Price (RRP): $279
Let us go on a little journey of discovery. I have on my desk something called the Facebook Portal. I haven’t opened the box yet. All I know about it at this point is what’s printed on the front of the box: “Smart video calling designed to fit your home, with Alexa Built-in.” And two logos which tell me that it can “Make video calls with WhatsApp and Messenger”.
Let’s open the box and see what we find.
Opening up the Facebook Portal
The box is a decent size because I can see from the picture on the front that the Facebook Portal has a 10-inch screen. Also available are the 8-inch Portal Mini ($199) and the 15.6-inch Portal+ ($449). And the Portal TV ($229), which uses your own TV as its screen. I’ll be reviewing that one as well soon.
So, let me open the box. Golly, the packaging is more like a sturdily built gift box than anything. I lift the lid and see what at first glance looks like a picture frame. It’s white, with a 4mm wide outer frame, a 2mm gap inside that and then a 15mm wide inner frame. Inside that is the 10-inch screen. The whole thing is nearly 260mm wide and 180mm tall. And it’s almost entirely flat. There are no curves to the frame. The sides are at right angles to the face and are 23mm deep.
The only marked departure from the flatness is a bulge at the rear. That’s due to a 120mm wide speaker grille for the woofer. I was later to confirm that the higher-frequency speakers emit their sound through that gap. Oddly, one speaker is at bottom left, the other at top right.
At the top left is a camera with three nearby small holes: the ambient light sensor, a red LED to indicate the camera and microphones are off, and a microphone. Two holes on the top edge of the frame and one on the back near them are also microphones. A two-position slide switch on the top edge of the frame switches off and covers the camera in the first position and disables the microphones in the second.
Standing up the Facebook Portal
On the edge of the frame to the left of the camera are the volume up and down buttons. At the bottom right on the rear is what is clearly the DC power input.
So, how does the Facebook Portal stand? Does it just sit on it’s edge? I remove the plastic covering and then explore deeper into the box.
There’s a lightly-built box within the box. Inside that is a small “Let’s get started” guide, five languages, six pages each. And a thicker waste of paper that companies are seemingly legally required to include, containing all the regulatory information.
And also in there is the power supply and plug. This is very nifty. The power socket on the back is set back a little in a round inset. The end of the power cable is contained in a 105mm long prong which mates with that inset. So the power plug is held strongly and neatly in place, while the prong acts as the stand, canting back the display by ten or fifteen degrees. It works in both portrait and landscape orientation. And that explains why the speakers are at opposite corners. If they weren’t , then there’s be no stereo separation in portrait mode.
Starting up the Facebook Portal
I plug in the power and place the Facebook Portal on my desk. I was a bit slow with the stopwatch, but it seems to take at least a couple of minutes to fire up. Then the touchscreen is asking me to select my language. Yes, it has both Australian and New Zealand English, in addition to the lesser varieties of English along with several non-English languages.
I select the proper language and tap “Next”, bringing up the screen is for connecting to Wi-Fi. I tap on my preferred access point and type in the password – the keyboard is well laid-out, unlike that on the Echo Show 8 – and within a few seconds a chime indicates I’m on Wi-Fi. The little info button next to it shows me that it’s using the 5GHz band and also tells me the IP address. The “Next” button takes me to a page where I agree to “download and install the latest Portal software.” I have my stopwatch ready this time.
Touring the Facebook Portal
While the new software is downloading, you can take a “tour” to learn “all about what Portal can do”. According to the tour, I can:
- “Instantly connect with friends and family”
- “Call friends even if they don’t have a Portal” using Messenger or WhatsApp (of course, they’ll need some other device, such as a phone, supporting the relevant app).
- “Display Facebook and Instagram photos, birthday reminders and see when friends are available to connect”.
- Play AR games, “become some of your children’s favourite characters with Story Time.”
- listen to music,
- and more, with more apps “coming soon.”
One of the tour pages emphasises that the Facebook Portal is “Private by design”, noting that you can turn off the camera and microphone with the “push of a button”, or you can “block the lens with the camera cover”. It also notes that “video calls on Portal are encrypted.”
Having read all that, I’m still waiting for the software to update. I’m on a 45-ish Mbps NBN connection. It took about 11.5 minutes for the download and installation to complete, followed by a long reboot. That took nearly two and a half minutes, which strikes me as rather slow for a device of this nature. Anyway, then the Facebook Portal was right to go.