I’m a big fan home tech. I’ve been using various different smart speakers and home hubs over the last year and have been slowly convincing my family to get on board. It’s great to be able to call each other and see each other at the same time around the house while doing other thing — my personal favourite being catch ups with my nan while I’m cooking in the kitchen. The latest devices I’ve had my hands on is one of the new generations of Facebook Portal devices, namely the Portal TV. Part of Facebook’s entry into the hardware market, the wider family consists of Portal, Portal Plus and Portal Mini.

While the others are all standalone screen devices, the Portal TV, the second cheapest of the range, is a camera device that connects to your TV, turning it into the smart screen itself, making it ideal for those who don’t want, or don’t have space for, an extra screen. The whole range is easy on the eye and offer options for all needs, from the 8-inch Portal Mini to the beast that is the 15.6-inch Portal+ which sits on it’s own speaker stand, its a beautiful piece that would really make a feature of any room (though it would need to be big!)

I got to meet the Facebook Portal family at a recent event where Facebook showcased the varying capabilities on the devices as well as getting to play on the latest Oculus (which I am OBSESSED with, but that’s for another post). While I tried all of the different Facebook Portals, this review will specifically focus on the Portal TV.

Facebook Portal TV

Facebook Portal TV + Video Calling

Above everything, the first thing you realise when using any of the Facebook Portal devices is the quality of the audio/visual experience during video calls. It’s hands down the best I’ve seen from any smart home device. Even at night time, the camera quality is clear, with only some minor motion blur when moving at a distance. A key selling point of the Portal range is its AI Tech; smart camera and smart audio, in other words: person tracking — it will follow you around the room as you move with it’s 12 mega-pixel camera, meaning you can get on with things you need to do while still having a conversation of disappearing off screen for the other person. The device’s 8-microphones then work to pick up the sounds at any distances and adjust audio accordingly, so as you move away from the camera you don’t have to shout. I’ll hand over to Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez to show you how it works.

Facebook Portal TV + Design

Looks-wise, the Portal TV gives you serious gamer vibes, feeling reminiscent of the old Nintendo Wii/Playstation motion sensors. It’s sleek and inconspicuous and clearly part of Facebook’s attempt for a more subtle integration into consumer households, which you can also see with the Portal Mini’s photo frame-like design. Round the back you’ve got your HDMI cable for audio/visual transmission to the TV, and a micro-usb port for power. The Portal TV clips onto the top of the TV using pretty standard clips that will work on any flat screen. The set-up also comes with a small remote. It’s curvaceous and super light, and while I prefer a little weight on anything for ease of grip, it’s easy to use and also allowed me to power on the TV through portal when in standby mode, without having to use my TV remote. Note here: I have seen other people saying theirs couldn’t so I may just be lucky with the Toshiba TV I have, so don’t bank on this functionality!

Facebook Portal TV + Privacy

In terms of privacy — which to talk about the elephant in the room, is what we all thought about first when it comes to Facebook’s less than stellar reputation on personal data privacy and safety — the camera features a shutter so there’s definitely no camera spying, and then there is a side button to switch off the microphone, the only odd thing here being that it’s a red light to indicate it’s off, which usually means something is ON?! So it can leave you feeling a little on edge.

Facebook Portal TV + Alexa

A key feature to note is that Facebook Portal TV comes integrated with Alexa, opening up access to tens of thousands of skills hands-free; from checking the news, to getting local search results or controlling your smart home and more. If you aren’t already in possession of an Echo device, it’s a great bonus. However your device and TV needs to be on for this to work, so as someone who already has an Echo which is ready 24/7, it doesn’t offer much added value.

Facebook Portal TV + Other uses

To be blunt, there are limited other uses for the Portal TV. It has very few other apps. It’s sibling devices had browser functionality and other integrated apps, most likely due to them having screens etc., where as the Portal TV has Facebook Watch for original video content, Spotify integration and one or two others that aren’t really even worth mentioning. While Facebook Watch has some call ‘Watch Together’ functionality, where you and another caller can watch a show in real-time together while worlds a apart, it’s only Portal to Portal.

However, there is one other app/functionality that is worth shouting about. Tied into video calling, Facebook Portal TV, and Portal in general, has a function called Story Time. It’s a super cute, kid-focused experience that puts you directly into the store. Basically, using AR masks and animation, you as the caller see a script which you can read to the viewer. The viewer on their side just hears what you are saying but then sees the full animation happening around it. It’s really fun, a little clunky in parts, but that’s more me getting use to it I think. My niece loved the three little pigs and now is always asking my sister when it’s story time with Uncle Neil, and that’s got to be worth the device’s investment in my opinion.

Facebook Portal TV Overall Opinion

As a video call device, I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Portal TV. You can call between other Portals, Facebook Messenger (obvs), but best of all… WhatsApp. I have it set up in the bedroom on the TV and it means I can be sat in bed working or relaxing while having someone on the screen — it may seem odd to be working while doing this, but what I love is that it’s allowed a more casual connection. I have the person right there in my room, doing their own thing, while I am doing mine and the calls then tend to last for a lot longer than a quick call or FaceTime. I’m loving calling to WhatsApp too, as I dial straight into my nan’s phone and get to see her while she’s sat at home in her lounge. It’s really allowed us to stay closer to each other. The Story time function is a favourite of my niece for sure, and it’s been a lovely way to integrate myself into her life more when living so far away. I have had some problems though with error messages saying I’m using WhatsApp on another device, but when I click ‘use here’ nothing happens. Haven’t been able to troubleshoot why this is happening, but will keep you updated!

It’s the other side of the device that let’s the Portal TV down. The limited number of apps available mean it’s basically a glorified Facebook content player and Spotify hub, both of which are better covered on my mobile or others home speakers. I love Facebook Watch’s Red Table Talk, but I could just as easily cast my screen to a Chromecast (and cheaper), or watch on my laptop as it’s only short shows, so unless you have the desire for the video calling function, the Portal TV is lacking in other options to entice customers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the apps and devices develop over time, as there is heaps of potential with the range, but it’s going to need to scale up it’s home-hub functions stat.

Check out the rest of the Portal range here

You can also watch more from Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez getting to know Portal TV below.

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Written by Neil Thornton
London-based coffee drinker. Editor by day, blogger by whatever time he finds spare.