Facebook’s finally created an iPhone app that makes me giddy. Paper, Facebook’s entry into the ever-expanding social news reader space, not only feeds you articles of interest based on who you follow on the mega-popular social network, but also trending stories from sources such as Complex Magazine, Huffington Post, Pitchfork, and Vice. Paper is a beautiful, elegant app that nonetheless lacks a key feature or two, preventing me from abandoning the existing Facebook iOS app or our Editors’ Choice award-winning Flipboard for iPhone.
Paper is a Facebook product, so Zuckerberg and crew require potential users to already have a Facebook account (you can’t create one using the app). It simplifies the sign-up process (your Facebook credentials will log you into Paper) and leverages posts from the people and brands that you follow to create panels of content. That’s the initial step.
The first panel you see after logging into the app is dedicated to your FB news feed, but next to it is an empty panel where you can drag top-level content panels (Headlines, Tech, All City, for example) from the bottom of the screen to the top. The category panels don’t reveal which sources are inside until you add them to your news feed—I prefer Flipboard’s more open approach. Tapping “Done” confirms your selections.
The Facebook Paper Experience
You navigate the themed sections by making horizontal swipes on the large Cover images that represent each section. I liked this method of navigation better than Flipboard’s, as the horizontal swiping motion feels more natural, but your mileage may vary.
When you land on a content section you’re interested in exploring (let’s say Pop Life, for example), you tap one of the highlighted, rotating cover stories or one of the smaller panels beneath them. Each panel shows the source, lead image, and descriptive text, and you can increase its size by tapping them or making an upward swipe.
Enlarged panels not only give you a better look at the previously mentioned items, but they also display the number of likes and comments the stories have accumulated, too. The interface may sound confusing or cumbersome, but Facebook Paper is remarkably simple to navigate—even with one hand, which is plus.
Tapping or swiping up opens the image, page, or video. Despite the iPhone’s relatively small screen, I found Facebook Paper reading an enjoyable experience. Stories can be saved to Pocket, Instapaper, Pinboard, or Safari Reading List. You can also comment, like, and share posts, and the actions are reflected on the desktop Facebook near-instantaneously.
Almost Like Facebook, Not Quite Flipboard
Paper isn’t just a Facebook newsreader. Familiar Facebook icons let you message other Facebook users, view Friend requests, and check out notifications, so you can perform some of the more vital Facebook actions. Unfortunately, Facebook Paper doesn’t support Events, so you’ll have to make do with the original Facebook app if you want to access and manage your Facebook calendar. I found this a fairly significant omission, as Events is one Facebook feature I regularly use.
Another curiosity: Facebook Paper buries the section where you post updates behind the home screen. Swiping down from any main cover page reveals a Create Post section, as well as other areas that let you tinker with settings and edit the source feeds. I’d prefer if Create Post existed on the main screen alongside Message, Notifications, and Friend Request.
In addition, Facebook Paper lacks Flipboard’s more advanced features, such as magazine creation, and even basic ones like sharing to other social networks (Google+, Twitter).
The Word on Facebook Paper
Paper is an exciting first step in combining Facebook with social reading—and it works for the most part. Unfortunately, Paper sometimes feels as if it’s not fully one thing or the other, but more an admittedly, very engaging hybrid that requires I keep both the Facebook and Flipboard apps if I want to use certain non-included features. Still, Paper has loads of potential to be the singular Facebook app that will lead the company’s mobile efforts given just a few usability tweaks.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc