(Pocket-lint) - There are plenty of smart home devices with touch screen displays and built-in voice assistants knocking about now. Many of them are there to make your day-to-day life easier with access to smart home controls, music streaming services, reminders or simple search queries with a basic voice command. But if your priority is simply staying in touch with family then it's a bit of a mixed bag.
That's where Portal from Facebook comes in. Portal from Facebook is one of several nifty devices from the company all designed to help you make hassle-free and joy-filled video calls with your loved ones. We've had Portal from Facebook in our home for a couple of weeks and really like it for a number of reasons.
A design that fits
Firstly, Portal from Facebook is designed in a way to fit perfectly into your home.
Unlike some other smart home products, Portal and Portal Mini are designed to look like a digital photo frame. The sleek form-factor and the ability to turn it to either landscape or portrait orientation means you can set it anywhere in your home without detracting from the decor with a technological eyesore. A feature called Superframe, turns Portal into a useful display when not being used for calls. It can display your favorite Facebook and Instagram photos, show local weather, offer up birthday reminders and highlight album art from the music you're listening to.
The 10-inch touchscreen display boasts a 1280 x 800 resolution making for an easy on the eye view that fits beautifully into the home and certainly makes for an eye-catching display for your favourite photos.
Portal from Facebook is equipped with a Smart Camera that includes a 13-megapixel (720p) camera with 114-degree field-of-view. That camera also uses intelligent software during calls to automatically keep up with the action as people move around the room.
Convenient video calling for all the family
Unlike other smart displays, the main remit of Portal from Facebook is video calls and that's where it shines too.
Portal from Facebook is essentially designed to make it ridiculously easy and convenient to make video calls with friends, family and loved ones and that's exactly what it does.
Using any one of the four Portal devices, you can place a video call to anyone with a valid account who can access WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Of course, you can already place a video call that way, but Portal is a much more natural way to do it by making you feel that you’re there with your loved ones thanks to the Smart Camera that automatically pans and zooms to keep up with the action. Move and talk freely and always stay in frame.
The high-quality display and the camera also mean you generally get a better quality video calling experience too. If everyone on the call is using Portal then the experience is even better. Smart Camera means you can move and talk freely and always stay in frame, and Smart Sound ensures your voice is picked up clearly, so you don't end up shouting and the majority of external noise is blocked out as well.
Portal from Facebook is also capable of turning a simple one-on-one video chat into something more. You can create a group video call on Messenger or on WhatsApp. The extra screen real estate and the Smart Camera technology makes this much more plausible (and satisfactory) than doing it on a phone or tablet too.
More than just your average video chat
Portal from Facebook also has a few other tricks up its sleeve to make things interesting. It's not only created a convenient way to do this but also thrown in some other features to keep you chatting too. During calls, you can make use of features that include augmented reality effects or various shared experiences, such as listening to Spotify together, watching videos, playing games or even reading an interactive story to children with Story Time.
Some of these extra features are only available when calling Portal to Portal, but they add some fun that the family certainly seems to enjoy. We had all kinds of daft fun when the young ones in the house wanted to chat to Granny while wearing various virtual headwear.
The ability for Portal owners to read interactive stories also means that grandparents can get involved in the bedtime routine, even when they live miles away. We found the older generation in our family really loved the extra contact.
It's really easy to keep in touch too as you can set favourite contacts and get a pop-up notification on the screen to say when they're online, so you'll know when you can call.
Privacy first and foremost
One of the other things we like about Portal from Facebook is perhaps one of its smallest design features, but perhaps an essential part of the setup for many. This is the "private by design" ethos that the company has taken with its Portal line of products. In practice you can easily disable the camera and the microphone, or block the lens with the camera cover. And all Portal video calls are encrypted.
Portal was created with privacy, safety and security in mind. And it has clear and simple settings, so you stay in control. It comes equipped with a camera cover and the ability to turn both the camera and microphone off.
These are just some of the reasons we loved having Portal around, others include the ability to use it with Amazon Alexa, a capable speaker system for listening to Spotify and more besides.