Paper, from the people at Facebook, lets you browse statuses and other news categories using a new, more visual interface than what you're used to with the official Facebook app. Mysteriously, the app is iPhone-only at the time of this writing, but it seems like it would be a great fit for iPad.
Taking a page from Flipboard, Facebook Paper delivers a tiled interface that shows your standard Facebook news feed, but also gives you curated news content organized by category. That combination makes Facebook Paper a distinct and more robust product that's meant to complement, rather than completely replace, Facebook's existing iOS app. In practice, though, because Paper is such an excellent new way to browse Facebook and read news, it makes me wonder why I need both. And as CNET's Jennifer Van Grove can tell you, it is a preview of Facebook's future.
Customizing your Paper
When you launch the app for the first time, a tutorial using both audio and video will take you through the steps of adding content to your "Paper" (the app's term for its primary interface). From there, you can use the app to both browse Facebook and read news articles using a swipeable, tile-based interface akin to newsreader apps like Flipboard. To be clear, it's not a complete news solution like Flipboard, but seems to borrow some interface elements and uses panels similarly to Flipboard.
The app shows your Facebook news feed by default, but it also has curated news categories you can follow alongside the social hub. During the tutorial the app will prompt you to add news categories that include Headlines, Scores (general sports news), Tech, and several others. You don't have to worry too much about what you add in the beginning because you can edit the categories later once you're using the app. Just note that you can add only 10 categories at one time (and your Facebook feed must be one of them).
Once you've picked your categories and entered the app, you'll see your categories on the top half of the screen with the related posts just below. To get to your other categories, simply swipe horizontally on the top half of the screen to change; then, use the same motion to browse between posts in each category. If you want to read a specific story in a category, just swipe it upwards.
When the story is just a friend's Facebook status update (with no link or photo), you'll get a closer look at the status, and the ability to "Like," comment, or share the post with others. With a news article, you'll get the headline and brief summary, but you can swipe upward again to go the full story at the source's Web site. When you're done reading, you can swipe down from the top to get back to Facebook Paper.
One sort of interesting feature is how the app handles full-screen photos. When you look at a large photo from a news site or Facebook friend, the app shows only a zoomed in portion, but lets you tilt your phone to see more of the photo. It's kind of a cool gimmick, but not terribly useful. If you don't like the way it handles photos, you can turn your phone sideways to view the whole photo or turn the photo tilt features off in the settings.
It's also important to note that there are currently no ads in Facebook Paper. While it's nice to browse ad-free with this early launch of the app, I expect that ads will be introduced in the future, particularly if this app takes off as a popular way to browse Facebook.
Great for browsing Facebook
It's definitely possible, and maybe even preferred, to make Paper your go-to Facebook app. That's true not only for seeing simple status updates, but also for everything else that your friends may post. For example, a swipe down from the main page gives you the main options of the app. Here is where you can perform a Facebook search, view your Facebook profile, create a post to change your status, edit your news categories in Paper, and fiddle with the app settings. You'll also see the usual icons for friend requests, messages, and notifications in the top right corner.