The Pros and Cons of Facebook Portal
Just in case you slipped into a coma and slept through all the new tech products of the past six months, you may not realize that video-to-video chats are all the rage now. Yes, we know iPhone users have been using FaceTime for what seems like eons in tech years, but now Facebook, Google, Amazon and others have taken the concept to a whole new level.
Facebook started advertising their new video chat device in late 2018, and, putting privacy concerns aside for a minute, we decided to give it a try. We ordered the Portal on Amazon during the holidays, and apparently we weren’t the only ones. Amazon had a limit on the number of devices you could buy at a time. It turns out that a lot of people received Portals as gifts from family members.
WHAT IS THE PORTAL?
It is Facebook’s solution for the popular gadget genre known as the “smart screen.” It could be described as a digital picture frame, a smart speaker and a video calling device. There are currently two versions available: the Portal, a smallish 10.1-inch display that looks sort of like Amazon’s Echo Show, and the Portal+, a rotatable 15.6-inch display mounted on a base that contains built-in speakers. As always, we opted for the larger, more expensive Portal+.
To get the full value out of the Portal, you need to have another Portal to connect to, or be friends with someone who has one. The essential purpose of the device is to facilitate video chats between Facebook Messenger users. Now, there is the first rub for us. To try out this new device, we had to be Facebook Messenger users. If anyone is paying attention, you may have noticed that Facebook has been causing more than a little heartburn with some of their privacy policies. We duly noted the potential risk, but also vowed to not share any state secrets during our Portal test drive.
HOW IT WORKS
The Portal is indeed a handsome device, if you can describe tech gadgets that way. The screen is mounted on a sturdy backbone that has a built-in speaker, and it will rotate for either portrait or landscape modes. Setup was a breeze and within minutes we were connected to our Wi-Fi signal and seeing a list of all our Facebook friends that we might want to call for a video chat. Calling a friend is as easy as touching their profile picture on the screen or just saying “Hey Portal, call Bill.” The person gets a ringing notification on their Portal (or the Facebook Messenger app on their phone if they are mobile), and they can accept or reject the call.