Editors' note: This review was updated on October 24, 2013 to cover features added in the latest version.
Facebook 5.0 for Windows Phone 8 is the best way to experience Facebook on the Windows Phone yet. It has better performance and more features than just checking Facebook on Internet Explorer on your Windows Phone.
The app was developed by Microsoft, not Facebook, during a beta program to build a native Facebook app for Windows Phone that Microsoft launched in April 2013.
Microsoft deserves credit for building a Facebook app that runs well and incorporates the core Facebook features, but since the app doesn't hail from Facebook, it's missing several advanced options found in the official apps. It doesn't have group messaging, the App Center, games, Offers, Gifts (which sends presents to friends), Chat Heads, stickers in chat, or even sponsored stories and promoted pages. There's also no third-party app integration, meaning the app can't sign you into other apps on your Windows Phone that have a Facebook log-in. But what the app lacks in official features, it makes up for in beautiful design and solid performance.
Facebook for Windows Phone looks a lot like its iOS and Android counterparts, with a nearly identical News Feed, chat menu, and left-side navigation bar. Earlier beta versions of Microsoft's Facebook app used the Metro design, which had slide-scrolling menus that switched from News Feed to your profile, and more. The first official release of the app incorporates Microsoft's blocky aesthetic, with sharp corners, vibrant colors, and flat icons. That's a significant difference from the Facebook apps on iOS and Android, both of which have a 3D look and muted colors.
News Feed and sharing
The default view on the app is your News Feed. If you've used Facebook on a mobile browser, iOS, or Android, the experience is nearly the same. You can filter posts from you friends, pages you like, and people you follow by most recent or top posts (those that are getting the most attention from others) by sliding to the right and tapping a button below your name. There are three small buttons just below the notification bar where you can post a new status update, add a photo, or check in to a location. You can like, comment on, and share posts, just as you would on other Facebook apps and the Web.
In the latest update, released in October 2013, Microsoft addressed a few missing features from previous version of the app. First, you can now upload more than one photo at a time. Second, you can tag someone in a comment or status. Lastly, you can control who can see your photos, status updates, and check-ins, be it your friends, a specific set of Facebook users, or anyone who follows your public posts. Unfortunately, the app still won't show a preview of an article or website when you share a link. The link will just post as a status update with a URL, which is disappointing. You also can't share links directly to the app from Internet Explorer on your phone, which you can do on Android.
Just like on Android and iOS, your News Feed on the Windows Phone app will automatically refresh when you or one of your friends posts something new. The newest version of the app adds a small arrow button on the right side which tells you how many new stories are at the top of your news feed. If you tap the arrow, the app will jump to the latest update. That feature is also available in the other apps.
Getting around the app
Sliding to the right anywhere in the app reveals a navigation bar with options for your profile, messages, events, settings, groups, friends lists, and apps. Your most recent status will show up under your name in the sidebar, a nice design feature you won't find in other Facebook apps.
If you slide to the left in the app, you'll find the chat menu. Chat works just the same as in the iOS and Android apps, but it's missing group chat and Chat Heads, those small circle icons that hang out in your News Feed and give you quick access to message threads. The Windows Phone version almost makes up for those missing features by letting you chat with your Facebook friends from the stock Windows Phone messaging app, which works well.
Facebook profile pages in the app are a bit lackluster compared with other versions of the app; cover photos are much smaller, and there's not much personal information displayed at a glance. You also can't change any details on your personal profile page from the app, meaning you'll have to sit in front of a computer to update your profile.
From any profile page, you can add that person as a friend if you're not already connected, post statuses or photos to that person's timeline, send a message, or poke. You can also unfriend the person, like you can on the other Facebook apps.
I enjoy how the Facebook for Windows Phone app handles photos. In the News Feed and timeline, posts with four or more photos will show a collage of one large photo at top with three smaller thumbnails below. On iOS and Android, you only see a preview of one photo at a time and have to scroll left or right to see the next one. I like the former, because it shows more pictures at once.
Photo albums also look much prettier on the Windows Phone app. Instead of the text list of albums found on Android and iOS, this app shows a grid of photos with the album's title overlaid on each picture. Tap an album and you see a grid of photos with the album title at top. It's a very photo-focused design that's easy on the eyes.
Viewing a photo in full-screen mode is the same as in other Facebook apps, and you can comment on, like, and tag photos. Like the iOS and Android versions, the app doesn't handle tagging very well and tends to overlap tags when they are close together.
However, your Facebook pictures do show up in the stock Windows Phone Photos app, and you can see a list of people tagged in each photo from there. You can also save Facebook photos to your phone's memory from the Photo app.
Other Facebook features
Most other features you expect from a Facebook app, including check-ins, events, groups, and friend lists, are present in the Windows Phone app and work as expected. You can easily find friends or fan pages with the search bar, and it's easy to like pages from the app.
Unlike the iOS and Android versions, you can't change your account or privacy settings from the app. You'll see an option for privacy settings in the app menu, but it just opens Facebook's settings page in your phone's browser.
Windows Phone-only features
When you first launch the app, Facebook gives you the option to let it manage your lock screen. If you enable the feature, the app will change your lock screen background throughout the day with pictures from your Facebook albums. There are two styles: a full-screen photo or a collage of pictures. I prefer the full-screen option, which looks clean and simple. Since modifications like this can sometimes wreak havoc on phones, by slowing them down or draining the battery too quickly, I was pleased to find that it didn't give me any problems.
Since it's a Windows Phone app, Facebook comes with a live tile that can be pinned to your phone's Start screen. If you expand the tile to the largest size, it will show your cover photo, flip approximately every 30 seconds to show your latest status, and display the number of unread notifications you have.
In the end, Facebook for Windows Phone is a much better experience than using Facebook's mobile site, especially because there are no ads. It can be laggy at times, but the design and smooth experience make it well worth downloading.
If you're looking for a way to browse your News Feed on-the-go and keep up with your notifications, Facebook for Windows Phone is right for you. Candy Crush Saga addicts and Facebook power users who need every single Facebook feature on their phones will want to wait until Microsoft can add more features. That said, Microsoft is still developing a beta version of its Facebook app and releasing updates as quickly as it can. Anyone can download the beta app here, just bear in mind that it could have bugs and broken features.