2019 has seen a surge in connected home devices. These devices are designed to make your life at home easier and more convenient during your day to day. For a few years, Google and Amazon have dominated this space with both the Home Assistant and Alexa.
But recently, Facebook has launched its new line of video calling devices, the Portal. The Portal is, “Smart video calling designed to fit into your home.” While similar to the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, there are features where the Portal stands out and others where it falls flat. One feature that no other video calling devices have is the Portal’s ability to track your movement throughout a room. This really helps in situations where you may be cooking in your kitchen and moving around while also video chatting with family or friends. This feature can only be found on the Portal and is able to pan and zoom to keep up with the action in a room and can also widen the view to capture more of your room. Another feature of the Portal that it does better than its competitors is using the screen as a picture frame while not in use. The Portal can grab pictures from your Facebook profile and cycle through them while it is not in use. With Alex and Home Assistant, this is a multi-step process that is often not very straight forward. Another nice feature is that it supports augmented reality overlays. These features are similar to Snapchat and allow you to put a cat face over your kids real face or your kid can act like a robot. These are great features for kids who are often distracted but still want to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. While the Portal does not have any native hookups to your home automation devices, it does tie into Alexa’s home automation so you still get all the features you would normally get from an Alexa smart home device.
The Facebook Portal also has a decent level of privacy features. It features a mechanical lens cover for when you do not want to operate the camera as well as a hardware switch to disable the microphone for total privacy. In this day and age of constant news stories of big tech spying and dropping in on our homes, hardware privacy features are a welcome addition to any video device in a home.