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Hands-On: Facebook Unleashes Its Facebook Messenger App Upon the Masses

To say Facebook's new Facebook Messenger app is a hot commodity is an understatement. After spending only one day out in the wild, the app was quickly snatched up by users and rocketed up to the number one spot in the free apps category in Apple's App Store. That news has to send a shudder down RIM's spine, considering Facebook's new app will go toe-to-toe with the Waterloo, Canada-based company's BlackBerry Messenger. The app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, allows users to send instant and SMS messages to their Facebook friends, and includes photo and location-sharing features. But Facebook already has a smartphone app, which made us question why a second one was needed. So, we took the new app for a spin on our iPhone 4 to see if Facebook Messenger is worth the space on your smartphone.

After downloading and installing the app, we opened and were asked to log into Facebook as we normally would. After signing in, the app asked us for our phone's number. This gives your Facebook friends the option of sending messages to you via either SMS or through the Messenger app itself. After we entered our number, the app sent us a confirmation email and we were ready to go.

We sent messages to several people around the office from the app and noticed some interesting tidbits. The most striking thing was how fast the messaging system actually was. Sending and receiving messages was instantaneous, whether it was from our phone to a friend logged in on a desktop computer or vice versa. But, because the app relies on either your phone's data connection or a wireless network connection, your speeds may vary. The app also allowed us to set up group messages, which can be helpful if you want to chat with several friends at once.

We also noticed that if change your settings to make yourself unavailable to chat from Facebook's web page, and log into Facebook Messenger, any messages sent to you will automatically be routed to your messages folder, increasing the amount of time it takes to receive a message. Once make yourself available to chat, however, you'll be able to receive messages instantly again.

The app's location-sharing feature also maps out where your friends are located when you exchange messages. We sent messages from our phone while in our New York offices and we were able to view a map that marked  out where we were and our friend was when we each sent our messages. We can see how location information could be helpful, but it could also send some users into a frenzy for fear that they can be tracked by anyone they exchange messages with.

Thankfully, Facebook makes disabling the location feature easy by placing a small arrow icon in the right corner of the message screen. Tapping the icon completely disables location tracking for the conversation. You can always restore tracking again by tapping the icon again. Photo-sharing is also included with the app. We sent a photo to a friend to try it out and found that it worked the same way Facebook's standard chat client works. Simply tap on the photo icon next to the text box, select a photo to send, and tap send.

Facebook's decision to include push notification settings within the app was a welcome one. By altering the settings, we were able to suspend our ability to receive new notifications for an hour, until 8:30 a.m. the next day, or disable push notifications entirely. Although we appreciate the ability to hold notifications, we wish Facebook had given us the option of further customizing the duration.

Overall the app works extremely well and could prove useful for a whole host of users. If the prospect of having two separate Facebook apps seems like a problem for you, take heart. Mashable says Facebook representatives have confirmed that the company plans to integrate the two apps in the future. If the app's functionality doesn't impress you, you can always wait for the rumored video chat feature that 9-to-5 Mac uncovered.

A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.