Review: “Hello” Facebook Dialer, Bye to Your Privacy?
Facebook is known for releasing many experimental apps which integrate into their core services. Groups, Facebook at Work, Facebook Home (yuck), and the like have met uneven reviews, but in a way they have their own niche. When it comes to this new app, a dialer simply called “Hello”, Facebook tried to get to the core of smartphone functions – that is, being phones. They claim that their solution makes your phone “truly smart”. Facebook has made such claims before, and when looking back at their Facebook phone hype and how it flopped dramatically, we remember to look at their apps and mission statements with all the skepticism in the world. This time we took a look at this so-called “smart” dialer.
Off the bat, let me start by saying that I do not have Facebook apps on my phone, so I got to test the app with and without the Facebook apps integration. I was surprisingly pleased to learn that the app does not truly need Messenger or Facebook to make the experience worthwhile, but if you want to exploit their ideal uses, it is best you have them. Moving onto the installation: this app asks for a lot of permissions, and I mean a lot. Now, in Facebook’s case for example, we can see some clearly defined reasons for the permissions. For this app, I can’t. Some make sense, but some such as “take pictures and video”, “record audio” and “download files without notification” make much less sense on an app that acts as dialing shortcuts rather than a full-blown social media platform. I’ll leave the bits on privacy and security to someone else, but I feel compelled to mention this. Their Licenses documentation is a click away, but let me warn you that it is ridiculously long – you can scroll for minutes at full speed.
Now that those things are out of the way, I want to mention that my first impression with this app is that it looked great. The design is tidy and organized, the tabs are typical in a good way, and the UI just makes sense in a sense that goes against Facebook tradition. When it comes to dialing apps, this is welcome for it makes the calling experience much simpler. The app borrows your default’s favorite contacts as it shares the sync’d data, so there’s no migration issues. The one thing I would criticize from the overall UI is the lack of a tinted status bar (which their Play Store video clearly shows) – but this is merely a Lollipop pet peeve. The app is also very smooth, and on Android 5.1 it launches at the same speed as the stock Android dialer, so performance is also not an issue.
But what is the point of this app? The Play Store video claims that one of its strengths is to “see who’s calling you, even if you don’t have that phone number saved on your phone”. The second bit might concern some users when it comes to privacy, and unless I missed something, I can’t find any setting in the app to opt out of this (it’s worth noting that most settings and preference menus are the same as and shared with other Facebook services). When it comes to the “see who’s calling” part, Facebook touts the ability to have a preview of, well, who is calling – something we’ve had since flip phones had a second screen. The absolutely mind-boggling aspect of this is that, by default, Facebook’s Call ID overlay appears on top of your native one, meaning that you have an additional screen and task to go through before picking up your phone call. I can’t consider this good design by any means, but at least you can disable the function.
When it comes to contacts, the application pulls your list and combines all the information it can with Facebook contacts as well. This way, you can pick a friend and, just like in some other services, see their Facebook account in there – but now automatically and with priority for calls and messages. Here is another thing that might concern those that value privacy: you can see your friends’ e-mails in there, but not just the ones you already knew about, and not even just the one that they used to register on Facebook. I’ve seen contact detail pages with at least 3 e-mails I had never seen before, and that I obviously don’t have access to in the main Facebook service. Before you might become alarmed, there already are ways to export Facebook contacts’ emails through various syncing services. But now, access is easier than ever for anyone to contact or harass you. I instantly went to double check and revise my privacy settings after that.
Service integration is, like previously stated, independent of apps. That said, if you don’t have Messenger and try to send a message, the app will direct you to the Play Store. Calling works outside of the Messenger app, though, which is a neat plus – it calls directly to peoples’ Messenger app. You can obviously head to someone’s profile if it is matched, and if the contact number doesn’t have a number matched to a Facebook account, you can match it yourself. Let me rephrase that: other people can disclose your phone number to Facebook by matching it with your account without your consent. This innocent feature can be abstracted to one of the most clever ways Facebook could have built to get your phone numbers against your will. Again, I won’t touch much on this as we want to look at it in-depth later, but the very idea should raise a red flag if you value your privacy or are paranoid about Facebook.
What about the other features? Well, the actual dialer can display your contacts as you type their name with the numbers as most other dialers but with one name at a time, unlike the stock dialer. And you can search for people (luckily you won’t see their numbers if you don’t have them) or businesses near you so that you can see their details and/or call them. This is a feature that is rather worthless, as Google Now does it much better and with voice controls.
To sum up, Facebook’s Hello Dialer isn’t bad when you simply glance at it: it has a functional and good-looking UI, some useful features, and it is fast to boot. It is when you try to make sense of it all that you realize that Facebook’s notorious privacy outings are more apparent than ever in here. Many features that the company claims make the app stand out are either poorly designed, intrusive or simply irrelevant when you consider Google Now’s functionality. I’ve tested this app on TouchWiz and CM12.1, and I’ve got to say I prefer both ROMs’ stock dialers to this one. Even leaving the Facebook bits aside, they are just more functional or intuitive. This app seems a little misguided, and could be just another excuse to put more Facebook inside your phone. Some claimed it to be a Google Voice replacement, but the dependency on Facebook services prevents it from coming close to Google’s VoIP solution. When you consider that some of the top dialers out there are much less intrusive and can have literally no extra permissions, Facebook’s app doesn’t look as inventive nor appealing as it could be. So I am sorry Facebook, I will be saying bye to Hello – I hope it doesn’t catch on as you want it to do, as that would prove you right.
Would you get this Facebook service on your phone? Let us know below!