(Pocket-lint) - Facebook and its partners have announced the HTC First, making a U-turn on something it said it would never do: launch a Facebook phone.
It won't be for everyone, but Facebook does hope to tempt you in with a clever Android user interface tweak. And should you not fancy a new mid-range handset you can even convert your existing Android smartphone into a "Facebook Phone", using the company's new software. Called Facebook Home you can download it for your phone from 12 April. So here's how to get it set up and what to expect when you do.
Is my device compatible?
The HTC First will naturally be compatible, but Facebook is planning extremely broad availability for its Facebook Home platform. That said, only a few select devices will be supported at launch day, with the number increasing as time goes on and also including tablets.
Initially supported will be the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note II, Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X, One X+ and the One. Facebook is planning monthly updates to its Home launcher, with increased handset compatibility each month as well as a raft of new features.
Download the Facebook Home launcher
Anyone with the most up-to-date versions of the Facebook or Facebook Messenger apps on a compatible Android phone will see a prompt to go to Google Play and download Facebook Home.
From there, you simply download the Facebook Home client and then choose whether you want to use it all the time, or just to complete Facebook-related actions with it. Select the default Facebook launcher to use the normal app, or Facebook Home to use the new-look system.
Browse your Cover Feed
The most significant change Facebook Home brings to Android is with its lock screen. Now when you wake your handset you will see a set of floating images and information from your Facebook News Feed.
These can include anything from friends' photos, Instagram pictures, status updates and link shares. The Cover Feed carousel will gradually tick over by itself, but you can swipe left and right to browse through it, as well as long press on any image to zoom out and see the whole photo.
You can interact with Facebook directly from the Cover Feed without the need to open the application. If you double tap an image for example, then you will "Like" it via Facebook.
In the bottom left is a comment box; tapping this well let you start typing on whatever your Cover Feed is showing, be it image, status update or a link share.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20, What3Words CEO, and Withings Sleep Analyzer reviewed - Pocket-lint podcast ep. 65
Facebook's other core functionality - notifications - has been given a rethink for Facebook Home. Now, any notifications you receive will pop up on top of your Cover Feed to alert you. You can customise notifications within Facebook itself, which will then in turn alter exactly what pops up above your Cover Feed.
When you do get a notification, there are several different things you can do. A single tap of the notification will take you out of Cover Feed and into the Facebook app itself. If you long tap on a person's profile picture (their "Chat Head") listed next to the notification, then you will go into Facebook messenger or, if you choose, the main Facebook app.
Finally, you can swipe notifications away left or right to ignore them for the time being, or drag down to get rid of all of them and return to browsing your Cover Feed.
Facebook messages are also handled differently in Home. Now whenever someone sends you a message, a small circular profile pic icon - the Chat Head - will hover on the top left of your phone screen. When the message first comes in, a short preview will be shown.
Tapping the Chat Head will open a messenger chat, then you can reply to the message without losing any app you might be using in the background. A long swipe up will close the conversation and return your phone to conventional Android use - browsing a web page, for example.
Group chats are also possible, represented by the same pop-up circle notification as before, except with every profile pic of the chat member shown. If you have multiple messages from multiple contacts, then you will get a Chat Head icon for each. All you need to do is tap them individually to swap conversations.
Check out the app drawer
Facebook Home also has a custom-made app drawer. From the Cover Feed home screen, dragging the circular icon of your profile picture will give you the option to open up the app drawer.
This will then show a selection of Facebook-related apps, first and third-party, with the option to check-in or post status updates straight from the top of the drawer. Swiping over the app drawer will open up all the other apps in your phone in a list, like conventional Android's menu.
As launchers go, Facebook Home looks impressive from the brief demo we've seen already. It promises to change your smartphone drastically the moment you install it and ramp up the social side of things no end. Facebook is promising a 12 April launch for the phones we listed above, with many more to follow. Sadly, tablet support for Facebook Home is still months away.