Facebook Home

Friday's the big day, folks. The day the new Facebook Home application and the new HTC First smartphone arrive. Or, maybe it's just Friday. That all depends on your point of view toward Facebook, your phone and this whole social sharing thing in general.

There are more than 650 million active Facebook users. One in seven people on the planet has an account with Facebook. It's no small thing. But at the same time, how close is too close? Do you really want Facebook that much more in your life? Do Facebook Home and the new HTC First make that big a difference in the way you use Facebook? Will you use it more? Will it make you want to use it less? Does it makes the experience that much better?

The answer to many of those questions are a matter of personal taste. But we've been bombarded by questions from our friends and family -- folks who don't necessarily live day in night inside the tech bubble -- and with Friday being launch day, we've put together a few answers, in layman's terms.

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What is Facebook Home?

Facebook Home

Unveiled on April 4 at Facebook HQ in California (we were there!), Facebook Home is separate from the Facebook application. It's actually part "launcher," which is the sort of umbrella name for your Android smartphone's home screens and app drawer, part home feed, and part messaging service.

Facebook Home works by taking the posts you'd normally see in the Facebook application and bringing them to you much sooner, and with a much more attractive design. This part is called "cover feed," and it presents your friends' posts much like a slideshow, with full-screen pictures. You can "like" and comment on those posts directly from the cover feed view, as well as zoom in on the pictures.

None of this really "takes over" your phone, as you might have read elsewhere. It just does things differently, same as any other third-party launcher, like NOVA or Action Launcher. Hold down on your profile picture at the bottom of the screen and you'll see shortcuts to take you to other applications, including the app drawer. From there, you'll be in more familiar territory, and you'll see all of your existing apps.

Another major part of Facebook Home is called "chat heads." They work with Facebook messaging and regular text messages. Get one, and your friend's head appears on screen in a little bubble. Tap it to open the conversation. The chat heads persist on top of applications, making it easier to keep the conversation going. They're cute, but can get annoying if you've got too many going on at once. They're also pretty easy to get rid of by flinging the head toward the bottom of the phone.

No, really. What is Facebook Home?

OK, the short version: You get a quicker and prettier (and bigger!) way to see your friends' posts. And it's a little quicker and easier to share your stuff, too. There's also some cool messaging.

How do I get Facebook Home?

Facebook Home

First things first: This is Android only. It'll be available for free in the Google Play Store, just like any other application. Expect to see mention of it in the regular Facebook app, too. 

If you don't want to use Home, you don't have to use Home. Facebook (the app) will still work. 

And at launch, it's only (officially) available in the U.S.

Are there ads in Facebook Home? 

Not yet. But Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was crystal clear that we will at some point in the future.

Will Facebook Home work on my phone?

Officially, Facebook has only said that Home is supported on the Samsung Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4 and Note 2, and the HTC One X, One X+ and new HTC One. More devices will be announced "in the coming months," but it wouldn't surprise us in the least to see it either work out of the box on other recent devices, or to be hacked on with minimal effort.

Again, officially, Facebook Home runs on Android 4.x and up.

So this is different than the Facebook phone?

HTC First

The so-called "Facebook phone" actually is the "HTC First." It's an Android smartphone on AT&T that's got all of Facebook Home on it. But because it's built into the phone's operating system itself, it's got deeper integration and better design. You won't find yourself leaping from Facebook Home to, say, Samsung's TouchWiz or HTC Sense. Instead, you'll have a more seamless experience. Notifications from other applications will come through, and won't have a separate design. 

The size of the HTC First actually is one of its selling points. At 4.3 inches, it's almost a throwback to a time when we used our phones with one hand. (Those were the days.) It's also got a 5-megapixel camera and 4G LTE data. At 2,000 mAh, the battery is on the smaller side of what you'd expect in a new phone these days.

And it comes in red, light blue, white and black.

Does the Facebook phone run normal Android apps? 

It does! In fact, Android fans are downright salivating over the fact that the HTC First basically is a "stock" Android phone -- that is, with Google's default user interface and apps -- with the Facebook Home launcher, and that's it. It's got full access to Google Play and all the apps you're used to. 

When Facebook Home is running, you don't have traditional home screens -- just the main app drawer and a couple other pages on which to "bookmark" apps you use more often. No widgets, no folders. But you can turn off Facebook Home at any time and have a "stock" Android 4.1.2 experience, complete with widgets and folders. (And you can install another launcher if you prefer.)

It's not quite as powerful a phone as what's currently at the top of the mountain, but neither is the HTC First considered low-end. So some casual gaming should be fine. 

Do I really need the Facebook phone - erm, the HTC First - then?

Unless you really, really love Facebook and really, really are willing to hand over a two-year contract for deeper Facebook Home integration, probably not. Think long and hard about that. For another $100, you can get a lot more phone. 

That said, it's real hard to get a decent 4.3-inch phone these days. This could be your best shot, if size is that much of a thing for you.

Should I buy ​it or not?

HTC First

When it comes to the HTC First and Facebook Home, you might well have the opportunity to try -- at length -- before you buy. Assuming it works on your current phone (we'll just have to wait and see on Friday, once it's released), you can install Facebook Home and give it a shot. 

If it's the greatest thing since sliced bread and you've just got to have a little deeper access, go for it. If you've just got to have a 4.3-inch phone with LTE, well, here you go. Off-contract, it runs $449.99, which isn't too bad.