So here’s my first app review. I use and study so many applications, I might as well think about them a bit more vocally, if only to get my own thoughts in order. Yes, this first one might be rough, but they’ll get better. Perhaps.

This week, Facebook updated their Hello app, and I’ve switched to it as my full-time dialer. Overall, it has promise, but there are, expectedly, a few drawbacks. Let’s see how this goes.

What is it?

Facebook Hello is basically a replacement for your phone’s dialer, call log, and incoming call notifier. It uses Facebook’s database of people and businesses to identify incoming calls, matching up phone numbers to photos and details about the caller.

Why use it?

My reasons for using it are fairly simple: I hate the default Samsung TouchWiz dialer, and I haven’t yet rooted my Note 4. I’ve experimented with several other dialers. Most recently, I used Simpler, and in a lot of ways Facebook’s Hello feels like a blatant copy of it. Hello is a bit more aesthetically refined, a bit better integrated with Android, plus it has caller identification features (and a database) Simpler can’t match.

I immediately liked the look and feel and usability. Initially, I hated the double swipe needed to answer or reject an incoming call. Hello’s pretty blue detail screen would appear, then you’d need to slide it up before you could click the phone’s default incoming call buttons.  I believe this has been fixed.

The main drawback is the app’s direct integration with Facebook. There’s nothing wrong with the Facebook integration. It works perfectly. I can initiate a Messenger voice call directly from my contact screen. The problem is the lack of other communication options.

There are many Contacts/Dialer apps better designed for third party apps. Some of them offer profiles with details about any installed IM or social media app. The first one that comes to mind is the powerful Contacts+, which has incredibly detailed contact profiles. When I pull up a contact, I may not want to use Messenger, because this person prefers to be contacted via Hangouts or Whatsapp. This is a huge problem. I like Facebook Messenger, but it’s by no means my only communications app. When I pull up a contact, I want to see all possibilities.

Sadly, I don’t see FB accommodating this feature, and I can’t really blame them.  They’re creating a free Contacts/Dialer app in an attempt to get Android users to use Facebook/Messenger. It doesn’t serve their core purpose to show other contact methods.  That being said, I don’t think they’ll ever be a valid replacement for a dialer or contacts app until they show all installed contact methods.

As far as the Caller ID goes, I haven’t yet seen details for a phone number I didn’t already have in my contacts. In other words, when my phone doesn’t recognize a number and there’s no caller id available, Facebook’s extensive database has not yet been able to tell me to whom the number belonged. This is far less useful than an app like Truecaller, which I used for months.

Truecaller’s database may not be as extensive as Facebook’s, but there’s a key difference: Truecaller’s database has the RIGHT kind of data to solve the problem of unidentified phone numbers. Most unidentified calls are from companies trying to conceal their number (or frequently changing numbers or calling from a bank of possible numbers).  They’re not going to advertise these numbers on Facebook. TrueCaller crowdsources this information along with details about it, and TrueCaller did a far better job identifying and alerting me to spam calls. Now, as Facebook Hello propagates to the world and gains users, it’s spam/blocked database should improve. But can they catch up to TrueCaller?  Maybe.

Overall, I like the design, I like the incoming call screen. I like most of what the app does. I simply think it needs to do more to be a solid dialer alternative. Given the Lean approach, I expect FB will continue adding features. If they allow the app to become a true any-app dialer instead of a FB/Messenger-only dialer, they may have a hit on their hands. We shall see.

If you have other thoughts about Hello, or about other favorite Contact/Dialer apps, post them in the comments for everyone to see.


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