A great portable device for video calling

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

Video calling devices via Facebook’s new portal hit stores and began shipping to customers on Tuesday. I’ve been testing the new Portal Go for the past week.

The $199 Portal Go is part of the third generation of Portal hardware the company announced last month. Facebook is still fairly green when it comes to bundle hardware products, but the social media company has made strides in its design and implementation since it launched its first Portal devices in 2018. Since then, Facebook has also introduced Portal devices that connect to your TV, mini versions that Similar to picture frames. The Portal Go is the first of these products that can be moved and operate without being attached to a wall.

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

Facebook has never broken sales numbers for its portal devices, so it’s hard to say how well these products will work. In its financial results, the company included Portal within its “other” revenue stream, which also includes Oculus virtual reality headsets and the enterprise communications software business in the workplace. Since the fourth quarter of 2018 when the first portal hardware was launched, Facebook’s other revenue has grown approximately 223% from $274 million to nearly $885 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Unfortunately, for everything I like about Portal Go — I love the big 10.1-inch screen, portability, and speakers — the device is made by Facebook, and over the past several years, the social media company has broken its trust with its users, legislators around the world, and consumers in general. Portal Go is great for making video calls, but do you really want a Facebook-controlled camera in your home?

Here’s what you need to know.

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

what is good

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

While testing the device, I was able to use Portal Go to connect with friends and family via Messenger and WhatsApp. Portal Go will ring if they call me, and I can accept to touch the screen. I can initiate calls by searching for my friends on the device.

The Portal Go mounts to a charging stand when not in use, but once you have a call to take a call, you can grab it by the handle notch hidden in its butt and move it wherever you want. Sometimes I’d chat with friends on the go, but more often than not, I’d simply take the Portal Go and have it sit on my coffee table, my bed, or the kitchen counter. Once there, I was able to enjoy my video call hands free.

I loved that I could use it while relaxing on the couch and then pick it up and continue my call while I was cooking. Short video calls can be fine on the phone, but anything longer than five minutes is better for a 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 these are portable, forcing you to make your video call anywhere you’ve plugged your device into a port (hopefully you’ve chosen comfortable place).

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

Portability may seem like a small difference, but this feature sets Portal Go apart.

I got a call on Portal Go while my partner was working in the same room. So I picked up Portal Go and moved to another room. We also tried Portal Go to call my partner’s family during their weekly dinner. They were able to put their Portal Go tester on top of their table, making us feel like we were part of the dinner.

With a 10.1 inch screen and an excellent speaker system, the Portal Go makes video calls crystal clear in both visuals and audio. You can easily hear who you are chatting with whether you are bending over during the call or sitting down.

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

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

My other favorite use of Portal Go was to upload pictures to it for use as a digital picture frame – the pictures look great on the Portal Go screen.

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

What’s bad

My biggest complaint about Portal Go is the fact that it was created 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 cover that you can slide over its camera when it’s not in use, and you can also push a button to turn off the camera and microphones electronically. But that doesn’t change the fact that Facebook made the device, and time after time, Facebook has violated the trust of its users. Just last month, a whistleblower leaked internal documents that showed the company knew Instagram was harming teens’ mental health and did nothing to alert the public about it.

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

The portal would indeed be successful if it was built by Samsung, Apple, or pretty much any other major hardware technology company. It’s great for what it was designed for. Anyone who cares about trusting Facebook privacy has every right to feel that way.

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

It is also missing a lot of features.

It doesn’t have Netflix, YouTube, HBO Max, or basically any video streaming service you’d want on a device with a great screen like Portal Go. This was also the case with the original Portals launched in 2018, but it feels like a more relevant absence now that Portal Go is a portable tool. I’d be more than willing to buy it if I could make video calls, get a digital photo frame and watch my favorite shows for $199. However, you can watch content on Facebook Watch, if that’s something you’ve ever felt like trying.

Among the few apps worth using on the device are audio streaming services, which include Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. I tried Spotify and was totally impressed with the sound quality of Portal Go. Unfortunately, Spotify was very disappointing. There is no search function, so you are limited to listening to any playlists the app recommends to you. It’s as if someone developed a Spotify app for the portal and then forgot about it.

The Portal Go from Facebook is an excellent device for making video calls, but the fact that it was built by Facebook makes it difficult to trust your privacy.

Salvador Rodriguez/CNBC

Should you buy it?

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

Unfortunately, Facebook’s recurring and recurring trust issues with the public and lawmakers make it extremely difficult to trust the company with a device that relies so heavily on its camera and microphones. If you can 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.

.

Leave a Comment