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(Pocket-lint) - The Portal Go is a more portable version of the smart video calling device within Facebook's range, complete with a different form-factor for convenient conversations with loved ones. 

Facebook has effectively taken the Portal concept and made it more interesting in the Go: you are able to now move it around the house with its carry-handle, but also use it as a portable speaker, digital photo frame, as a tool for work meetings, and more besides. 

But is the Facebook Portal Go worthwhile and will you use its full spectrum of features? We've been living with it for a number of weeks to find out. 

Smart calling capabilities

  • 12-megapixel Smart Camera with 125-degree field of view
  • 4-mic array, smart Sound AI noise cancellation
  • 2x 5W full-range speakers, 1x 20W woofer
  • Privacy shutter and mic switch

Ignoring its portability the main appeal of the Facebook Portal Go is its smart calling capabilities. That's its main role after all, in letting you easily video call friends and families, but the Go has been designed to do much more too. 

This device has a large 10.1-inch display, which fills up most of the front of the device, with the remaining space taken up by the camera and microphones. The back has a pleasant fabric finish reminiscent of retro-styled speakers, plus a carry handle that enables you easily move it around your home. 

Portability is obviously one of the main selling points here - after all, you could otherwise just buy a 'standard' Portal. The Go is instead designed to be a portable speaker, not just a convenient video calling device. As such it's intelligently built with a decent battery life and an easy-to-use charging dock. There's no need to faff about plugging cables in either, as you can just drop the Go onto its small dock when it needs power and grab and go when you need to use it. 

For music playback, it works with Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Deezer and Tidal. It's remarkably loud considering its size and delivers a punchy sound with reasonable warmth. With the touchscreen interface it's easy enough to navigate through the various menus to find the songs you want to listen to too. But we found the "Hey Portal" commands far less savvy and responsive compared to something like an Amazon Echo device - the mics just don't work as well in our opinion.

Pocket-lintFacebook Portal Go review calling photo 3

There is good news though: Portal has the ability to connect with the Alexa app. So you can integrate Amazon Alexa and use the commands you may well already be used to, while still using the "Hey Portal" commands if you wish. Sadly, it's not easy to ask Alexa or Portal to play a video on YouTube - there's no app for that - but you can watch via a browser. Essentially Portal go has some flexibility but nowhere near the same smarts as an Amazon Echo or Google Home device (although, saying that, even Amazon's own can't offer YouTube natively). 

Adaptive display

  • 10.1-inch adaptive display, 800 x 1280 resolution
  • Dimensions: 173.7 (H) x 256.5 (W) x 78.7mm (D)
  • Built-in rechargeable 44 Whr li-ion battery
  • Up to 5h calling / 14h audio playback

The Portal Go features a 10.1-inch adaptive display with an 800 x 1280 pixel resolution, so it's essentially the same specification as the original Facebook Portal, but the display on the Portal Go is presented in a much nicer way. The overall design of the device makes for a much more pleasant fit in the home. When not in use it can be nestled neatly away on a shelf or table and works as a wonderful digital photo frame.

You can also use it for more productive things. It's designed to work with Google Calendar and Outlook so you can see your week at glance with ease. You can use it to get the news, browse Facebook, search Google, and watch content via Facebook Watch. Ask Alexa and you can also be shown recipes. 

Calls are what Portal is built for though, which is where it shines. Like the other Portal products in the line-up, the Go is designed with two things in mind - privacy and smart calling. 

It has a system that includes a 12-megapixel camera with an ultra-wide field of view and a smart camera that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to follow you around the room. That camera system also intelligently accounts for other people on the call too. So when we used it to call Granny with the kids lurking around the room, the Go accounted for the people and kept them all in the frame. Even when the children had ants in their pants and couldn't stop fidgeting.

Portal Go also uses a four-mic array so that it can intelligently block out background noise. Therefore boring environmental sounds like the hum of a tumble dryer or the whirr of a fan aren't enough to interfere with the quality of your call - and you can be heard clearly. 

Portal devices are now a lot easier to use now than at initial launch. You can place calls with more people and in more ways. The people you're calling don't need a Portal device either - you can easily call them if they're on a tablet, smartphone or laptop. You can use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Blue Jeans, GoToMeeting and WebEx. So you can use Portal Go not only for family chats but for business reasons too. 

Working from home is now easier with Portal as you can set it on your desk and make Zoom calls while keeping your PC free for productivity tasks. We tried this and the quality was really good. People on calls with us commented on how clear the image was and the way the cameras handled the lighting in the room too. If there's anything too bright it seems to struggle a bit, but also copes well with low-light situations - far better than a standard webcam anyway. 

Pocket-lintFacebook Portal Go review On a shelf photo 3

One oddity we did notice was with the shutter speed on the camera. It suffers from flicker when encountering electric lights in the room - flashing and flickering in distracting ways - as the system clearly can't auto-recognise for this and adjust the frequency accordingly. This isn't a constant issue, as various lights are different, so it might be of no bother in your personal setup.

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Another thing to take into account is the sloping design of the Portal Go: it has a slant and leans backwards from the bottom of its frame. This has an interesting effect if you try to put it on a bookshelf or fireplace mantel as the camera can't cope with 'looking down'. This means that it can't account for small people and we found that problematic. The same issue isn't present with a worktop or table, so it really depends on where you place the Go, but as something that looks like a digital photo frame we thought it would logically sit nicely on a shelf - but it doesn't for all purposes. 

Private by design

  • Amazon Alexa voice control built-in
  • Apps available include ESPN, Watch Together, more

With all the private problems Facebook has had in the past the company is still keen to point out that Portal is private by design. That means simple things like a hardware level camera shutter and a mic mute button. You can also send it to sleep with a voice command - "Hey Portal, go to sleep" - when you don't need it, so no fret there. 

Another nice addition is the household mode. This allows you to select the Messenger and WhatsApp contacts you want to share with everyone in your household. So you can stop people accidentally calling your boss or colleagues but still let the children chat with grandparents when they want. The same logic can be applied to apps, so you can restrict access there too. 

There are other highlights to the overall experience as well. Portal has Story Time mode which lets you share a bedtime story over a video call. You can also add daft and fun augmented reality (AR) effects to video calls - like a superimposed cat face rather than your own - though we'll note that parents with young children may regret this more than they enjoy it.  

Verdict

If you place a lot of video calls then Facebook's Portal Go is an excellent addition to the home.

It's flexible with multiple calling apps and does a great job with audio and video quality. There's the added bonus of things like Amazon Alexa integration, the ability to play music, or function as a digital photo frame too. 

But it's not nearly as intelligent as some of the other voice-assistant centric devices out there, which is its shortfall. Still, for staying in touch with loved ones, this is a great device - and we adore it for helping our family stay close even when they're far apart. 

Also consider

Pocket-lintAlternatives photo 1

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)

It might be smaller than the Portal Go, but the Echo Show 8 has more smarts and much more flexibility in terms of smart home controls. However, the Facebook device wins for video calling capabilities.

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Writing by Adrian Willings. Originally published on 19 November 2021.