d) Smart Camera
e) Smart Sound
f) Story Time
a) Camera Cover
c) Local AI
g) Screen Lock
Searching for an answer? Here's our table of contents:
d) Smart Camera
e) Smart Sound
f) Story Time
a) Camera Cover
c) Local AI
g) Screen Lock
With the launch of Facebook’s Portal, the social networking conglomerate has been making inroads into the hardware field. Having started out with two communication devices, the Portal and Portal+, the product line-up is now expanding in response to user needs.
Facebook Portal is a communication device with the key objective of making it easier for users to connect with friends and family. Three of the devices are display units comparable to the Amazon Echo Show.
Designed to resemble digital photo frames, these devices work as elegant, intelligent displays while they wait for you to make or receive a call. Though their main focus is on video calling, they also offer additional functions which we will discuss in further detail below.
First things first, let’s find out how to get started with your very own Facebook Portal.
Facebook Portal debuted with a price tag of $199 while the Portal+ was priced at $349. But with the recent launch of the Portal TV and Mini, prices have been slashed. Here is where to buy Facebook Portal at the lowest prices:
There are different devices in the Portal line-up, each with its own unique features. Currently, the product line consists of four devices:
These devices all share a number of common features. They all have built-in speakers as well as tweeters and rear-mounted drivers. Thanks to their unique design, they deliver a much bigger sound than one would expect given their size.
Furthermore, they all come with a camera capable of capturing footage at 720p, offering impeccable picture quality. They also have multiple microphones, eight in total, which focus on the speaker while minimising background noise. And they all have dual-band Wi-Fi support as well as Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity.
Now that we have covered their similarities, let us take a brief look into the unique, differentiating features that set them apart:
Portal, together with the Portal+, was the first device launched in the line-up. It sports a 10-inch screen and is the smaller of the two originals. Facebook Portal specs include a 12 MP camera and a wide viewing angle of 140 degrees.
Its display resolution is 720p and comes with a 4-mic array and 10W speakers. You can set it to landscape or portrait mode.
The Portal has a sleek minimalistic bezelled look that makes it elegant. It comes in the custom black and white colours of the entire product line.
Just like the Portal, the Portal+ is a smart display. The main difference is the size of the screen. The Portal+ has a 15.6-inch display with a futuristic look. Its touchscreen is bright and responsive, and it comes connected to an L-shaped (backwards) base made using high-quality material with a smooth finish.
You can use it in both landscape and portrait orientation. All it needs to switch from one to the other is a light touch and it rotates 90 degrees. It comes with a minimalist black or white stand with the camera positioned at the top and the speaker at the bottom.
Featuring a 140-degree field of view and 1080p resolution display, it has up to 8x digital zoom and 360-degree beamforming from its four-mic array. To use it, you need to plug it into a power source as its large HD display requires a large amount of power and it is always listening. The speakers are 20W.
Portal+ is designed to stay on a cool, dry surface – preferably not in the kitchen – as it is neither heat nor water-proof. Therefore, much as people love to place displays in the kitchen, this device would not be ideal there.
Portal TV comes with a remote control which you can use to place and accept calls and adjust device settings. The technology behind it is meant to turn any TV into a humongous video calling display with a 120-degree field of view.
Essentially, it comes in the form of an intelligent webcam with tonnes of handy features and all you need is an HDMI port to connect Facebook Portal to your TV. You may place it on top of your TV or elsewhere in the vicinity to use it for video calling. When it comes to using it, the device can place or receive video calls to or from anyone who owns a Portal device. Alternatively, it can call anyone with a smart device that is capable of making and receiving video calls on Messenger and WhatsApp.
For convenience purposes, it alerts you when a call is coming in so that you have a choice of whether or not to pick up. Only after you accept the call does it appear on the big screen. This feature comes in quite handy when you do not want your annoying aunt to interrupt movie time.
A noteworthy downside to this TV is that the 720p streaming, which is ideal for small devices, just does not cut it on your giant 4K TV. Other than that, it seems like an innovative and well-thought-out device that could find a place in lots of hearts and homes.
This is the smallest device in the line-up, featuring an 8-inch display screen. Its key aim is to offer a compact alternative to the other devices in the line-up.
It closely resembles a picture frame and shares most features with the Portal with the exception of screen size.
Now we know exactly how to get your new device up and running to keep everyone connected. But how exactly does it work? Well, in order to understand this fully, let us take a look at the different features of the device:
As mentioned above, the main aim of the Portal is to revolutionise video chatting. Facebook says that its objective with these devices is to keep people at the centre. They want to keep people in touch for longer periods with greater ease than is currently possible.
According to their reasoning, having to hold onto devices such as smartphones in order to place video calls limits the extent of interaction. Consequently, it says that, by not having to hold onto a device, people are able to spend a lot more time on calls than they currently do.
All you have to do to initiate a video chat is say “Hey Portal,” and then ask the device to call a specific person. Since it uses Messenger for video calls, the person you are calling also needs to be on Messenger and have the app on their mobile device. However, the people you call do not necessarily have to have a Portal.
As Facebook has announced its intention to support WhatsApp calling on the devices, it is just a matter of time before you can make calls beyond Messenger to this app as well.
Portal can support group calls with a maximum of seven people at a time, including yourself. Each person will need to have Messenger on their device, but they do not necessarily require Portals. Anyone who is on an ongoing call can add their contacts or Facebook friends to the call.
To make a group call, here is what you need to do:
Making video calls is not the only thing that your device can do; it has a good number of additional tricks up its sleeve thanks to the smart camera. The camera is capable of tracking your movements and following you around a room as you go about other tasks.
By virtue of this feature, it will keep you within its frame at all times, eliminating the worry of going out of camera range. Moreover, if there are several people in a room, it zooms out automatically to include everyone.
Basically, it has the capacity to zoom in and out of various settings to keep everyone in the action. In order to facilitate this, it uses a wide-angle lens to focus on multiple objects and optimise the results.
Facebook compares it to having your own cinematographer doing the panning and tracking to direct your video calls. Interestingly, the AI-based smart camera can tell the difference between a person and a pet. Therefore, you will never have your call interrupted by felines and canines wandering around.
Another great feature is the Smart Sound technology which enhances voices while, at the same time, minimising background noise. This intelligent mic tech makes use of beamforming to track people and minimise environmental interference.
For instance, if there is loud music playing, it will cancel out the music and isolate the person’s voice. This means you can easily video chat with granny as you do the dishes or vacuum the house.
And since there are eight microphones on each device, it is easy to chat with an entire family without struggling to hear anyone.
This is another great feature that targets kids (and the young at heart). With this, they can enjoy watching their favourite bedtime story come to life thanks to augmented reality (AR). The devices get AR support from their Spark platform.
Basically, this feature makes it possible to add animation, custom sound effects, and music to stories. And with AR, you can even incorporate face filters to make the story more compelling. The feature makes use of the smart camera and a simple teleprompter to frame and animate the story, bringing it to life.
As such, the person on the other end sees your face and hears your voice transform to match the characters in the story. What a great way to make storytime special for your kids when you are away from home, or to give grandparents an opportunity to bond with the young ones from a distance.
At the moment, Story Time has a total of 15 stories but the company has promised to add more in the future. Some of the titles your kids may enjoy include The Three Little Pigs, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and Itsy Bitsy Spider, among others.
This is a really exciting feature that makes the device a great addition to your home. Essentially, Superframe allows Portal to pull photos and videos from your Facebook account and display them on its screen when the device is idle.
You may also add your local weather to the Superframe so you can check the forecast at a glance. To do this:
Facebook Portal also offers some of the instant games available on Messenger. These include Sudoku, Battleship, Draw Something, and Words with Friends, among others.
Additionally, when you are not on a call, you can see which one of your friends has their Messenger app activated using the green dot we all love to hate. This way, you can tell when it’s a good time to call them. In fact, it will go a step further and prompt you to call someone when they come online. You may get notifications like “Try ‘Hey Portal, call Alice’” if your device thinks you need some motivation.
In case you are actually waiting for someone to become active so you can call them, you have the option of turning on a notification. Here is how to do this:
When that person comes online or becomes active, you will hear a clicking noise from your Portal alerting you to this fact.
If your eyesight happens to be struggling and you have refused to wear your glasses, the device can help you see better. Here is what you need to do:
That’s all. The next time you have a hard time seeing something simply tap on the screen three times. This will enlarge the specific area of your screen that you have tapped. You can get it back to normal size by tapping three times again.
If you live with family or friends, you can enjoy adding up to four accounts to a single device. Here is how to do it:
After setting up individual accounts, everyone can access their contacts and make calls on the device.
If you are making a call in a crowded room and want to focus attention on a specific person, you can do so using the Spotlight feature. This feature will keep the camera trained on that person for as long as it remains on. To turn it on, follow these steps:
Setting up your Facebook Portal is pretty straightforward. Follow these steps:
Many first-time users ask, “Do you need a Facebook account to use Portal?” As we have seen above, the answer is “yes.” The device connects to your Facebook account; we’ll see the benefit of that later in the review.
For Facebook Portal to function optimally, it requires both Alexa and its own assistant, which responds to the wake word, “Hey Portal.” Alexa voice commands on the device work in more or less the same way as they do on Amazon Alexa speakers. But “Hey Portal” controls some of the core functions of the smart display.
These include controlling speaker volume, placing calls, and launching on-device apps. But it does not offer broader functions like searching for answers to queries or playing music. To understand the full scope of its functionality, take a look at Portal commands:
Using the Home and Away function, you can ensure people only call you when you are home. With this feature on, any calls to the device will automatically be transferred to your phone when you are out. To turn it on:
Though Facebook Portal has the primary goal of revolutionising video chatting, it is great for a host of other things too. One of the top highlights in this regard is its integration with one of the most familiar AI assistants, Alexa. Yes, Alexa is natively built into the device.
You can get her to do pretty much the same things she does on other Alexa hubs. For instance, you can ask her for a news or weather report, set timers, or create shopping lists and add items onto them.
According to the company, anything that you would be able to do with Alexa can also work here. But there are also a few noteworthy differences in the functionality. For example, you cannot make video calls using Alexa voice commands, simply because the video call feature works through Messenger.
The company is reportedly working on its own digital assistant which can run on Portal devices, though it has yet to specify a timeline.
Unfortunately, Portal does not offer support for Google Assistant at present. But the good news is that Facebook has plans to integrate her as well on an unspecified future date.
With the Facebook Portal, you get access to its YouTube competitor, Watch. It is a great way to stay abreast of recent developments as there are a lot of services out there which use Facebook.
But you will have even greater access to viral videos as well as comedy. At present, the platform does not have quite as many content creators as YouTube and there are no original series (think Hulu and Netflix).
Using Watch, you can also enjoy watching videos with your friends and family while on a call.
Though it comes with its own collection of apps, you can add to these by tapping on the Portal App icon. The options here are still limited but, according to Facebook, they will increase over time.
For the better part of this year and the last one, Facebook has been involved in privacy scandals. The Cambridge Analytica scandal that happened at the beginning of 2018 caused undeniable turbulence for the company. It even contributed to a delay in the release of Facebook Portal.
Just when the dust seemed to be settling, the September breach rekindled the flames of distrust. At the time, at least 50 million user accounts were compromised. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer trust issues regarding the company.
In view of these disturbing reports, customers may shy away from devices from the same company. And the fact that the devices come with microphones and cameras that track movement does not help things.
In recognition of this, Facebook has gone the extra mile in regard to facilitating privacy on the Portal line of products. It has included the following:
First, all Portal devices come with a camera cover which allows you to cut off its video feed whenever you want to.
Second, it has a physical button which you can use to turn off the mic, the camera, or both.
A third feature that facilitates privacy has to do with the AI of the device. Its AI runs on-device, locally, rather than on Facebook servers.
Furthermore, as Facebook explains, the device does not have facial recognition. This means it does not monitor individuals as it cannot identify users.
Notably, too, Facebook points out that video calls made to or from the device are encrypted. They also promise not to listen to, view, or store the contents of users’ video calls.
Privacy-centric individuals will appreciate the fact that it is integrated with both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Why? Because all WhatsApp calls are encrypted from end-to-end and Messenger calls are encrypted in transit. These are great options one can use to make private calls.
Additionally, you have the option of deleting the voice history under your Facebook Activity Log. Users can also adjust privacy settings to opt out of data collection.
Another privacy feature is the screen lock, which makes use of a 4 to 12-digit passcode to limit access to the device.
You may place calls directly to a Portal from your phone on the condition you have Facebook’s Messenger 4. This version was released in October 2018. To place a call from your phone to a Portal, follow these steps:
No. At the moment, Portal makes use of Superframe for viewing photos and videos. Therefore, to view photos, you will need to add them to Superframe. And currently, you can only add photos from Facebook to Superframe.
Facebook Portal and Portal+ are currently available in the following countries:
They were originally only available in the US but, in June this year, they expanded to cover the other countries.
On the other hand, the new generation Portal, Portal TV and Portal Mini are available to preorder in the following countries:
In the countries where the devices are available for preorder, they are set to start shipping on November 5, 2019.
Facebook Portal seeks to compete with bigwigs in the smart display industry. Some of its top competitors include Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub.
Let us see how they compare.
Google Home Hub
Amazon Echo Show
10.1-inch HD Video
Wide variety of screens: 8-inch, 10-inch and 15.6-inch
|Music and Movie Streaming||
Supports Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music
|Smart Home Control||
Controls compatible smart home devices
Controls compatible smart home devices
Access to Google Photos
Amazon photos and Facebook
Uses Superframe to access Facebook photos
1024 x 600
960 x 480
1280 x 800
|Smart Kitchen Features||
Step-by-step recipe assistance using YouTube tutorial videos
Step-by-step recipe assistance, Amazon meal kits integration
Limited recipe assistance from Alexa
If you receive an error message when attempting to make a call, it probably means that you are using an old version of the software. To solve the issue, you will probably need to update your device software. That should restore the functionality and allow you to make and receive calls.
If your Portal is plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi, and not in use, it will automatically update and go to sleep. Once it installs the latest software, it will restart. Log back into the device by following the instructions on the screen once it does.
Here is how to perform a factory reset on your Portal devices:
Alternatively, you could remove all accounts from the device and it will automatically reset to factory settings.
A third option is to:
The device sets your location automatically and shows local weather information based on its location. To change it manually, go to Settings>Location.
To get help from the Portal support team at any time, visit https://portal.facebook.com/help/