We love video calling, whether it’s catching up with BritMums members, getting the team together or calling family both near and far. We’ve even gotten used to holding our phones up and cramming into a skinny vertical screen. And then we were invited to check out the Portal from Facebook as well as Portal TV…and discovered more great features that make video calls more fun than ever.
The Portal range includes a 10-inch model, a compact 8-inch version, the Portal TV, essentially a camera device that you clip to the top of your TV which turns that screen into a video calling hub too and a 15-inch version. We got to play around with the 10-inch and 8-inch ones, which look like picture frames and which you can set up either horizontally or vertically with a little kickstand in back that also houses the wire.
One of the features we really liked was the ability to turn the device during a call and it would adjust — transitioning between horizontal and vertical presentations.
Setting up Portal
You make calls with Portal via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and set up could not be easier. You get a code that you type in on your Facebook account and you’re in. You can call anyone in your contacts with a Facebook Messenger account and if you sync your WhatsApp, you can also ring those contacts as well.
Calling on Portal from Facebook
To call on Portal you can put people in your favourites or browse your longer list of contacts. Some video calling apps and functionalities can be less than intuitive, but we found this one really easy. Annnndddd…once you’re connected, the picture quality is sharp, with strong natural colours and the good audio. (Read on for the secret to that…)
Some of the great features on Portal from Facebook
The AI-powered Smart Camera and Smart Sound: One of the things you first notice is that you can make a call hands-free and move around the room and the Smart Camera will pan and zoom automatically. You can move and talk freely and always stay in frame (it’s a wide-angle lens). Smart Sound minimises background noise and enhances the voice of callers. The kids can run around while chatting, we can get on with cooking or a thousand other things, all while keeping the chat going.
The Augmented Reality Experiences: Think about the cute masks and other features of Snapchat — here you have them for video calls. Susanna and Jen like to start their daily catch-up by running through their favourites (the one with the Carmen Miranda-style fruit hat, the one with the werewolf face…). And for families, there’s the awesome Story Time feature — where you can read stories that are available on the device that have visual and sound effects for reading with kids whether you’re across town or across the world. (These are available only on Messenger calls.)
The Amazon Alexa connection: Whatever you can do with your Alexa, you can do with your Alexa through Facebook Portal — it’s a clean elegant solution to listening to music, checking the news, getting local search results, controlling your smart home and more.
Powerful Audio: As we mentioned before, the powerful, built-in stereo speakers provides rich sound — good enough for hi-fidelity listening with your favourite music from Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio.
Private by Design: When you’re not using Portal, there’s a little switch on the side that you move over to either block off the camera or switch off both the camera and the sound — a feature we find quite important, as we don’t necessarily want an always-on camera and microphone in the house. You can also learn more about Portal’s privacy features on portal.facebook.com/privacy/.
The Superframe feature: When it’s not a video calling device, the Portal can display photos and birthday reminders and show when friends are available to connect. We’ve found that occasionally people will pop up as available, making it easy to connect in our busy schedules. We also like using the Portal as a frame to show select family photos — it showcase nice memories and doesn’t look like a piece of tech in the sitting room.
Our review of Portal from Facebook
Susanna connected with her father, over in California (he loved how easy it was to hear and see each other). Jennifer and her daughter connected with dad, who was away (he demanded to see a run-down of the cool augmented-reality features).
Both of us have quickly become addicted to using it. You can connect with a quick swipe or a couple of touches on the screen, we regularly do conference calls with members of the team. It’s reliable with great picture, audio and fun extras to use with the family. Truly the next step in video calls!
Have you tried out the Portal from Facebook? Are there features that particularly appeal to you? Tell us what you think!