While I am a serial early adopter of emerging consumer tech, there have been some notable exceptions. Products I avoided include the Amazon Fire Phone, the Amazon Echo Look, Magic Leap AR glasses, and The Juicero (don’t ask!). In some cases, though, I’ve acquired the device either upon failure/close-out or ‘Holiday Sale.’ Such is the case with my Facebook Portal Mini; at $129.00, it was undesirable while at $65.00 I couldn’t pass it up.
And, I’m glad I got it!
The second-generation Facebook Portal is a decent digital ‘swiss army knife,’ it lets you make video calls to Facebook friends and your WhatsApp contacts. It also looks nicer than the original, and has more functionality, especially when utilizing its Alexa compatibility. Almost everything you can do on an Echo Show, you can do on the Portal, though the documentation and implementation are sometimes sketchy. My favorite use is its digital picture frame function, a steady stream of my Facebook photos, many that I haven’t seen in years.
Let’s look at the elements:
Looks -The 2nd generation Facebook Portal looks more like a digital picture frame than anything else, and functions as such when you’re not using it for apps or video calls. The very responsive touchscreen is surrounded by a matte border solidifying the illusion of a picture frame. There is a small gap between the border and the exterior of the frame, which not only is a nice design element, but it also allows audio through, while hiding its hidden speakers.
The Camera is in the upper left corner of the Portal’s front face, on the top edge. Above this is a slider that physically covers the Portal’s camera and turns off its microphone. You can slide the button to turn off just the camera, but leave the microphone on, too. It is a huge improvement over the plastic clip that served a similar function on the original Portal.
Along the left-side edge is the volume controls. The back of the Portal is flat and white except for the center, where its fabric woofer domes curve out slightly. If you rotate the Portal so that it’s either in landscape or portrait mode, the screen automatically reorients itself.
Video – The 8” HD display is excellent, many of my photos look much better than I remember when I took them! When you are on a Facebook or WhatsApp video call, the Portal software tracks your face and digitally panning and zooming its camera so that you remain in the center of the frame as much as possible. This way, you can move around, the person you’re chatting with will still see you clearly.
Audio – The Portal Mini has two speakers and a rear-facing subwoofer, the sound is very good for its size. I used “Popsicle Toes” by Michael Franks as my test tune. The results were excellent with reasonable bass, clear midrange, and crisp high end.
The Portal’s four microphones will let callers hear me clearly even when I’m away from the screen.
Apps – There are currently only 12 apps available, including Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora, FB Gaming, ABC News Live, Food Network, Story Time, and a web browser.
The Portal browser is okay, offering 18 bookmarked sites, including Yelp, ESPN, Twitch, Instagram, Google, YouTube, and Facebook.
While the Photo Booth app lets you take both stills and video and apply the same filters as you would during a video call, you cannot save them, only send them via Facebook Messenger.
Facebook Portal: Voice control
The Portal comes with two voice assistants: Facebook’s “Hey Portal” and Amazon’s Alexa. But until Facebook makes drastic improvements to its assistant, there’s very little reason to use it in favor of Alexa, it functions on the Portal similar to any other Amazon device.
The “Hey Portal” command can be used to start and end video calls, play music, set timers, and get the weather, but it is not as functional, nor as accurate, as Alexa.
VERDICT – If you can find it on sale over the next couple of weeks, get one. Otherwise, there are some very enticing sales on the various Google Nest Hub and Echo Show products. Both the Google Nest Hub Max and the Echo Show 2 feature built-in device hubs, a great add-on.
- Innovative camera tracking feature
- Improved design
- Your Facebook photos displayed on a high-quality digital picture frame
- Now Facebook can see and hear everything you do, then gossip about you with Alexa