Facebook Go Portal Review: Best and Worst Video Chat Box

The Portal Go is an almost perfect video calling gadget. I just wish it wasn’t from Facebook Inc.

FB 1.39%

The new $ 199 console, available Tuesday, October 19, is a battery-powered smart display that works with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Zoom, Verizon.‘s

BlueJeans, Cisco Webex, and, by the end of the year, Microsoft Teams — and he has Amazon‘s

Integrated Alexa voice control.

A handle on the back of the Portal Go makes it easy to carry. The device weighs approximately 3.2 pounds.


Photo:

Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

Other video chat boxes like Google’s Nest Hub Max and Amazon’s Echo Show should stay plugged into the wall. Portal Go relies on a small loading washer, but you can grab the cloth-covered wedge-shaped screen by its handle and make your video calls wherever you feel like chatting. Children playing on the floor and wanting to show Grandma and Grandpa something? Trying to catch up by finishing lunch? Facebook says the Portal Go can be wireless for up to five hours.

A dedicated call box, especially a cell phone, makes so much sense. It’s the new landline, except with some fun video filters. Of course, you can use your laptop, but the portal has a 12-megapixel wide-angle webcam, much nicer than most computers, and no annoying work notifications. You can use your iPad, but this 10-inch display stands up on its own.

Competing video chat consoles, such as the Echo Show 10, left, and Google Nest Hub Max, also have automatic pan and zoom camera functions, but must stay plugged into a wall.


Photo:

Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

It’s not just for family catch-ups. I used the browser to broadcast Peloton training. And the portal’s Zoom app has a quick shortcut to start and join meetings, which I did, from my work account. Without the browser tabs and other distractions of zooming in on a laptop, I was able to focus on the conversation. That is, until the smart camera automatically zooms out to show my husband, who had just entered the room and was not present at the meeting. (You can turn off this feature during a call.)

Speaking of distractions, there’s no easy way to access Facebook and Instagram feeds on the device, which I see as a positive.

I couldn’t find a smart screen with all the major video calling services on board. For the portal, you won’t be lucky if people want to reach you through Apple‘s

FaceTime, Microsoft’s Skype or Google Meet. Although these platforms have web applications, the portal browser does not allow access to its camera or microphone. (This might be when you grab the iPad.)

Portal Go supports video conferencing applications, such as Zoom. You can add virtual backgrounds in the Zoom app and connect bluetooth headphones.


Photo:

Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

The portal includes Alexa for music and smart home control, but it’s a limited version of Amazon’s assistant. There’s no Alexa Guard support for smoke or broken glass detectors, and you can’t make Alexa calls to people with Echo devices. You can ask Alexa to play songs on Spotify or tap suggested playlists, but you can’t just type in a song name. It’s a weird little quirk for what is essentially a tablet with a decent speaker.

Lisa Auslen, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company will continue to add new communications apps and that Alexa may eventually use Portal.

So what is the problem? Its developer, Facebook Reality Labs, is part of Facebook Inc. The company has struggled to properly manage user data, and its social networks have played a role in sowing discord, amplifying disinformation, hosting traffickers and increasing rates of anxiety and depression. in some young users, which was recently covered by my colleagues at the Wall Street Journal. I don’t feel good to bring a microphone and a camera made by this company into my house.

I am also reluctant to give him more of my personal data. Although the company claims that it does not listen to or view the content of video or audio chats, it does record which apps you use and how often you use them, and may use this data for advertising purposes.

Portal Go requires a Facebook, WhatsApp or Facebook Workplace account to be set up, even if you just want to use Zoom or Spotify.

A built-in shutter can turn off the camera, while a button on the top of the device turns off both the microphone and the camera.


Photo:

Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

Facebook Messenger calls on Portal are not end-to-end encrypted by default. I logged into Portal Go using WhatsApp as it seemed less likely to give the company so much data. But there is a trade-off: you can only call four people at a time from your Portal Go. If you are using Messenger, you can call eight.

WhatsApp calls are end-to-end encrypted and account information and contacts are generally not sent to Facebook servers, although a “small amount of WhatsApp account information” may be sent to Facebook to diagnose any issues. Ms Auslen said.

More and more people seem to be buying and using portals. In 2020, Facebook shipped approximately 1.4 million units to North America, representing just under 3% of the total smart speaker and display market, according to Strategy Analytics. This represents an increase from the million shipments in 2019, growth likely due to the pandemic. In a April 2020 call for resultsFacebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Portal saw strong increases in usage, but did not share the exact numbers.

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Even my coworker Joanna Stern eventually gave in after initially refusing to review the portal for privacy concerns (although she doesn’t use it now).

“Although Facebook Reality Labs is not a separate entity, we have focused on privacy, security and transparency with users from the start,” Ms. Auslen said. “The portal is used to connect people rather than accessing the Facebook application. Hope people recognize this about Portal.

I still have a hard time recommending the Portal Go, but that’s a shame because no one else makes such a cool video chat box.

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Write to Nicole Nguyen at [email protected]

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