IF YOU’VE EVER wanted to go on a social media diet, here’s your chance. Starting this week, Facebook is making the slimmed-down Facebook Lite app available to Android users in North America, Australia, and Western Europe for the first time.
Facebook first debuted the lightweight version of its main social networking app three years ago to better serve users in developing countries—specifically, people in the parts of the world where a mobile data connection is difficult to access, unreliable, or just painfully slow. The streamlined app is only 1.68 megabytes in size, and downloads as fast as your average cat GIF. It installs on almost any Android phone, and runs well on flaky, low-bandwidth data connections. Critically, it uses less data than big ol’ regular Facebook; people who pay by the megabyte can use it to browse their News Feed without racking up crazy fees.
Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam were among the nations to get Facebook Lite at launch. Since then, it’s been made available in 100 countries across Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.1
Now, Facebook Lite lands in eight more countries—and some of them might even be your country. Facebook’s adding the new regions because, well, crappy or expensive data connections turn out to be a universal malady. So now we, too, get to take advantage of Lite’s data-saving magic—at least those of us with Android phones, since Facebook Lite isn’t available on iOS. (Yet.)
It could take a while for the app to show up in your region’s Play Store, but once you see it, you may wonder if it’s for you. Here’s what to expect if you go Lite.
Some Lite Prodding
The first thing you’ll notice is that Lite looks as though it’s been beamed in from 10 years ago. The default text size is smaller throughout the app. All of your friends are represented by small square avatars instead of big round ones. The buttons for liking and commenting are tiny and monochrome, and the overall visual style is simpler and less cartoonish. The simplicity echoes the design of its sibling Facebook app, Messenger Lite. More blocks, fewer balloons. Flat and clean and fast, like the mobile web used to be.
Facebook has often said that most of the changes in Lite are under the hood. These performance throttles aren’t transparent. You can tell the app has been tuned to operate more efficiently, and to feel snappy even on ancient Android hardware.
Whenever you tap something in Lite, either to dive deeper into a post or simply to fave a photo in your timeline, it doesn’t respond with animations. The comments window doesn’t slide up, the text field doesn’t grow larger and invite you to type, and the blue Like thumb doesn’t jiggle jollily when you tap it. Animations put more strain on a phone’s resources—you may have seen the animation-heavy interfaces slow waay down on great-uncle Joe’s Samsung Galaxy S II—so Facebook Lite does away with almost all of them. When you Like a post, the thumb just turns blue. Hold the Like button to choose an alternate reaction, and you get a simple two-by-three pop-up menu of your options. Tap the LOL face, and a LOL face just appears without ceremony.
Another big part of Lite’s appeal is its ability to cut back on data consumption. You can see the app working to save data by only downloading new photos and posts when you request them. Most noticeably, the News Feed only refreshes some data without pulling down on it with your thumb. You might see the number of comments or likes on a post change without a manual reload. But to see most pages update, you have to pull to refresh. You get a visual indication of each refresh, when a bright green progress bar scoots across the top of the screen.
You can also see new elements loading as you scroll. Most apps (including the normal version of Facebook) pre-load the content below the bottom edge of your screen. That way, when you scroll, new items appear seamlessly. You can see the next enticing photo or headline poking up from the bottom of the screen as you thumb through your timeline, and it makes you want to just keep scrolling. Facebook Lite doesn’t appear to preload photos at all. You may see the title of the next post in the feed and scroll ahead to it, but then you’ll wait a second or two for the photo to show up. Like so much about Lite, it’s a reminder of the past—when 2G was standard, 3G was a luxury, and every mobile experience was tempered.
Videos will only autoplay on Wi-Fi, not on mobile data. Tap through and you get a simplified video player with the bare-bones comment and reactions fields below it. Facebook is serving the photos and videos in Lite through proxy servers, but any compression being applied by default is imperceptible—my eyes can’t spot any differences on my Pixel XL. Additionally, a data saver feature lets you toggle to compress images and videos further, and a separate settings menu to lower your default image quality.
By making the switch, you gain speed and clarity.
The settings panes are greatly simplified, with top-level controls to “clean space” (delete old files from storage) and to adjust your notifications. Also, if you look at the menu bar running across the top of the screen, you’ll notice something truly delightful: There’s no tab for Facebook Watch, and none for Marketplace either. The only thing Lite offers is core Facebook, and none of the feature bloat you never wanted and probably never use.
So, should you download Facebook Lite? If you need to curb your data consumption, and especially if you have a pre-paid data plan and spend gobs of time on Facebook, then yes, you definitely should. Using Lite will burn fewer gigabytes and save you money. Even if you find Lite’s throwback look and feel too jarring, maybe keep it installed just for use during those weeks when you really have to be stingy with your mobile data.
The trickier question is whether you should download Facebook Lite even if data’s not an issue. Messenger Lite, after all, is in many ways preferable to its full-featured cousin. The case isn’t as clear-cut here. There are still ads in Lite, so you won’t get away from those. And you do lose some of the fun of modern Facebook, like the animated reactions, or the excitement of seeing friends’ comments appear under your adorable selfies in real-time.
But by making the switch, you gain speed and clarity. If you feel the bubbly, overly kawaii look of Facebook’s mobile app to be too visually busy, or if you find the navigation too complex, then give Lite a shot. It’s barren, sure, but that only gives your mind more room to roam.