One of my very favourite online videos – because, let’s be honest, I have many favourite online videos – is one where two seventeen-year-olds are challenged to dial a phone number on a rotary phone in four minutes.
I won’t spoil the suprise of how hideously difficult they find it (because of course, they find it hideously difficult), but the struggle of the teenagers to manage something that less than two decades ago was totally normal is really quite illuminating. I mean, have you ever thought about how baffling it must be for our own young kids when we tell them to ‘hang up the phone’? Granted, there’s no equally as snappy phrase to ‘press the big red button on the touch screen to end the call you’re on’, but the speed at which tech becomes obsolete really is astonishing.
Which is where Facebook Portal, the device to end all other video-calling devices, comes in.
Facebook Portal – the verdict
Facebook launched their first iteration of an Alexa-enabled home video calling device in 2018, with their second-generation devices being launched last month. And I was lucky enough to go along and meet some of the geniuses behind the Portal learning more about how communicating this way would work for our family.
Video calling is something we utilise a lot at home. As the kids spend every other weekend and some holidays with their Dad we like to chat to each other often – and it’s so much better to see each other’s faces while we do it! Yes, we could FaceTime/Skype, and to be honest have been quite happy to do this, but that was before we met Facebook Portal.
I moseyed along with my friends at Britmums to the Portal event, held at the beautiful Violin Factory (yes, it was on Grand Designs!), to find out just why PC Magazine lauded the device to be “…the best video calling appliance we’ve seen”.
Because it really is awesome. We were given a tour of the magnificent house with a different feature of Facebook Portal to be discovered in each room – as well as some Facebook Occulus magic, too – and I was thoroughly impressed by what I discovered. And I’ve continued to be impressed using the portal at home these last couple of weeks.
For a start, Facebook Portal uses an AI-powered Smart Camera to pan and zoom automatically (automagically) over the people on the video call. Want to get up and move around while chatting? No bother! Facebook Portal will go with you! This really is such a useful tool, meaning I can call the kids while cooking dinner or rushing a deadline and can still see them while I’m moving around the room.
It’s also totally voice-activated, meaning we can wake it up with a quick ‘Hey, Portal’, or access any of Alexa’s capabilities by asking for those, too.
Slightly more fun for the children are the AR aspects of the device, with AR masks and AR games available when you call via Facebook Messenger, including the brilliant ‘story time’ feature that lets you read a virtual book in real-time with whoever you’re calling – it feels like you’re stepping into the story. There are also various masks you can ‘put on’ – the moustache has been a topical favourite for November – and obviously the monster is a classic.
In addition, Alexa is built-in to Facebook Portal, meaning you can access tens of thousands of skills hands-free. We’ve used ours to listen to the radio and podcasts (the built-in speakers are high-fidelity and powerful), check on the weather, call an Uber and discover new movies.
And when we’re not using the device? it becomes a photo frame, displaying an array of images that I’ve selected and imported from Facebook.
For a tech-loving family – no rotary phones in this house! – it’s perfect. So good, in fact, that Facebook Portal somehow encouraged my kids to hug each other totally unprompted the last time we used it.
It must be magic.
If you do a lot of video-calling, we can’t recommend the Facebook Portal enough. I think we’re well allowed to mention the C word at this time of year, so if you’re hunting down a Christmas present for that far away relative who’s particularly difficult to buy for, this could be a win.
My parents are only an hour down the road and I’m considering getting one for them so they can chat to my brother in Australia (there’s a discount if you buy them in a pair). Check out the different devices here – Portal TV is next for us!
This review post has been paid for by and created in partnership with Facebook.