Hands-on: Paper by Facebook (iPhone) review‏

Paper, Facebook's a new iPhone app, has been released in the US.

Carrying the same name as the well-known app from FiftyThree, Paper is supposed to combine two experiences into one: social networking and news consumption.

Whether it succeeds like Facebook Messenger or bombs like Facebook Poke is a yet to be seen, but Pocket-lint has already spent a little time with Paper and can give you a brief hands-on with our first impressions.

READ: FiftyThree tells Facebook ‘stop using our name’ after Paper app launch

Introduction video

When you first open Paper, there's a short introduction video. It's a quick reel of visual moments of a person writing a letter, another using a typewriter, putting a script together, taking a photograph - each snippet meant to evoke communication, the feeling you might get when digesting news or enjoying a story.

Facebook wants you to experience the classic way of retrieving news but with a fresh twist. Only, it's not very fresh. Because there are hundreds of RSS and news aggregator-type apps available in the App Store. But Facebook feels it has something different to offer with Paper.

Guided tour

The guided tour is impressive. It launches directly after the introduction video and starts by having you designate the topics - or "Sections" you're interested in reading.

There is also a narrative voice in the guided tour that calmly details step-by-step instructions for setting up and navigating Paper. For the hearing impaired, there are colourful symbols, arrows and captions to go along with the narration. They demonstrate Paper's supported gestures and what to do next.  

Sections

Sections are similar to traditional newspaper sections ( Comics, Lifestyle, News). Like newspapers, Paper offers only a handful of sections at launch, and you can't truly customise them.

From the spinnable wheel at the bottom of Sections, you can swipe up to add any section card you like. You will see Headlines for world news, Tech for tech news, Score for sports, Glow for beauty and fashion, and Flavor for cuisine.

There are 20 section cards in total, including an automatically added section called Facebook. It shows you statuses, news stories, and interesting stuff shared by your friends.

Each section has a built-in set of news sources that you can't adjust. Glow, for instance, draws stories from Teen Vogue, Who What Wear and Harper's Bazaar, among others. You cannot add other news sources to a section.

Reading Paper

Paper is similar to Flipboard in that everything is ad-free and laid out in a magazine-style format.

A section appears at the top-half of the app, and the related articles appear below a section. Swipe right to left or left to right in the section area to toggle between all of your sections, and you can use the same gesture in articles area to browse stories in a section.

Click on a story to load it in full screen. You can then do another set of gestures to read the article, including things like tapping on images to enlarge, swiping from bottom to top to scroll or tilting to explore a photo. The guided tour will explain all the supported gestures and how you can use them to get the most out of each article.

You'll notice that each article has Facebook integration, so you can like, comment, share and all of these actions will show up in connection to your Facebook account.

Menu

When in a section or an article, you can swipe from top to bottom to access Paper's Menu. It has options for searching Facebook, viewing your Facebook profile, creating a Facebook post, editing Sections, and Settings.

Under Search, you can do things like search for friends and pages you've liked. Create a Post does exactly what it sounds like: it lets you write something, post a photo, tag a friend, and identify your location.

As for Edit Sections - you still can't customise your sections with this option. You can however add or delete sections. This is useful if you hurried through the Guided Tour and didn't add all the sections you might have wanted or if you need to delete a section that just didn't appeal to you.

Finally, you have Settings. You can use this menu to change settings for actions such as push notifications or gestures. It also provides access to logout, as well as app and account information.

Look and feel

Now that you've fully explored Paper, you can really appreciate Facebook's design effort. It's very in line with iOS 7. In our brief testing, there was no lag or hiccup, and everything appeared clean.

The Settings menu, for instance, is quite opaque and shows a portion of your cover photo (blurred, albeit) in the background. And each section has a slideshow of article images, which give the app a fluid feel, while articles are divided by thin, black lines. They make the UI look crisp and modern. Even Create a Post serves up a Google Now card-like experience with lots of edgy white space and neat text.

Paper's gestures really enhance the design, too. Just swipe, tap, pull or tilt. You'll learn them all quickly. They make navigating Paper seem both immersive and fun.

Conclusion

Paper by Facebook is undoubtedly an excellent app. It functions well, and it's just great.

The main downside is you can't really customise a section. The ability to add your own news sources or create a custom section will surely be missed by many. But Paper does have a good offering of sections and news sources, so you won't be too disappointed.

The only thing left to ponder is whether there is a need for another Flipboard or Feedly-like app. Because that's what Paper is essentially, but with deeper Facebook integration. If you love both news aggregators and Facebook, Paper is the hands down the ideal app for you. And it's free.



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