“While the Facebook Portal+ has cool video chat features, we won’t be friending the device anytime soon.”
- Camera’s 140-degree field of view is impressive
- Fun video-calling effects
- Easy to make calls
- Can display your best Facebook images
- No Facebook app
- Portal/Alexa voice control is confusing and clunky
- No ability to add apps
When I first heard about Facebook’s plan to introduce the Portal and Portal+, I was skeptical. In light of the recent trouble that the social media giant has gotten into regarding privacy violations, are people really going to want a Facebook-branded, Alexa-enabled smart speaker with a roving camera in their homes? It seems tone deaf to introduce such a device in the wake of the major scandals.
So, with some trepidation, I requested a review unit of the device, thinking I would dislike it.
But to my surprise, I don’t. While I still have reservations and complaints about the limitations of the device, (including the $349 price tag), with some tweaks, it could make a good (but expensive) gift for all the Facebook-loving parents and grandparents out there.
First, let’s talk about looks. While the Portal features a 10-inch display, the Portal+ boasts a whopping 15.6 inch display (bigger than many
The Portal+ screen rotates from landscape to portrait mode by pulling down on the corner of the device. The camera on/off button and volume control buttons are found on the top of the device. It also comes with a plastic cover for the camera in case you’re one of those people who’s paranoid about whether the camera is on even when it says it’s not.
A large speaker fills out the base of the Portal+. It features two tweeters and four inches of bass. Overall, the device is huge, and regardless of whether you have it set up vertically or horizontally, it will take up a lot of space.
The Portal+ is primarily a video-calling device that allows you to call your Facebook friends. Once you’re connected to your
Yep, you read that right. The
You can also select various photos and videos from your
The device has some built-in apps that allow you to do other things. It comes with YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and a few others, for example, meaning you can browse through videos on how to cook asparagus or listen to your favorite playlist while cooking dinner.
It also works as an Amazon Alexa speaker, so you can ask
Some glaring omissions on the Portal+ include the lack of a
It’s confusing to have two different voice assistants built in, especially when there’s overlap on what each can do.
We tried out the camera by moving around the room to see how the tracking worked. The camera on the Portal+ focused on me and moved ever-so-slightly with me as I moved to the left and the right in my kitchen. It did the same on my Mom’s Portal, moving from side to side when the camera tracked her movement. The feature definitely seems a little bit like a 3D effect, and the quality of the video is pretty great overall. My mom was delighted by the ability to clearly see her grandson moving around the room.
During the call, you can add special effects to yourself so that the person you’re talking to sees you as, say, a werewolf, or with a cat on your head. It’s a fun feature that my Mom and little niece, who was visiting my Mom, found really entertaining.
There are two different ways to interact with the Portal+ with your voice, and that’s by asking
As for sound, I tested out the speaker by asking the Portal+ to play “Happy” by Pharrell, and then playing the same song on an Amazon Echo Show. The verdict? The Portal+ gives off a surprisingly loud, room-filling sound, but compared to the Echo Show, it sounds a bit hollow and less robust. Still, it’s more than sufficient for video chatting or listening to streaming music while chopping veggies for dinner.
Facebook’s privacy fails are well-documented by now, which is part of the reason we were concerned when we heard about this device. Will people buy a Facebook-branded roving camera that collects information about you and your smart home? That remains to be seen, but
It’s clear that
And to quell the fears of those who get the heebie-jeebies about cameras inside their homes, the company built in some safeguards. Not only can you turn both the camera and mic off, there’s also a separate fitting that you can place over the camera entirely. Although I should note that it’s a loose piece of plastic that could get lost.
The Portal+ comes with a one-year malfunctions and defects warranty.
Still, the Portal+ is perfect for
But, the Portal+ costs $349, which is a lot of money to spend for a device without a web browser and limited apps. The 10-inch Portal is cheaper at $199, but that’s still a fair amount to spend on a device with limited functionality.
Is there a better alternative?
There’s not a lot out there like this device. The Portal’s closest competition is probably the Amazon Echo Show, which is an Amazon
The Google Home Hub, at $149, offers a smaller screen and doesn’t sound as great as the Echo Show, but offers many of the same features as the Echo Show otherwise. The Lenovo Smart Display is another
How long will it last?
This is a tough question. We’re not sure. This is Facebook’s first foray into smart home hardware, which means there’s no track record of support and continuity. The device fully depends on firmware upgrades, which, if it doesn’t take off, might not happen. We will say that the hardware is durable and well-made, if a bit clunky.
Should you buy it?
Even if your Grandma is a
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