversation as a kind of window on top of whatever app you are in. Tap the chat head again, and the conversation closes.
Because the chat heads are about the size of the home button on an iPhone, they can be a bit obtrusive, covering up parts of the screen. But you can move them around if they are blocking something. And the ability to jump in and out of a chat without leaving the app you’re in is a great feature.
Home also allows users to easily update their Facebook status, post pictures to the social network or check-in someplace and broadcast their location to their friends.
Oh, yeah, and it will also allow you to launch and run your Android apps — that is, if you can make your way past all the Facebook features. Because that’s the explicit point of Home: It’s a way of re-imagining the interface of a smartphone with social networking, not apps, at the center. In Home, apps are second-class citizens.
In fact, unless you touch the home button or your personal icon on the home screen, you don’t even see a place in Home to access apps. And if you turn off the device while in an app, you don’t go back to the app when you turn it back on; instead, you go back to Home.
If Home were just another app you could jump into and out of as you saw fit, it would be great because it’s so mesmerizing and engrossing. It makes you want to keep scrolling through your friends’ updates.
But Home is much more than a typical app. Unless you turn it off or uninstall it, it just doesn’t go away. Instead, it’s the default way you interact with your phone. And the impression it gives is that it’s all you can do with your phone.
At the same time, Home is a frustratingly limited version of Facebook. Right now you can’t view videos in Home.
You also can’t customize what posts you see in it; for example, you can’t specify that you only want Home to show posts from your close friends.
And because Home is little more than a layer that sits on top of Android, it’s not well-integrated into the standard Android apps.
If you are using the Chrome browser on the First, you might think that there would be a simple button that would allow you to share a Web page on Facebook. But there’s not.
So while Home offers more of Facebook than you’re likely to want, it gives you fewer ways of interacting with the social network than you probably would like.
For now, I’d advise staying a long way from Home.