Android this week: Facebook Home impresses; Small slates sell big; Galaxy Note 8.0 arrives

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A week after its introduction, Facebook Home arrived for a handful of Android phones on Friday. Prior to using the Facebook-centric launcher, I didn’t think I’d personally see any value in it. After installing it on my Galaxy Note 2 and using it for a while, however, my skepticism was diminished and 24 hours later, Facebook Home still resides on my Android smartphone.

Chat Heads on AndroidThe novelty could wear off, of course, and heavy users of Android widgets won’t care for Facebook Home since you can’t use them with the launcher. However, the software is well designed, shows no signs of lag — at least on my handset — and already had an effect that Facebook is aiming for: More engagement.

I know I used Facebook more in the past day then I typically do because it’s almost addicting to flip through status updates on the lock screen, like them and post comments. But if you just want the new Chat Heads feature without Facebook Home, an updated Facebook Messenger app is all you need; it works on Android 2.2 and up.

Facebook+home+settingsIf you do install Facebook Home, let me pass on two quick tips. First, some of the full-screen photos on your lock screen may look pixelated and you may only see part of the image. You can tap and hold any status update photo on the home screen and it will reduce the picture so you can see all of it, making it clearer. Second, to keep Facebook Home but not use it as your default launcher, you not only have to clear it as the default launcher, but also go into Facebook Home settings and disable it there. If you don’t, you’ll see Facebook Home every time you unlock your phone.

Facebook is concentrating on smartphones right now, but I suspect support for Android tablets will soon follow. And when it does, it would be wise for Facebook to focus on smaller slates. This week, new data surfaced showing that five of the top six Android tablets all have 7-inch screens. These five account for nearly a third of the entire Android tablet market, with devices from Samsung, Amazon and Google (made by Asus) topping the list. While the usability of Facebook Home might have surprised me, the success of small slates doesn’t: I saw the light in early 2011 when I dumped the original iPad for a smaller Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Galaxy Note 8 featuredThese days, my Galaxy Note 2 doubles as a small slate while pulling duty as a smartphone. I like the combination of large screen with support for cellular voice calls. That’s why I’m disappointed that the U.S. version of the new Galaxy Note 8.0 was stripped of its voice calling support. The international model keeps this function. Still, I’m intrigued in the new $399 tablet, mainly because of the S-Pen support — something I didn’t think I’d like at first, but eventually came to appreciate — and the ability to run two apps as the same time on the 8-inch display.

I may take a run to a nearby retailer to get some hands on time with the Galaxy Note 8.0 and share impressions next week. For now, take a look at this overview from nearby Philly native, Brad Linder. He posted a video look on his Liliputing site and while the slate experienced some hiccups, looks to be a nice combo of hardware and software.

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