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It seems that there are ever more ways to stay connected from afar. The pandemic forced us to come up with creative ways to do practically everything from home, but the flood of new gadgets makes it a little challenging to find that one perfect, multifunctional video calling device. Facebook has entered the fray with its Portal — a cheaper alternative to the Amazon Echo series, and some discounted iPads.
It might seem like the new kid on the block but Facebook Portal and Portal+ have been around for a few years, although they underwent a revamp to improve on some of the design and functional shortcomings (more on that later). Below, are a few things that you need to know about the Portal, from pricing to sizing options and user reviews.
What Is Facebook Portal?
Facebook Portal aims to provide a deeper user experience that is “designed to help you feel closer” to family and friends. But you can also use Portal for work or to listen to music, watch videos, and more. Portal comes complete with AI technology and other useful features such as the Portal Smart Camera — which automatically pans and zooms to help you stay in frame, even when you’re moving about. Portal is also equipped with Smart Sound technology that minimizes background noise for a more convenient, hands-free video calling experience. And you can do cool things like reading a bedtime story through AR — a great feature for parents and grandparents to stay connected with kids.
On the security front, Portal offers built-in features that users can control. For example, the camera and microphone can be disabled with a single tap, and calls are encrypted for added security. Portal also lets you set up a digital password to keep the screen locked and a camera cover to block the lens.
How Much Does It Cost?
Facebook Portal has expanded to include a handful of different sizes and designs. Pricing ranges from around $130 to $280 but if you purchase two at a time, through the Portal website, you’ll save $100.
With Facebook Portal, you can connect to WhatsApp, Spotify, Netflix, Paramount+, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Prime Video, Pandora, iHeart Radio, Showtime, Food Network, Newsy, and more. Portal works with Zoom, and other video conferencing apps like GoToMeeting, Workplace, BlueJeans, and WebEx. Portal lets you open Messenger rooms as well, for large-scale calls of up to 50 people.
Portal comes with its own built-in voice assistant, in addition to Alexa, which means you can listen to music, set reminders, watch the news, check the weather, and control smart home devices with the sound of your voice. Portal also lets you share photos from your phone, via the Portal mobile app, while you’re on Messenger.
Going up a little larger, the Portal+ has a 15.6” screen and a price bump of $279. The touchscreen devices can be used in portrait or landscape. Both Portal and Portal+ are equipped with a 12.5MP camera and 140-degree field view. Portal+ has WiFi at 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz, four microphones, and various 2” tweeters and 4” woofers for immersive bass. Save up to 25% when you buy Portal+ on Amazon during this limited deal.
Looking for something more compact? The Portal Mini has an 8” HD display, and the same features as the Portal and Portal+. At $129, the Portal Mini is the cheapest in the bunch and currently sold out on the Portal website site but you can get on through Amazon, Target.
Lastly, Portal TV gives you smart video calling on an even larger screen. You’ll get everything that the Portal has to offer directly on your TV — and not just video calls. Listen to music, display photos, stream your favorite shows and movies through Netflix, Disney+ and more. Portal TV retails for $149 on the website and Amazon, and Best Buy.
Is It Worth Buying?
Ultimately, Facebook Portal isn’t that much different from some of the other video calling devices when you compare pricing, capabilities, and functionality. Although the 12.5 MP camera is slightly less than what you would get with an Amazon Echo Show 8 (13 MP), the new generation Portal improved on a lot of the hurdles from previous incarnations — namely in apps that were available on the device.
Amazon, and Best Buy shoppers gave Portal positive marks for being user-friendly, plus for its sound and video clarity, as well as the large display offered by the Portal+. Others were underwhelmed with some of the design features, such as the hard wiring. Having to keep your Portal plugged in doesn’t give you the same mobility as other options, but might not matter as much if you don’t move around much or are using it in an office setting. Regardless of how portable or functional the Portal can be, that doesn’t denote the trust issues that users may have, although Facebook touts Portal as somewhat of a separate entity. According to the company — Portal technology runs on its own server. Facebook doesn’t watch or listen to your calls, or store your content. But like other voice-enabled devices, it will send voice commands to Facebook servers after you say “Hey Portal” to start the device (you can delete the history in your Facebook Activity Log).
The privacy concerns are understandable. Facebook hasn’t fully rebuilt the confidence of its more than 500 million users. But Portal isn’t the only electronic gadget that has users concerned about information sharing. That said, if you do plan on purchasing a Portal, we’ve hopefully enlightened you on some of the important features and pricing options to chose what works best for your budget and your technology needs.