Paid partnership* with Facebook
Hands up if you have family dotted all around the country, or even further away? (By the way, you don't actually need to put your hand up if you're on your tablet reading this on your own) 😜
Us too. Until now, we've managed with video calls and internet calling services from laptops and phones. But it's inconvenient to hold a mobile out in front of you for twenty minutes and sitting in front of a laptop is fairly (Googles 'antonym of cheerful') cheerless.
Enter Portal from Facebook - it provides (and this is from the box) smart video calling designed to fit your home, with Alexa built-in. We have been provided with a 10" Portal - the standard model to put to the test, and an 8" Portal Mini which Tom's taken away on a business trip with him so we can try out all the features.
Portal from Facebook
Price: from £129
Where to buy: Amazon, Dixons, Argos, Harrods, Selfridges, Portal.facebook.com
Basic tech specs
114° field of view
HD adaptive screen matches colour and lighting of room
Smart Sound - 4-mic array
Front-porting stereo speakers and a rear woofer
Security lens cover for camera and mic
As mentioned, for this review we received a 10" Portal for our home, and an 8" Portal Mini for Tom to take with him on his business trip (last week). Before I start talking about the Portal's features and other fun stuff, I should mention it requires a mains plug socket - but that's fine for Tom because he stays in hotels with plugs and WiFi.
In terms of design, it's a stylish but fairly innocuous picture frame with a nice mount. It fits in perfectly on a book shelf or on the kitchen worktop. Basically, it blends in really well; there's no conspicuous branding or brand logo. It looks lovely.
How well does it work?
Well, let's start by exploring its main features. For starters, you'll need either a Facebook or Whatsapp account to get started. I mean, even our 80-something aged Grandma Pam ticks those boxes so I'm fairly sure we're all still on board? When you start it up, a simple wizard logs you in and provides a quick demo of its functions.
Basically, it functions like a simplified tablet - a bright, colourful touch screen, with a selection of familiar apps, including Spotify and YouTube. You can either use the touch screen or Alexa voice control. We tend to go with Alexa although it has caused a few minor squabbles when the boys interrupt our request for Sam Smith's I Feel Love with "Alexa, what is your favourite dessert?" - chocolate mousse, evidently.
"We have been blown away this week by the Portal's ability to make an effortless video call."
Its main function of course is video calling. You might wonder why a video calling device is necessary in 2019? Well, it's all in the camera and microphone. We have been blown away this week by the Portal's ability to make an effortless video call. It's so easy - you select the contact, click the button and you're connected.
The really clever thing about Portal is its camera. While other devices are static - as in you're either stuck right there in the middle, or you're off screen, the Portal's camera detects where you are and keeps you right in the middle of the screen - even if you move around the room. For instance, Lyall in that picture above is clearly below the camera (top left of the Portal) - however the Portal locates Lyall's face and pops him right in the middle. If there's more than one person in the room, it'll automatically zoom out to keep everybody in shot. Honestly, it's quite brilliant.
Portal's camera detects where you are and keeps you right in the middle of the screen.
Likewise, Portal's microphone adapts its strength as you move around the room to keep the volume stable. So, for instance, if you're moving around the room, putting the washing up away (I mean, Lyall and Rich don't need to read this because it'll never happen), the Portal will adjust the camera and microphone to ensure you're always in the middle and the same volume.
Any clever features?
There are loads of features, but two worth mentioning here are the AR filters and StoryTime.
Portal's AR filters are hilarious. With the touch of a button on the screen you can add a cat to your head, a pirate costume or a fruity hat, among hundreds of others - the recipient will enjoy a matching soundtrack and voice-change to match! It works beautifully.
StoryTime allows the presenter (me, usually) to take the helm of narrator of a children's story. The clever app will add animated characters, AR masks and a soundtrack to the story, creating a very immersive experience for kids with parents who work away from home. Tom was lucky enough to be with the boys to enjoy this one - Daddy as the Big Bad Wolf...
Value for money
There's a range of different Portals, from £129 for the 8" Mini, to £169 for the 10" (pictured) and £269 for the big 15.6" Portal+ (it's a big'un!). Is this good value for money? Yeah, we think so, when compared with the price of tablet devices from leading brands and other voice-controlled speakers. That reminds me, the speaker in the Portal is fantastic too, which makes it a suitable replacement for a smart speaker.
Daddy & Dad Tech Score
This was an easy five out of five. The Portal from facebook works perfectly as a video calling device and exceeds expectations with its apps, smart camera, microphone and speaker. Its screen is bright and colourful, its speaker is loud and clear and it's good value for money. Bravo, facebook!
*Disclaimer time! Here at the Daddy & Dad blog, we work with our favourite brands and businesses to supplement our everyday content. This review was paid for by and created in partnership with Facebook, including social media activity. But, as always our opinions are completely honest and transparent (basically if something was disappointing, we'd still tell you!). We'd like to say a huge thank you to facebook and BritMums, who facilitated this collaboration.