We’ve had a chance to spend the last week or so playing around with the new Facebook Portal, the photo frame-shaped version of the company’s video chat device.
The good: Video chat is the heart and soul of Portal, and Facebook has expanded last year’s version with the addition of WhatsApp, as well as new AR effects and more content in Story Time — which is sort of like karaoke for kids stories. Over the weekend, we convinced one of the Story Time book authors, Todd Parr, to read “Otto Goes to the Beach.”
What’s great about Story Time is how every reader — including grandma or a traveling parent — can become part of the story, with AR filters casting them as characters. The author has an edge, of course, but Story Time is great even without him.
So are the Portal’s AR effects, which liven up a video chat by showing callers breathing fire or turning into a bunny.
Portal draws on an extra wide population of potential call recipients, since owners can call anyone with Messenger or WhatsApp and a smartphone (a second Portal isn’t required).
A built-in web browser also separates Portal from other smart displays, including Google’s new Nest Hub Max.
Portal includes Amazon Alexa support, Spotify and Pandora and a handful of video apps.
Netflix isn’t directly supported — nor, oddly, is the Facebook news feed — but both are reachable via the browser, as are other video services.
Portal also has a smart camera and microphones that can track people across a room, which is useful for a more natural conversation.
The bad: At the end of the day, buying a Portal still means trusting Facebook with a camera and microphone in your home.
The fine print: The Portal comes in 2 versions, a $179 10-inch one (what we tested) and a $129 8-inch Portal Mini. A TV set-top version has also been announced and ships next month for $149.
The bottom line: I’m still mixed on allowing the big tech firms deeper access into my home, but Portal’s combination of photos and video chat is a powerful argument.