Facebook Portal Go review: Is this the ultimate way to make WhatsApp calls?

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facebook portal go review uk

The Portal Go is the first gadget in the growing line-up that ditches the plug (Image: META • EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Facebook isn’t known for its hardware, so we approached its latest effort – the Portal Go – with a certain amount of trepidation. Could a company best known for its algorithms and messaging software for other devices create a compelling tablet designed to make video calls easier? It turns out the answer is a resounding “yes”.

Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has enjoyed immense success with its Portal brand in recent months. As the global pandemic forced us all to stay inside for months on end, families and friends desperate to keep in touch looked for the best solution. Portal’s lineup is custom-designed for endless video calls – the clever camera is designed to intelligently zoom and pan around the room to keep you in-frame at all times, so you’ll always be visible to whoever you’re calling but won’t need to hold a smartphone in front of your face or construct an elaborate cradle using old handbook books for longer video calls.

Portal Go is the latest addition to the lineup and untethers these gadgets from the mains for the first time.

Facebook Portal Go review: Design and Features

Meta (née Facebook) might not be known for its hardware, but Mark Zuckerberg’s social behemoth has done a brilliant job with the Portal Go. The outside is covered in almost entirely covered in a grey fabric cover, with three clearly-labelled buttons running along the ridge, and a 10-inch touchscreen front-and-centre. There are some pretty chunky borders around the display, which makes the product look reassuringly durable but stop keep it from looking as premium as the latest and greatest tablets from Apple and Samsung.

The built-in carry handle at the back of the device is a brilliant touch as it makes carrying the 1.4kg video call hub around the house a complete cinch. It also makes the Portal Go seem a little friendlier, something that really counts with smart home devices as they bring microphones and cameras into your home.

Speaking of, Facebook has added a built-in cover for the front-facing 12-megapixel camera that blocks its view. Given that CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously uses electrical tape to cover the built-in webcam on his laptop when it’s not in use, it’s nice that his company has included this option with its latest smart home gadget.

Some rival smart home devices, like the Google Nest Hub Max, use software commands on-screen to disable the camera which is fine, but doesn’t offer quite the same reassurance as a plastic cover physically blocking the lens. Portal Go includes a similar privacy button that kills the microphone and camera using software. A red light will let you know when the camera and microphone have been switched off.

facebook portal go review

While the social network might not be known for its hardware efforts, it has excelled with Portal Go (Image: META)

Between these two options, Portal Go should offer enough reassurances that it isn’t listening in to your conversation. That said, Facebook has a very different reputation when it comes to user privacy compared to the likes of Apple and Amazon, so your mileage may vary.

But if you find yourself talking with friends and family within the Californian company’s family of messaging apps, Messenger and WhatsApp, then this is the ideal device to boost your video calls. Despite some initial scepticism – do you really need a dedicated gadget taking up space in your home for video calls? – using the Portal Go has been an absolute joy. The 12-megapixel camera offers a crisp view for family and friends on the other end of the call and with a mind-boggling 125-degree field of view, you’ll never need to worry about people being missed out-of-frame – even when making calls as a large group.

For comparison, the newly-launched Samsung Galaxy S22’s ultra-wide camera only manages a 120-degree field of view. Using software, Facebook is able to use that mammoth field of view to find the action. So, if you jump up from the sofa to grab something during a call or stand-up to show off an outfit, the camera will follow you as if you’ve employed a dedicated cameraperson to capture all of your movements.

For those with …how to put this diplomatically?… less technologically-inclined parents and grandparents, the Portal Go is revolutionary. Rather than an unflattering shot of a chin, or an almost uninterrupted view of the living room with a forehead poking out at the bottom of the frame, you’ll be able to everyone, whether they’re sitting on the sofa, at a table, or walking around the room preparing something to eat while you’re chatting. It’s truly phenomenal.

Of course, all of this is possible with the other devices in Facebook’s Portal lineup, so what’s unique about the Portal Go?

Simple – it’s packed with a 40Wh battery cell. That’s about what you’d expect from a lightweight laptop and ensures that the Portal Go has enough juice for around five hours of video calls between charges. That should be enough for even the most drawn-out Zoom quiz or the longest movie that you’re watching with friends and family in other parts of the world.

facebook portal go review

Unlike every other device in the Portal lineup, the Go can be unplugged from the mains (Image: META)

In our testing, battery life was good enough that we were never troubled by a low power warning during a call – and always felt confident leaving the charging cable in another room as we carried off the Portal Go for a catch-up with friends and family. It’s certainly longer than most laptops are able to withstand.

When the battery life finally runs out, charging is handled by a dome-like disc that fits into an identically-shaped cut-out on the base on the Portal Go. It can be a little tricky to make sure you place the Portal Go in the right spot, it often took us a couple of tries to ensure the gadget was correctly sat on the charging disc. It’s an issue that Apple cleverly swerves with its wireless chargers by using magnets to snap to the device – something that we’d love to see in future revisions of the Portal Go.

Out of the box, Portal Go supports WhatsApp, Messenger and Zoom. But that’s it.

Between these two options, Portal Go should offer enough reassurances that it isn’t listening in to your conversation. That said, Facebook has a very different reputation when it comes to user privacy compared to the likes of Apple and Amazon, so your mileage may vary.

But if you find yourself talking with friends and family within the Californian company’s family of messaging apps, Messenger and WhatsApp, then this is the ideal device to boost your video calls. Despite some initial scepticism – do you really need a dedicated gadget taking up space in your home for video calls? – using the Portal Go has been an absolute joy. The 12-megapixel camera offers a crisp view for family and friends on the other end of the call and with a mind-boggling 125-degree field of view, you’ll never need to worry about people being missed out-of-frame – even when making calls as a large group.

facebook portal go review

Aside from video calls, Portal Go can become a digital photo frame and an Alexa speaker (Image: META)

If you already have a home filled with Amazon Echo smart speakers, you’ll be pleased to know that Alexa is supported in this Facebook-designed device, so you can use the Portal Go to control any smart lightbulbs, change the settings on a smart thermostat, order a takeaway, get the latest headlines and forecast. Small widgets on the home screen can offer information like the weather at a glance. You can also add favourite contacts, so launching a video call – in any of the supported apps – is just a tap away.

Facebook Portal Go review: Price and Availability

Portal Go is available right now with a price tag of £199. However, Facebook is currently holding a sale that sees that price drop to £129 for a limited time. The portable video call hub is only available in a single colour – grey. If you’d rather not buy direct from Facebook, or would like to see the Portal Go in the flesh before you take out your credit card, the 10-inch tablet will be stocked at a number of high street stores, including Currys and Argos. It’s also available from Amazon, for those with Prime memberships who want next-day delivery at no extra cost.

facebook portal go review

With its 10-inch display, solid battery life, and (ultra) ultra-wide camera, it’s perfect for calls (Image: META)

Facebook Portal Go review: Final Verdict

  • Pros: Great battery life, friendly design, (ultra) ultra-wide camera captures everything without you having to think, works brilliantly with WhatsApp and Messenger
  • Cons: Needs support for a few more popular video call apps, only one colour – not ideal for a gadget designed to be on display at all times in your home

Portal Go is a friendly little smart home gadget that makes video calls with Messenger and WhatsApp a complete joy. It means you’ll no longer have to be an amateur Spielberg, setting up the laptop on a pile of books to make sure that everyone is in-frame …or settle for unintentional dutch angles and chin-first views.

The clever AI-controlled camera will intelligently zoom and pan around the room, thanks to the humongous 125-degree field of view from the 12-megapixel camera, to ensure everyone is in-frame, even as you stand up and move around. It means you don’t ever need to think about the camera, and can focus on the conversation in your video call.

Elsewhere, Portal Go doubles-up as a digital photo frame for your favourite Facebook pictures and an Alexa smart speaker. It can also play your favourite tracks, playlists and podcasts from Amazon Music and Spotify. This makes it a little easier to justify as a purchase as, let’s be honest, a dedicated device for video calls is the ultimate luxury.

Facebook is still relatively green when it comes to hardware, but you wouldn’t know it from picking up the nifty Portal Go. Highly recommended to Messenger and WhatsApp fans.

Published at Sun, 20 Mar 2022 08:31:00 +0000

Facebook Portal Go review: Is this the ultimate way to make WhatsApp calls?