The Portal is Facebook’s line of displays and video cameras, designed to fit on desks and countertops to enable users to video call Facebook friends or contacts from Messenger and WhatsApp. The Portal is another Facebook foray into the world of hardware—one that has been widely promoted and has even caused a bit of buzz in the tech world ahead of the holiday shopping season.
You’ve probably been left wondering, however, how good the Facebook Portal is—and whether it’s worth the hype.
What the Portal Gets You
The standard Facebook Portal comes with everything you need for video calls—a display, smart camera, microphone, and front-porting stereo speakers—and is compatible with Amazon Alexa, allowing for hands-free calling and communication.
The Portal’s smart camera is designed to intelligently track everyone it sees as they move around the room—so, even if you’re walking around the kitchen or office, the frame will stay locked on you and you’ll remain in focus. The camera also tracks when another person enters the room and will expand the frame to include them.
In addition to the basics, the Portal comes with a few other features, including augmented reality masks and games, and Story Time, which uses AR features and on-screen prompts that allow users to tell stories and bring them to life over video.
Each Portal can also act as a very expensive digital picture frame.
The two standard versions of the Portal—mini (8-in.) and regular size (10-in.)—have a suggested retail of $129 and $179, respectively. The Portal TV, a smart camera system that allows your TV to become a Portal, has a suggested retail of $149. The Portal+, an extra-large 15.6″ version, has a suggested retail of $279.
The Portal will be best for anyone who regularly makes video calls and wants a system entirely dedicated to that purpose. While most tablets and smartphones support video calls, the Portal offers some features you can’t get with those systems, like the smart camera, built-in Amazon Alexa, and hi-fi speakers.
Grandparents or older family members who are using video calls to stay in touch with grandchildren or younger family members may also like the augmented reality tech masks, games, and Story Time features.
Anyone who is regularly making video calls but has their hands busy or can’t use an ordinary video calling system because they’re moving around too much, might also find the Facebook Portal useful.
Why You May Not Want the Portal
Facebook has also noted that they would not listen to, record, or review sound or footage from calls—a notice they probably felt compelled to make. This isn’t super convincing, in the wake of Facebook’s few data privacy scandals of the past couple years.
Facebook said that they would record some Portal information—including call frequency and length—but that they wouldn’t use this data for ad targeting.
Facebook seems to be aware that privacy is becoming a more significant factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions—or maybe they’ve been paying attention to the media coverage of the Portal, which was dubbed “creepy” by the New York Post. One of the promotional images of the Portal even demonstrated how a plastic cover could be used to block the camera of the Portal when it’s not in use.
If you’re especially concerned about your data privacy, you might want to skip the Portal—or just stay aware of the kind of data that Facebook plans on collecting.
Is The Portal Right For You?
The Facebook Portal could be a great fit for anyone who frequently makes video calls and wants a piece of hardware with advanced video-calling features—like the smart camera and Alexa integration.
The Portal doesn’t do much beyond video calling, and there are some privacy concerns that potential buyers may want to consider before a purchase. For people wanting to stay in touch, however, the Portal can be a great way to make sure when the right person calls, you’re ready to answer.
Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and productivity blogger. She is a senior writer for MakeUseOf and the owner and editor of her tech productivity blog, Productivity Bytes. You can read more by Kayla at Inc.com, VentureBeat, DMN, and more.