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When I told Monkey that I would be trying out Facebook’s brand new Portal, he ignored what he was doing, spun around and exclaimed: “That’s soooo cool!” Somewhat surprised by his reaction, I immediately enquired why… He looked at me as if I was totally clueless [which to be fair, I was at the time…] and told me: “Mum, Portal is epic. You can talk to people through your TV and walk around the room, too. Haven’t you seen the adverts?”

Well, no. I hadn’t. But with my quick briefing from my tech-savvy eight-year-old son, I was now more intrigued by what Portal from Facebook could do. So after heading up to London, I not only got to meet the development team behind Portal but found out more about their new video calling system which has been designed to help people feel closer to their family and friends.

Portal from Facebook | My Travel Monkey

What exactly is Portal from Facebook?

Forget video calling as you know it. Portal works in a way that enables the user to be hands-free and unconstrained by having to hold a device. You’ve been there, right? Trying to Skype or FaceTime someone on your smartphone or tablet and the kids are bored within seconds because they can’t actually see the caller, or they’re trying to grab the device out of your hands? In my experience, a video call is never as comfortable or relaxed as a conversation should be. There is always something going on, and the sound quality can often be hit-and-miss.

Portal from Facebook has been designed with families in mind. Families are busy, chaotic and never sat still for very long – especially those with young kids like mine.

The Portal and Portal Mini have been created to resemble a photo frame which also displays images, so will fit into any home and blend in with any interiors. The Portal TV device sits on top of any TV and will allow for interaction on a bigger screen.

Portal | My Travel Monkey

How easy is it to set up?

For those who aren’t great with tech, there is a worry that setting up some new-fangled device will be fraught with complications. Not in the case of Portal. Even for my parents who aren’t the most technically minded, they were able to connect their device almost straightaway.

Our 10inch Portal came in a simply designed box with a kickstand and plug, as well as a small instruction manual. It’s simply a case of plugging it in, connecting to Wi-Fi and following the prompts on screen. You do need to have a Facebook or WhatsApp account in order to use Portal, but as soon as you’re signed in, it’s just a matter of syncing contacts and other apps like Alexa and Spotify and you’re good to go… It took around 20 minutes to have everything working, from beginning to end, which is pretty good going.

Portal Features

Smart tech

Portal’s Smart tech means that its camera literally follows the action and adjusts accordingly. So no more being rooted to one spot. Need to go and grab something from the back of the room, no problem. The camera will follow you. This works so well when you have kids – they don’t sit still! Or if you have one in your kitchen, you could chat to someone while cooking or clearing up just as if they’re in the room with you. Our kids have loved being able to dance, run around, show off their toys to their grandma and grandpa – and I’ve been able to leave the room without having to stand there holding a device.

The smart sound also means there’s no need to shout – I am super impressed with the sound quality. When we’ve been chatting to my mum and dad, it really is like they’re in the room with us. And just to test it even further, we’ve moved as far away as possible from the Portal, and our voices were still super clear and succinct.

Privacy

Now my husband isn’t a huge fan of social media platforms or spying tech as he likes to call it. The complete opposite to me! He jokingly tells me that the house will start talking back to us soon. Privacy is the one thing he is most concerned about, so even he was relieved to know that the Portal can be controlled at all times. With a single slide of a switch, the camera and microphone can be disabled.

Fun with AR Apps | My Travel Monkey

Fun for the kids

Both my children love bedtime stories, and Portal’s Story Time allows you not only to read the story, but feature in it yourself. A great way to interact with the kids and have fun all at the same time. Meanwhile, the kids and I have spent hours messing around with Portal’s hilarious AR experiences, turning ourselves into fire-breathing dragons and wearing cats on our heads have been some of the silly things we’ve laughed at.

Other apps

With built-in Alexa and Spotify, you can listen to music, control lights and see who’s at your door, as Portal works with both of these features. Because we already have Alexa in several other rooms it feels like we’ve been given a 2in1 device, which is a win-win in my opinion. And you don’t need to have two Portals to chat to loved ones, Portal works well with any other mobile device through Messenger or WhatsApp, so anyone who is on it can speak to you through your device.

How much does Portal cost?

Portal TV – £149

Portal Mini – £129

Portal – £169

You can currently buy any two and save £50 off the total price here.

Checking out Portal | My Travel Monkey

Final verdict

In an unprecedented age of digital media, there are so many platforms where people can connect. However, more often than not, this connection is superficial. I’m sure many would agree, that real conversations and real bonds have been slowly whittled away to the finger tapping of emojis and a few sentences.

Since setting up Portal between my parents and our home, the children have been video calling their grandparents and chatting to them on a regular basis. And it’s been so easy for them to just talk, while I can get on with doing household chores and not have to worry if they’ll cut my parents off by accident, or if they’re bouncing around the living room.

I have to travel a lot and it can be hard to keep in touch with the kids. So much so, I don’t even bother trying to video call them as it can be too much hassle. So next time I have to travel or am away from home, I will be definitely putting Portal through its paces and be able to enjoy the kids without disrupting their routine too much.

Game changer

Portal from Facebook really is a game-changer in terms of keeping in touch with loved ones. It’s already occupying a cosy corner in our house while providing other services we use such as Alexa and Spotify. Meanwhile, the kids adore playing with the AR effects and Story Time elements.

Instead of feeling confined, Portal allows you to just hang out and share the same space with family and friends. Now we have one, I wouldn’t like to go back to the old way of video calling. And with its super-advanced hi-tech, you would even be able to have dinner together with someone on the other side of the world. Now that would be cool…