These days, living without a Facebook account is like living without a telephone. Despite the expected occasional backlash any massively successful enterprise experiences, the social network of record has become an essential communication tool of modern life. Any mobile platform without an official Facebook app lacks a significant component. So, even though there have long been many third-party Facebook apps in the Windows Store, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long to get the real McCoy from the horse’s mouth. But it was worth the wait: The Windows 8.1 Facebook app (free) delivers the lion’s share of what you’d want, in a well-designed client.
I installed Facebook for Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store on a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet with a dual-core 1.7GHz Core i5 processor and 4GB RAM, and on a Core i7 desktop PC, so I’d have both the touch and keyboard/mouse experience with the app. On first run, a privacy permission bar appears across the screen asking you to allow the app to run in the background, which you probably want, in order to get notifications.
Facebook for Windows 8.1 resembles other platforms’ Facebook apps, but uses design elements standard for the platform, like the Charms, an app bar, and the Windows 8.1 fonts for touch options. It sports the standard 3-panel interface, with the left rail offering Search and navigation to your sites sections—your profile, news feed, messages, location, events, and so on. Unlike the iPad and Android apps, though, this side panel is always there, not to be swiped away as on the iPad, which is only wide enough to show either the left or right sidebars, not both at once.
One great interface feature is that when you click on a link one of your Friends posted, the app opens a half-screen app to the right, rather than switching you to full-screen browser view, as you’d have to in any other tablet operating system. Something you don’t get in the Windows 8.1 Facebook app is Chat Heads, those persistent circles on the screen representing your conversations with buddies profile images. Another interface drawback is that it doesn’t look great when you hold the tablet in portrait orientation; it works, but you get a blank lower screen area.
The app makes use of Windows 8.1′s lock screen for status updates. I saw “toast” notifications over the screen when someone commented on a post that I had previously commented on. The app’s Start page tile initially showed just a number indicating how many activity notifications you have waiting. But after a while, like Windows 8.1 built-in People app, the Facebook tile also showed profile photos with comment excerpts.
Performance-wise, the interface was quick on both of my devices, with panels sliding in and out snappily, though network speed occasionally took a moment to load newsfeed items, indicated by the standard circle of rotating dots.
Facebooking on Windows 8.1
Unlike many earlier versions of Facebook’s mobile apps, the Windows 8.1 app gives you nearly all the functionality you’d have on the social network’s desktop site, but like those, it’s not all the way there yet. All my notifications, chats, and friend-requesting and unfriending activities are present in the app, just as on the site. I could hide or report any post as spam, but I couldn’t edit my own posts or comments. Though it wasn’t obvious at first, I could copy-and-paste into a status update by holding and releasing a finger and tapping Paste. Android makes this process a bit clearer, while iPad has its own issues with copy and paste.
I could sort my news feed by All Friends, Most recent, Photos, Groups, and more. A swiping down gesture refreshes the feed. Comments appear a little differently than in other Facebook interfaces, popping out a new box that disappears as soon as you tap elsewhere on the screen. Once you get used to it, it’s a pleasing design choice.
Pictures from your contacts and in your own albums look great and are displayed full screen; you can swipe through albums, Like, Tag, or comment on individual photos. I could not, however, edit my comments, as I could on the website, but this is a limitation shared by the iPad and Android apps, too.
As with any self-respecting social network app, you can take pictures from your device and post them directly within the app. It’s actually a key differentiator between an official app and one that just replicates the website. As with several features, you need to grant the Facebook app permission to use your device’s camera before the first shot. The app simply uses the Windows 8.1 default camera interface, but the video button was disabled, as it is in the iPad Facebook app.
Places. You can check in from the app to share your location; the first time you do this you’ll see a permission bar asking to allow the app access to your whereabouts. When checking in, you can add Friends and photos, and choose the audience for the post, from public to “Only Me.”
Chat. Facebook Chat works similarly to other official apps, showing up either in a right-hand sidebar that lets you keep on Facebooking in the main central area, or full-screen if you choose the left panel Messages entry. But you don’t get “stickers,” though you can see stickers others send you. When you’re in a chat and swipe up from the bottom to display the app bar, you can tap on Contact info to sprout a side panel showing the contact’s timeline and her notification settings. As with status updates, I could copy-and-paste in messages, and the virtual keyboard doesn’t get in the way as it does on the iPad.
Friends and Groups. I could add friends and unfriend them, follow them, and message them from the app, as you’d expect. But I couldn’t block, or do a number of other things the website allows, like set the amount of updates I’d see from them, add to lists, or “See Friendship.” I could view and interact with my groups, but I couldn’t create a new group, as the iPad app lets you do.
Settings. Many of the choices in the Facebook apps’ Settings Charm simply take you to the relevant webpage, like when you want to change Account and Privacy settings or see the Help Center. The Settings Charm does let you directly change the apps permissions to use location, the camera, and to send notifications.
Facebook the Windows 8.1 Way
This well-designed app does everything you need to enjoy Facebook interaction in a slick interface that works well with both touch and mouse/keyboard interfaces. It does not offer every possible Facebook option, but then again, neither does any other official Facebook mobile app. And if you need something not found in the app, you can always open the Facebook site on your tablet or PC. The bottom line is that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed interacting in Facebook using the app, and can recommend it to all Windows 8.1 users, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc