Facebook Portal Go review: A great screen for portable video calls marred by the company’s privacy and trust issues

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Facebook’s new Portal video calling devices hit stores and shipped to customers on Tuesday. I’ve been trying out the new portable Portal Go for the past week.

The $199 Portal Go is part of Facebook’s third-generation Portal devices that the company announced last month. Facebook is still pretty green when it comes to assembling hardware products, but the social media company has made strides in design and execution since it released its first Portal devices in 2018. Since then, Facebook has also introduced Portal devices that plug into your TV. , and mini versions that look like picture frames. The Portal Go is the first of these products that can be moved and works without having to be plugged into a wall.

Along with the new Portal+, the Portal Go is Facebook’s first redesign of its video calling device since 2019, and in that time it shows that Facebook has only gotten better at curating hardware products.

Facebook has never disclosed sales figures for its Portal devices, so it’s hard to say how successful these products are. In its financial results, the company includes Portal in its “Other” revenue stream, which also includes its Oculus virtual reality headsets and Workplace business communications software companies. Since the fourth quarter of 2018, when the first Portal devices were released, Facebook’s Other revenue has grown nearly 223% from $274 million to nearly $885 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Unfortunately, despite everything nice about the Portal Go – I like the large 10.1-inch screen, the portability and the speakers – the device is made by Facebook and in recent years the social media company has betrayed its trust with its users, legislators worldwide and consumers in general. The Portal Go is great for video calling, but do you really want a Facebook-controlled camera at home?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is good

The Facebook Portal Go is a device designed for video calling that you can easily move around your home, and for that particular task the Portal Go works perfectly.

When testing the gadget, I was able to use the Portal Go to call friends and family via Messenger and WhatsApp. The Portal Go would ring when they called me, and I could accept by touching the screen. I was able to initiate calls by searching for my friends on the device.

The Portal Go sits on a charging cradle when not in use, but once you need to make a call you can grab it by the notch in the handle hidden in the back and move it wherever you want. Sometimes I would chat with friends while I was on the road, but often I would just take the Portal Go and put it on my coffee table, bed, or counter. Once located, I was able to enjoy my video call hands-free.

I liked that I could use it while relaxing on the couch and then pick it up and continue my call while cooking. Short video calls can be fine on a phone, but anything longer than five minutes is better suited to a dedicated video calling device like the Portal Go.

Amazon has the $249.99 Echo Show and Google offers the $229 Nest Hub Max, but none of those devices are portable, requiring you to make your video call wherever you have your gadget plugged into an outlet (hopefully). have you chosen a comfortable place).

Portability may seem like a minor difference, but that feature sets the Portal Go apart.

I got a call on the Portal Go while my partner was working in the same room. So I grabbed the Portal Go and moved to another room. We also tried the Portal Go to call my partner’s family during their weekly dinner. They were able to place their Portal Go test device at the head of their table, making us feel like part of the diner.

With a 10.1-inch screen and an excellent speaker system, the Portal Go makes video calls that are crystal clear in both picture and sound. You can easily hear who you are chatting with, whether you lean forward during the conversation or lean back.

As for battery life, we never came close to running out of battery during a call, but Facebook told CNBC that the Portal Go has enough battery to last up to five hours of one-to-one calling on Messenger or 14 hours of listening with off his screen.

Like other Portal devices, the Go also includes augmented reality features that can be used to make funny faces, add colorful backgrounds, or change the sound of your voice. These features keep conversations interesting and are especially entertaining for kids.

My other favorite use of the Portal Go has been to upload photos to it to use as a digital photo frame – photos look beautiful on the Portal Go’s screen.

What’s bad?

My biggest complaint about the Portal Go is the fact that it was made by Facebook.

It is very difficult to trust Facebook with a device with a camera and microphones in your home.

Fortunately, the Portal has a lid that you can slide over the camera when not in use, and you can also press a button that electronically turns off the camera and microphones. But that doesn’t change the fact that Facebook created the device, and time and again Facebook has broken the trust of its users. Last month, a whistleblower leaked internal documents showing that the company knew Instagram harms teens’ mental health and did nothing to warn the public about it.

“Our track record in the market is ultimately how we will build trust,” Facebook’s chief of product management for Portal Micah Collins said when asked about the privacy issues.

The Portal would already be a hit if it were made by Samsung, Apple, or pretty much any other major hardware technology company. They are fantastic for what they were designed for. Anyone concerned about Facebook’s trust with their privacy has every right to feel that way.

It also lacks many features.

It doesn’t have Netflix, YouTube, HBO Max, or really any video streaming service you could want on a device with a screen as gorgeous as the Portal Go’s. This was also the case with the original Portals that launched in 2018, but it feels like an even more relevant absence now that the Portal Go is a wearable gadget. I’d rather buy it if I could make video calls, have a digital photo frame, and watch my favorite shows for $199. You can watch content on Facebook Watch, though, if you ever feel like it.

One of the few apps worth running on the device is its audio streaming services, including Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. I tried out the Spotify app and was quite impressed with the audio quality of the Portal Go. Unfortunately, the Spotify app was a huge disappointment. There’s no search function, so you’re limited to listening to the playlists the app recommends to you. It feels like someone developed the Spotify app for the Portal and then forgot about it.

Should you buy it?

The Portal Go is a fantastic video calling device with much-needed built-in portability as its signature feature. I recommend the Portal Go for anyone who regularly video calls. If you’re like me and live far away from many of your relatives and loved ones, the Portal Go is great for keeping in touch. And for $199, the Portal Go is an excellent gift idea with the holidays approaching.

Unfortunately, Facebook’s repeated and frequent trust issues with the public and lawmakers make it incredibly difficult to trust the company with a device that relies so heavily on a camera and microphones. If you can get yourself to trust Facebook with a camera in your living room, the Portal Go is an excellent device. But I don’t blame you if you don’t trust Facebook.

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