Blog | jessechen.net

Facebook Messenger – Why You Should Use It

August 9, 2011 11:42 am by

Today, Facebook announced a new standalone-app called Facebook Messenger.  Tech-savvy users might have heard of WhatsApp or Beluga (which was bought by Facebook to create Facebook Messenger), which are mobile messaging apps that Facebook Messenger will eventually replace.  This app is killer because it essentially replaces SMS and all other forms of mobile communication.

So what’s the big deal?  Why should I use it?

Some of you might be wondering what the heck is Facebook Messenger, and why you should or should not use it.  This article is here to help you understand it better and why you might want to try it out — and if you feel like this article might help others, feel free to recommend it to your friends up top ;P.  The download links are at the bottom.

Facebook Messenger makes it extremely easy to communicate with your friends on a mobile device.  Think about the other alternatives that you might be currently using: Google Talk, it works well with other people who have Android devices since Talk is installed on every Android device, but you need to find and add buddies.  SMS, bad but works if you have their phone number, unfortunately, it costs money for a SMS plan and not very useful (can’t specify location or group chat).  WhatsApp, decent because it works on any device but you need to convince your friends to install WhatsApp.  BBM/iMessage: Platform-specific, can’t be used by everyone.  The current choices out there have common lacking functionality that Facebook Messenger addresses.

1. Message anyone that is your friend on Facebook, as well as your phonebook contacts

Some of the people that I can message via Facebook MessengerThe common problem in GTalk and every other mobile messaging app is the lack of friends.  You have to proactively reach out to others to find out if they use the same service as you, and then add them in order to begin using their product.  I used GTalk prior to Facebook Messenger, and it is great for communicating only with my closest friends that use Android.  However, it becomes difficult when I want to message other people who don’t fit that category.

With Messenger, you won’t have to ask somebody for their phone number or their screen name — as long as you are friends on Facebook, you can instantly message them.  As you can see in the screenshot, Messenger lets me communicate with any of my friends instantly without having to worry about whether they have text, or if they have this app or not.  It ignores all platform barriers (Android/iOS/RIM/etc) and thus, makes it possible to connect with anybody with a mobile device.  I would say this is the number one feature, which is the ability to message anybody that you are friends with on Facebook instantly.

2. SMS Integration 

send SMS from Facebook MessengerFacebook Messenger is going to kill SMS as the primary form of mobile messaging.  It really does not make sense to pay for a SMS plan anymore.  We all know (or at least should know) that carriers pay virtually nothing for text messages and it is an extremely archaic way to communicate with somebody (140-char limit, and no rich media integration such as pictures or location).

In this screenshot, you can see that I have the choice between sending the message to her mobile number, or to her inbox 0n facebook.com.  If the people you message use Facebook Messenger, then they will instantly receive a push notification on their phone when you send them a message.  If you message someone who does not have Facebook Messenger on their mobile device, then you can send the message via SMS for free, as long as their number is supported (you can’t send to some international carriers).  I think it’s really important to note that last part when you are able to send texts for free.

 

3. Location and Photo Sharing

Sharing your location via Facebook MessengerHow many times have you wanted to tell somebody where you are when trying to meet via texts?  I remember reading this reddit post a while back and sharing the hivemind’s sentiment, “Why don’t we have something like this already?”.  Sharing a map view is such a useful feature to have when trying to coordinate a place to meet and Facebook Messenger allows you to do just that.  If you share your location, friends can view a map that they can then search how to find directions to your current location.  I love how Facebook Messenger’s arrow icon is almost exactly the same as the image link in the reddit post, it’s almost as if they reddit themselves and listened to the hivemind.  As usual, you can turn off location sharing for all messages as well as on a per message and per thread basis.  Attaching photos is also nice, good for quickly sharing pictures taken on your phone with someone…or a group of people.

4. Group Chat

Chat with multiple people using Facebook MessengerNot much that needs to be said.  There has definitely been times when I had to use SMS to communicate with multiple people and it was laughably pathetic.  It was like playing telephone.  With group chat, everyone can stay synced and it makes coordinating and planning easier, especially when you use group chat with number 3.

 

Conclusion

I have been using it for a few weeks now (internal dogfooding ftw), and it is quite solid for a version 1.  I have chosen Facebook Messenger already as my default for mobile messaging.  Sure, on occasion, I’ll still use GTalk and sometimes Google Voice for texting, but if I can convince my closest friends to use Facebook Messenger, then there will be no reason to use any other service.  I can instantly message them, attach pictures as well as share my location, and also start group conversations to communicate with multiple people.

However, there are still some things I don’t like about it.  For example, although I can send SMS to most of my friends, for those I have convinced to use Google Voice entirely for texting, I am not able to since it doesn’t support sending SMS to Google Voice numbers.  When I tried sending a text to a Google Voice user, an error message pops up but it is not apparent to me that it doesn’t work because Messenger doesn’t support his carrier.  And if I can’t send to his mobile number, then why can’t I select the option to send a Facebook message instead?  Also, a nitpick is when creating a new conversation, it is difficult to understand what the mobile icon next to their name meant.  As of now, I believe it means it’ll be sent to their mobile phone.  Lastly, for some people, having more customizable alert muting options also would be more useful.

A few weeks ago, during the Skype Video integration launch, Mark Zuckerberg said that “this is possible because the social infrastructure exists, the system knows we’re connected and we have the pipe open between us so new applications can flow between us”.  Facebook is at a very strategic advantage where they have something that no other company has, and that is your social graph.  With that “social infrastructure” in place, applications that use Facebook will inherently be better than the ones that don’t.  Facebook Messenger is an excellent example where it is already better than the current options out in the market right now because it is built on top of your social network.

[Android Market link][iPhone App Store link]

Filed under: General,Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jesse Chen @ 11:42 AM

About

Jesse is a software engineer at Facebook, who just graduated from UC Berkeley. Passionate about mobile technology and entrepreneurship, he started his own blog as a home for his tutorials, projects, and random thoughts. Follow him on Facebook to stay updated on his latest tutorials and projects.


Droid X Review

July 17, 2010 10:07 pm by

Introduction

So I have been using this phone for almost 3 days now.  This review will go over the hardware and software of the Droid X briefly and what my impressions are.  This isn’t a technical review with hard numbers and specs – I’m going to try to write this from a layman’s point of view to make it more relative to the average reader.  This is a review that I promised for Jeff!

Droid X is the new flagship phone for Verizon, their answer to Sprint’s exclusive, HTC Evo.  The HTC Evo for Sprint is heavily compared to the Droid X because they both have a massive 4.3′ screen and they both are their respective carriers’ exclusive top-tier android phone.  The Droid X is 199$ after rebate with a new contract.  The first batch is supposedly sold out and the next batch is due to ship July 23, 2010.

Hardware

First thought: Wow, this screen is big.  For people with small hands, this phone might not be for you.  I would say my hands are average-sized and using the phone one-handed is not too difficult.  The phone is also very thin, with the thinnest part being perhaps as tall as 5 quarters stacked high [does that comparison even help?].  The weight is also deceivingly feather-light, holding it in my hand feels very natural with that “hump” on the top.

Microphones + Physical Buttons: The Droid X comes with three mics: one in the front for phone calls, a noise-cancelling one on the top, and one in the back for when you record video.  The phone only has 4 physical buttons besides the 4 small shortcut keys below the screen.  They are the: power/lock, volume up, volume down, and camera button.  They made the volume rocker smaller than the Droid, which I think is a disappointment because since the phone is much bigger, it is harder to reach and feel for the volume rocker so in my opinion, it would make sense to make it bigger to be more ergonomic.

Physical Shortcut Keys: Traditionally, android phones have the 4 shortcut keys on the bottom of the screen as “soft-touch” keys, where you don’t need to press any buttons, you just have to lightly tap the area to execute the shortcut.  With the Droid X, they changed it and made them physical buttons.  I do like the tactical feedback and I like knowing whether I pressed the shortcut or not.  With the Droid, sometimes I think I pressed Home, for example, but the screen stays the same and I have no idea if the phone really registered my input at all.  With physical buttons, it takes away the ambiguity.  Physical buttons give you tactical feedback which is more preferred, but using the “soft keys” enable to you execute the shortcuts faster since you just have to tap, rather than press and release.  In all, both ways have their pros and cons, I am happy with either one.

Screen Size + HDMI Port: The screen is 4.3′ [diagonal measurement] as mentioned before, and I think this should be as far as how big screen size on phones should be.  This is a good screen size for a phone that you will use heavily for browsing the web, watching videos, and games.  For me, the 4.3′ screen really stands out when I am reading my Google Reader and watching youtube videos.  The Droid X is advertised as a multimedia phone so it includes a mini-HDMI port that you can use to output 720p videos.  However, I read a rumor that Motorola might have locked the mini-HDMI port so that it only works when you are in gallery mode, which essentially mean you won’t be able to put your own movies or TV shows on the phone to watch on a bigger screen.  Take it with a grain of salt, I could not find any more information regarding this rumor, and I do not have my own mini-HDMI to HDMI cable to try it out yet.

Back of the Phone: The speaker phone is loud, it should accommodate for all your speaker phone needs except in the most noisiest situations.  The camera quality is so-so, it is not at the quality of a point-and-shoot camera, but I mean, I really am not expecting a super nice quality camera on a phone.  The camera on the Droid X is capable of 8MP although by default, it is set to 6MP.  More MPs != better quality, I do not like how companies use the # of megapixels to advertise their products as if more = better.  It really does not matter how much megapixels your camera has if the quality of the camera sensor is a piece of crap. I took some pictures with the Droid X below and you can judge for yourself how decent the camera is.  The UI for the camera is OK, it tries to be slick and fancy, but most people just want to change some settings quickly and take the picture.  I really like the soft-felt-like-matte on the back, it provides enough grip but won’t cause the phone to be really annoying to take out of pockets.

Battery Life: A seemingly common problem among android phones are their battery life.  On average, I believe that my Droid X can last one day on a full charge.  It is hard to judge right now because I just got this phone so I am always turning it on and using it very frequently so obviously I drain the battery faster than everyday common use.  Optimally, I would prefer my phone to last at least a day and a half.  I eagerly wait for the ability to {over | under}clock so that like my Droid, I can underclock when the phone is in sleep mode to conserve battery [it drastically increases your battery life when you underclock!].

Software

Android OS: I won’t go too much detail into the software aspect of the Droid X because the android OS is very dense in terms of all the different features and nuances that it has to offer and I won’t be able to sufficiently summarize it in one review.  But I must say that I absolutely love the flexibility of android, and the fact that I can think, “Hmm, I don’t really like the skin and widgets that Motorola designed for this phone, I wonder if I can change that.” and be able to actually do that.  I am not confined to only one way to how my phone looks like, or only one program that I am allowed to use to sync my device like iTunes.

“Motoblur”: Motorola received a lot of negativity towards their custom skin, motoblur, in the past because it was very obtrusive and annoying.  For the Droid X, they made a major improvement in their skin [which they insist to not call it motoblur], but I personally still don’t like it.  First thing I did when I got the phone was download LauncherPro and customized my home screen the way I liked it.  However, for some people, they might actually like Motorola’s skin and widgets.  It’s up to you how you want your phone to look like.

Processor: The Droid X comes with a OMAP3630 1GHz processor that makes this phone soooo smooth and slick.  Flicking between the different screens and switching between different applications is seamless.  This is very different from the Droid where sometimes I will sometimes see the phone stutter and freeze when I try to flick screens and open/close apps.  So far, the Droid X has never stuttered significantly and it never ceases to amaze me how fast apps are installed and how fast apps open on this beast of a phone.

Swype: The phone comes pre-installed with Swype, which I absolutely love.  Swype is created by the same creator as the T9 texting format that we all know and love on our dumbphones.  He claims that this is the future of texting, and I think that it suits most people well.  I type so much faster with Swype now compared to if I was trying to hunt and peck for everything.  My decision to get a Droid X was partially because I realized that I can use soft keyboards with no problem thanks to Swype, so I do not need a physical keyboard like the Droid 2 that will be coming out in August.  That is good because the phone is not as bulky when there is no hardware keyboard.

Crapware: One thing I don’t like is the pre-installed crapware that came with the phone.  Apps like Blockbuster, some EA racing game, and Backup Assistant are some of the apps that annoy me because you cannot uninstall them [besides the racing game demo], until this phone gets rooted.  I think pre-installed crapware is something that can tarnish a nice phone like the Droid X simply because they exist on the phone and they won’t allow you to easily uninstall it.  It is like buying a new HP laptop and seeing that it came pre-installed with a bunch of programs that you will never use.

Conclusion

+ Solid, well-built hardware.  It feels like a solid and refined product, and it does not feel cheap.  Motorola has done very well with the hardware-aspect of their Droid lineup so far.

+ Screen size, some may find it too big but for me, I think its great for reading and watching videos.  Pinch-and-zoom is excellent.

+ Smooth, slick and speedy UI experience because the Droid X sports the new generation of the OMAP processor.  The phone performs exceptionally well and when the 2.2 update comes out next month, it will only be even better, thanks to JIT.

– Small volume rocker seems unintuitive since the size of the phone makes it hard enough to reach the rocker, it should be bigger to make it easier to feel and press.

– Comes pre-installed with a handful of crapware that is not necessary and only serves to clog the apps list with applications and trial programs you’ll probably never use.

– Battery life is not as good as it can be, but hopefully the ability to underclock will help the battery life.

– Bootloader is encrypted and there is also an e-fuse chip that checks whether the firmware and kernel among other things is what Motorola designated.  If you try loading a custom ROM on the phone, the phone will not boot and it will need to have the stock ROM re-installed before you can boot.  Essentially, you cannot mod your phone and install custom ROMs on the Droid X.  Root will still be possible that will allow you to over/underclock, uninstall crapware and wifi tethering.

Final Thoughts

I recommend this smartphone for people who use a smartphone often to browse the internet and are heavy consumers of multimedia.  I am really hoping that android developers can do some exciting things with this phone although the chances of installing custom ROMS are zero to nilch.  Root should be inevitable, the potential for this phone is huge and I am excited for the future of Droid X.

Motorola Droid X Video Camera

Motorola Droid X Camera Pictures

Filed under: Android,Reviews — Tags: , , , — Jesse Chen @ 10:07 PM

About

Jesse is a software engineer at Facebook, who just graduated from UC Berkeley. Passionate about mobile technology and entrepreneurship, he started his own blog as a home for his tutorials, projects, and random thoughts. Follow him on Facebook to stay updated on his latest tutorials and projects.


Got my DROID X

July 16, 2010 7:00 pm by

Droid X

I got my DROID X yesterday from my pre-order at Best Buy.  Played with the phone for about a day now and I got to say that it is a really solid phone.  I’m glad I got it and I promised my friend, Jeff, to write a short review/my impressions on it.  As a matter of fact, I’m on BART right now en route to Berkeley typing this on my Macbook.  How?  The Macbook is tethered to my DROID X 🙂 I hope that those 1337 android devs can hack this phone and make it more awesome.  It is quite disappointing that Motorola encrypted the bootloader – but I don’t really use custom ROMs anyway, however, not being able to modify the kernel so I can {over | under}clock my phone is sad.  Root would be all I need though.

Basketball

Heading to Berkeley right now was a spur-of-the-moment decision to play some ball with some friends because I haven’t played basketball for so long.  The past two weeks I haven’t been able to play and its making me itching to play.  I don’t know how to describe it but day and night I feel like I have to run, dribble, shoot, pass.  It’s ridiculous – it’s taking over my body, just can’t get my mind off of it.

Filed under: General — Tags: , , , — Jesse Chen @ 7:00 PM

About

Jesse is a software engineer at Facebook, who just graduated from UC Berkeley. Passionate about mobile technology and entrepreneurship, he started his own blog as a home for his tutorials, projects, and random thoughts. Follow him on Facebook to stay updated on his latest tutorials and projects.