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What is Portal from Facebook? A guide to Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-chatting devices and their features

Business Insider India logoBusiness Insider India 13-11-2020 Vivian McCall
graphical user interface, website: What is Portal from Facebook? A guide to Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-chatting devices and their features © JOSH EDELSON / Contributor/Getty Images What is Portal from Facebook? A guide to Facebook's Alexa-enabled video-chatting devices and their features
  • Portal from Facebook comprises a family of video-chatting devices with AR features and a smart camera that keeps you in frame.
  • You can use Portal to make calls through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
  • The Portal comes in different sizes and some versions have different features.

Portal from Facebook is a smart device used to video chat with friends and family. But why buy another gadget to do what your phone or computer already does?

Well, rather than being a utilitarian device with a video chat feature, the Portal is like a dedicated video phone with futuristic flare.

It's equipped with a high-quality camera and movement-tracking software that follows your movements. Sensitive mics pick up the detail in your voice and it's speakers provide quality audio. No microphone and headphone combo is necessary. It also features an array of smart home features.

The Portal itself was a bit prescient, coming out more than a year before video chatting became a normal part of daily life. If you're looking to make video conferencing better, the Portal may work for you.

What is Portal from Facebook?

Portal uses Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Zoom for video calls. If you don't have a Facebook account, you'll want to make one to use the Portal.

But unlike a laptop, phone or tablet, it's not exactly a portable device — you need to plug in the Portal. What you lose there, you gain in a better camera with higher audio quality.

a close up of a camera © JOSH EDELSON / Contributor/Getty Images

The Portal looks like a boxy picture frame with a built-in stand that you can set at a desk or countertop either vertically or horizontally. The camera's person-tracking software keeps you in frame while talking, so you can have a conversation while multitasking (laundry, cooking, etc.) or moving around.

A four-microphone array (eight on the Portal TV) captures your voice while your friends' voices come from speakers and a subwoofer.

© Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor/Getty Images

For those concerned with privacy, the camera and microphones can be disabled using a switch on the device.

Portal's key features

While the Portal is a Facebook product, it is Amazon Alexa-enabled. You can use the AI assistant to set timers, cue music, and access smart devices like the Ring doorbell to see who is at the door.

The Portal also comes with a growing number of AR (Augmented Reality) effects similar to Snapchat filters, like putting bunny ears or a mustache on yourself during a call. One unique feature is Storytime, where you can select from a library of stories to read aloud with added sound effects and animations. This is perfect to entertain kids from afar.

When you're not on a call, you can set the portal to display Facebook photos like a digital frame. It can also tell you when friends are available to talk.

a desk with a laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table © JOSH EDELSON / Contributor/Getty Images

You can even use the Portal as a note-taking device to keep your household up to date with reminders and videos.

For more information, see our guide on how to set up a Facebook Portal device and enable Alexa.

Different versions of the Portal

There are now four versions of the Portal. Each provides similar software and basic features:

  • The Portal Mini ($129) is the smallest and most affordable version of the device with an 8-inch HD screen.
  • The regular Portal ($179) has a 10-inch display.
  • The Portal+ ($279) has a 15.6-inch display.
  • The Portal TV ($149) doesn't have a screen because it uses your television as a screen. The device is compatible with Netflix and some other streaming services.

With the exception of the Portal TV, the differences come down mostly to screen size, speaker size, and each camera's field of view. The Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+ come in black and white, while the Portal TV comes in black only.

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