What is Facebook Portal and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know…

Everything you need to know about Facebook's ingenious video calling devices
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  • Whether you’ve heard of Facebook Portal or not, pretty much everyone these days is well versed with video calling. That is, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years. From catching up with friends and family or organising meetings when everyone is working from home, video calling has become to go-to form of communication when you want a more personal touch.

    Video calling is by no means a new way of speaking to people. Skype, Apple’s FaceTime and Zoom have been around for 18, 11 and 10 years respectively. But with Portal – originally launched by Facebook two years ago – the social media conglomerate’s version aims to make video calling an easier, smoother and altogether more enjoyable experience.

    What is Facebook Portal and how does it work?

    video call device on a table with a baby in a costume on screen

    Image credit: Facebook

    Buy now: Facebook Portal Go, £149, Amazon

    In a nutshell, Facebook Portal is a video calling hub with built-in Alexa smart assistant. As Facebook – or as it’s now known, Meta – owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, they can all be accessed in various ways through a Portal device, but to use it, you need to have either a Facebook or WhatsApp account.

    There are four different devices to choose from, all with their various benefits, depending on your needs. Using Portal, you can make calls using WhatsApp, Facebook Messsenger or Zoom, with your call appearing on their phone, tablet, or – if they also have one – their Portal device.

    And when you’re not using it to call someone, Facebook Portal doesn’t just sit there with a blank, black screen. It can be used as a digital photo frame, displaying your favourite albums from your Facebook or Instagram account.

    What’s so good about Facebook Portal?

    The majority of video calling these days is done on smartphones or tablets. Aside from the awkwardness of having to hold your phone in one position throughout a call – invariably showing you at the most unflattering angles – the quality of calls on a mobile device are usually peppered with views of the ceiling and can even involve chasing small children around a room just so they can say hello to their grandparents.

    Portal frees your hands up from holding a screen when chatting to loved ones. It also has an ingenious wide-angled AI-powered camera that automatically zooms in or pans out to keep everyone in the frame. If you move when on a call, the camera will automatically follow you, even panning out to make sure it’s getting everything in the frame and no action is missed.

    It’s also super useful if – following the pandemic – you’re working from home a lot more. Using a Portal for work video calls frees up your laptop or desktop computer, allowing you to speak to colleagues without toggling between endless tabs.

    video call on a tv with a jumping dog on screen and a man and woman watching

    Image credit: Facebook

    Buy now: Facebook Portal TV, £79, Amazon

    What types of Facebook Portal are there?

    Portal comes in four formats: Portal, Portal TV, Portal Go and Portal+. The first two devices were launched originally back in 2019, while the latter two were added to the collection this year. The standard Facebook Portal device is mains operated and looks like a digital photo frame with a 10″ screen. Portal Go is a wireless version, again with a 10″ screen that you can move from room-to-room. Portal TV is a small device, rather like a web cam, that sits either above or below your TV screen and connects to your television, converting it into a large video screen. Finally Portal+ is a supersize stand-alone device with a larger 14″ tilting display.

    All four have the same connectivity, allowing you to call anyone with a Facebook or WhatsApp account. Prices range from £79 for the Portal TV, right up to £299 for the Portal+, but they’re often are available with as much as 50% off, so keep an eye out for discounts if you’re keen to invest in one (or more).

    What about security?

    Facebook is no stranger to scrutiny with regards to people’s personal security, so the company has been very careful to include a number of safety features to ensure peace of mind with Portal in your home.

    For starters, the flick of a switch disables the microphone and camera, while all four devices also feature an integrated camera cover so you know for sure that you’re safe from view. A red light beside the lens makes it clear when both are disabled. Meanwhile, like WhatsApp, all calls have the option of end-to-end encryption, meaning that they can’t be listened to, recorded or hacked into.

    Related: Best wireless security cameras – the top wifi cameras for keeping your home safe

    video call device with a screensaver of a child in a crocodile costume

    Image credit: Facebook

    Buy now: Facebook Portal, £79, Amazon

    Is there a monthly fee for Facebook Portal?

    Thankfully, no. Once you have bought the device, Portal is completely free to use, provided you have a Facebook or WhatsApp account (but again, these too are free of charge).

    Can you watch TV and Netflix on Facebook Portal?

    Yes and no. Portal TV is the only device you can stream content on. Portal TV lets you watch shows and video content via the company’s video-on-demand service, Facebook Watch. You can watch these in tandem with a call so you and the person you’re speaking to can comment on them. Other streaming apps like Netflix and Prime Video are available on Portal TV, as are music streaming services like Spotify and Deezer.
    With Portal TV you can also watch movies, tv shows or videos in tandem with friends and family, seeing their reactions in real time. If for whatever reason you can’t be together, it’s the next best thing.

    video call device on a desk with a split screen four-way call

    Image credit: Facebook

    Buy now: Facebook Portal+, £299, Amazon

    What other benefits are there?

    Much like Messenger and Instagram, Portal has a host of augmented reality effects to avail of through the Photo Booth feature. You can be a kitten, a bunny rabbit, play games… all via Messenger calls. The oh-so-clever Story Time feature is perfect for reading your child a bedtime story with a difference. Choose from a selection of stories to tell and watch the story come to life around you as you speak. Built-in Alexa allows you to call up your favourite music, check the weather, set timers and control your other smart home devices.

    Facebook Portal is available now from Amazon and Currys, priced from £149.

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