People have fairly strong opinions about Facebook Places and checking in on Facebook. As a college professor that teaches primarily freshmen, I’ve had discussions with my classes about how they feel about it, and it’s received a fairly negative reception from them. I personally feel it’s best used for special events: a baseball game, a concert, cool places you visit on vacation. While I’m not the type of guy who checks in everywhere, there are quite a few people who do, and who use the service frequently. If you’re one of those people, Smart Places might just be the app for you.
Smart Places focuses entirely on the check-in aspect of Facebook. From the app you can see nearby checkins on an embedded Google Map, easily check in to places (in less screens than the Facebook app), and even automatically check in to certain places.
Let’s take a closer look!
The first thing you need to do when you boot up Smart Places is grant it access to your Facebook account. This will allow the app to check you in, show nearby checkins, and give you a list of friends that are close by.
Checking in is easy enough: just press the Checkin button, then choose your location, tag friends, and add a message, just like in the native Facebook app. As far as interfaces go, the native Facebook app is a little cleaner and less cluttered, which I like, but I think Smart Places is a little more intuitive, with clearly marked buttons for each function (message, tag friends, etc). It also takes far fewer screen presses to check in using Smart Places, which is great for anyone who checks in a lot.
There is also a 1×1 widget with the free version that will take you right to the checkin screen!
You will also notice on the checkin screen that besides checking into a place, you can also press a “Z” icon to set up Zones. This is where the true power of Smart Places comes in.
By setting up a Zone in Smart Places, you’re telling the app, “when I’m at this location, automatically check me in.”
Zones List & Creating Zones
You can create a new Zone from the Checkin screen, or from the home screen by pressing the Zones button. When creating a new Zone, you have a few options to choose from including Place, Checkin, Re-checkin, and Message. The Checkin and Recheckin fields allow you to choose how long after you arrive at your location the app checks you in (for example, 5-15 minutes after you arrive) and then how long (if at all) after the first checkin to re-check in. For example, if you’re in the same area for 12 hours, you can have Smart Places automatically check you in again. You can also attach a message to the checkin.
You cannot tag friends in automatic checkins, which I think is a good idea for practical and privacy reasons
Zones work by having Smart Places monitor your location using the phone’s built-in GPS device. When it detects a location you want to automatically check in to, Smart Places will take care of it. This could raise some concerns if your phone has a questionable battery life. In my limited testing, I saw a slight drop in battery performance, but nothing that got me very concerned.
One last note on checkins: Smart Places also gives you the ability to check out, which will delete the post. In order to do this, you need to give Smart Places additional permissions, which you can do right from the app.
A Map of Your Friends
Another really nice feature of Smart Places is its main screen, which is a map showing your Zones based on your current location (in red circles), as well as the radius it’s scanning for nearby checkins (in a black circle). When there are nearby checkins, friends or otherwise, their profile pictures will show up on the map where they checked in.
Friends Map and List
On top of that, you can access a list of your nearby friends. The list will show you who they are, where they are, and how long ago they checked in. While this is a very cool feature, it only really works well if your friends checkin a lot. I can definitely see it being useful if you go to a concert, sporting event, or other large venue setting. Other than in those situations, my “Nearby Checkins” list was empty most of the time.
If you like to check in to Facebook a lot, Smart Places is definitely the app for you. As well as being a pretty well-designed app, it’s solid as far as functionality and stability go. The automatic checkin is a great feature, especially if you travel around a lot. The only problem is that you’ll need to set up Zones for each automatic checkin, and I’d imagine this can get pretty cumbersome unless you’re very familiar with the area. That means that if you’re on vacation, it may not be your best bet.
Even without the automatic checkins enabled, checking in is a lot easier with this app. There are less screen presses, faster loading times, and clearer instructions. It’s also a lot easier to keep tabs on people nearby, which is great if you’re out somewhere and want to meet up, or as I said earlier, if you’re at a big venue event and want to see if there’s anyone else there that you know.
Once concern I have is with the battery. I mentioned earlier that in my testing I didn’t have too much of a problem. However, I haven’t kept the app on for an incredibly long period of time. My guess is that if you do leave it on all day, you’ll see a considerable drop in battery life.
Aside from that one possible issue, this app is excellent and great for anyone who enjoys using Facebook’s checkin feature.