What is Facebook Portal and how does it work? We reveal all…

Everything you need to know about Facebook's new video calling device
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  • Truth be told, video calling friends and family on mobiles or tablets is nothing particularly new – both Skype and Apple’s FaceTime have been around for 16 and 9 years respectively. However, with Portal, the social platform’s very first device launch, Facebook aims to make video calling an easier and altogether better experience.

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    What is Facebook Portal and how does it work?

    Facebook Portal device showing video calling

    Buy now: Portal in Black, £169, Facebook

    In a nutshell, Portal is a video calling hub with built-in Alexa smart assistant that requires a Facebook account to work. You can call any other Facebook member in your friends list (via Facebook Messenger), with your call appearing on their phone, tablet, or – if they have one, too – their Portal device.

    When not in use, you can use it as a digital photo frame, displaying your favourite albums from your Facebook account. What’s more, since Facebook also owns both WhatsApp and Instagram, you can also make calls through WhatsApp and display images from your Instafeed, too.

    What’s so good about Facebook Portal?

    The majority of video calling these days is done on smartphones or tablets. Aside from the discomfort of having to hold your phone in one position throughout a call, the quality of calls on a mobile device are usually peppered with unflattering angles or 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 and has an ingenious wide-angled AI-powered camera that automatically zooms in or pans out to keep everyone in the frame.

    Facebook Portal video calling

    Buy now: Portal Mini in White, £129, Facebook

    What types of Facebook Portal are there?

    Portal comes in four formats: Portal, Portal Mini, Portal+ and Portal TV. The first two look like digital photo frames – one has a 10″ screen while the other is 8″ in size. Portal+ has a 15.6″ screen with handles either side making it portable, while Portal TV is a smaller device like a web cam that connects to your television, converting it into a large video screen. All four have the same connectivity, allowing you to call anyone with a Facebook or WhatsApp account.

    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. Firstly, you can switch the camera or microphone (or both) off with the flick of a button. A red light beside the lens makes it clear when both are disabled. Meanwhile, all calls have the option of end-to-end encryption, meaning that they can’t be listened to, recorded or hacked into.

    Is there a monthly fee for Facebook Portal?

    No. Once you have bought the device, Portal is completely free to use, provided you have a Facebook account.

    Can you watch TV and Netflix on Facebook Portal?

    Yes and no. The only device you can watch TV on is Portal TV. 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. Netflix and other video streaming apps aren’t available on Portal yet. You can stream music easily though via Spotify, Pandora and iHeart Radio.

    Facebook Portal screen with augmented reality cartoon effects

    Buy now: Portal TV, £149, Facebook

    What other benefits are there?

    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 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.

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    Available now, Portal from Facebook costs from £129.

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