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On the surface, Paper looks a lot like what might have happened had Facebook invented Flipboard before Flipboard got the chance, and then slapped on a moniker rather too similar to an existing hugely popular (but entirely different) iOS app. Move beyond the snark, though, and you realize something surprising: Paper makes using Facebook almost pleasurable again.
Facebook on desktop ceased to be fun a long time ago, and even the once-streamlined mobile app is increasingly full of cruft. The idea with Paper appears to be to strip everything back, bring stories to the fore, and turn the Facebook experience into a kind of edited newspaper.
The screen is split in half: the top is filled with bold images, and a scrollable feed runs underneath. Tapping a story zooms it to full-screen, which is just as well given the eye-squintingly tiny text in the feed. You can then tap a link to open the story in a full-screen browser; a share button at the bottom-right provides options to share the story, copy its link, open the page in Safari, or send the content to a user-defined read-later service.
By default, your own Facebook feed is loaded, but you can add broadly defined sections (“Tech,” “Planet,” “Pop Life,” and so on) full of stories picked by editors. Everyone sees the same thing, thus Paper lacks the granularity of Flipboard. There’s no means to define a single Facebook user or publication as a section, for example, but the no-nonsense approach means that the app is simple to set up and browse. Standard Facebook notifications and messages are also accessible from within the app.
The design perhaps needs to settle down a bit — it’s largely intuitive, but very reliant on gestures. These sometimes clash with iOS 7, and horizontal swipes on the large images at the top of the screen perform different actions depending on context. We expected them to navigate through big photos, but on the main feed they switch sections, and in a single person/organization’s Facebook feed, they navigate the timeline on a month-by-month basis. Also, whoever decided people would want to "explore" high-res images by tilting a device around like a crazy person needs someone to give them a very stern look.
The bottom line. Minor grumbles aside, Paper is a good start to Facebook’s news-oriented ambitions. Flipboard is still a better bet for browsing a set of articles you’ve carefully curated yourself, but Paper’s simpler to get started with, focused, and pretty great for browsing Facebook itself.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 7.0 or later
Fast and simple to set up. Makes exploring Facebook feeds more pleasurable. Sharing/read-later options. Integrates standard Facebook features.
U.S.-only for now. Curation isn’t very granular. A bit too gesture-happy and gimmicky at times. Tiny feed text.