Portal Go full review

The Portal Go is the first portable smart display in Facebook’s Portal family, offering the core Portal experience - complete with AI-powered camera tracking - in a more mobile form.

It’s not quite a tablet, but the wedge-shaped 10.1in smart display could be a great addition to the home, especially if you rely on video chat services including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, or Zoom and WebEx if you work from home. That’s backed up by a multi-speaker and multi-mic array to provide one of the better video calling experiences available right now. 

But while the Portal Go’s hardware is impeccable, there are flaws, mainly when it comes to its smarts. 

Design & build

  • Wedge-shaped 10.1in smart display
  • Portable, with a built-in battery and contact charging
  • Built-in handle for easy transportation

Sporting a design not too dissimilar to the second-gen Echo Show 10, the Portal Go is a fairly standard 10.1in smart display - but that’s not to say it’s not well built.

The Portal Go is clad almost entirely in a grey mesh material that adds a nice texture to the device, making it feel more like something that should be in the home rather than an obvious bit of tech that sticks out, with a distinctive wedge shape that helps keep it upright without the need for a stand or dock. 

In fact, it’s fairly robust in design, surviving multiple (accidental) drops during testing without even disconnecting from the call, let alone damaging the display or body. I wouldn’t put that to the test though; to be clear, Facebook hasn’t made any claims about fall damage or general robustness of the smart screen, it’s just something I’ve noticed during testing. 

It’s all business as usual when it comes to the various controls on the smart display; it sports volume controls and the ability to mute the mic and camera (on a hardware level for the privacy-conscious out there) along the top, along with a dedicated camera shutter to block the camera’s view and a power button on the rear. 

However, where it differs from most other smart displays is that, as the name suggests, the Portal Go is the first portable Portal device (and yes, that’s a bit of a tongue twister!). Power is supplied via a tiny dock connector that sits on the surface where your Portal Go ‘lives’ most of the time, keeping the battery topped up for when you want to pick the device up and move around the home.

There’s even a handy carry handle on the rear, perfectly positioned for carrying the Portal Go from room-to-room with ease. Anything to make the weighty 1.4kg smart screen easier to carry is a win in our books, as it’s certainly not quite as lightweight as a tablet. 

The lack of magnets in the charging dock means the Portal Go offers a smooth undocking experience, simply lifting away without any force or pressure needed to keep the dock in place. It can be a bit of a double-edged sword though; it also means putting the Go back onto the charger can sometimes be a fiddly process, lacking the ability to snap into place as with the likes of MagSafe and most magnetic smartwatch charging systems. 

Smart features

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Video calling from a variety of providers, not just Facebook
  • Limited third-party app support
  • Amazon Alexa integration

The Portal Go, like most of the Portal family, is designed to be as simple to use as possible, so that even tech novices can get set up and talk to friends and family remotely.

The initial setup requires you to connect to your home Wi-Fi (with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz on offer) and to log into either Facebook or WhatsApp depending on the account you want to use. If you just want to use WhatsApp, there’s no requirement for a Facebook login, so even Facebook nay-sayers can join in on the fun. You’ll then select your favourite contacts for quick access, and you’re ready to go.

From the main card-based interface, you’ll be able to tap on any favourited contact to initiate a video (or audio, if you prefer) call, but you can also browse your entire Facebook/WhatsApp friend list for those you talk to a little less often. 

Of course, there’s much more than just Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp support available on the smart display. You can also access conferencing apps including WebEx and Zoom, with UIs designed specifically for the Portal, and Microsoft Teams support is coming later this year.

It’s easy to join third-party video chats via the Calendar app too - simply link your Outlook or Google calendar and you’ll get prompted of upcoming meetings with the option to join the call with a single button tap. It’s a very handy feature that makes the Portal Go ideal for those working from home, acting as a dedicated video conferencing device and freeing up your laptop or PC for other tasks. 

Video chat aside, there’s a light selection of apps available on the Portal Go including Spotify and Facebook Watch, but it can’t quite compete with the offering from Echo Show and Nest Hub Max devices. You can add web apps from the likes of Instagram to the Portal experience, but it’s not quite as fully featured as some might prefer. 

While on the subject of competing smart assistants, it’s worth noting that Facebook has its own. Activated with ‘Hey Portal’ the Facebook Assistant should be able to initiate calls, open apps and more on the Portal Go, but while it’s a great idea, the reality is much more frustrating.

The big complaint is that there’s a vanishingly small amount of time to give your request after uttering the Hey Portal wake words - on one occasion, it took me four tries before the Portal opened the Calendar app as I’d requested, and it straight-up ignored me on other occasions.

It’s clear that there’s plenty of work to be done to Facebook Assistant, but thankfully, Facebook has also included support for Amazon Alexa on the Portal Go.

You can link it to your Amazon account to control smart home tech, get the daily news briefing and ask general queries, but it’s not quite an Echo device, lacking key features like drop-in, Alexa audio calls and the ability to work with Ring doorbells to display live video on the screen when someone comes knocking.  

Don’t think you can use Alexa to circumvent Facebook Assistant either; Alexa can’t open apps, initiate Messenger calls or perform other system-level tasks, so it’s either Facebook Assistant or touch input. 

Video & audio performance

  • Great quality camera with intelligent zoom
  • Wide-angle camera allows you to move around the room
  • Well-rounded audio performance

While the Portal Go offers a handful of entertainment apps, its focus is no doubt on video calling, so camera and audio performance are of the utmost importance. 

The good news is that Facebook has done a stellar job, with a 12Mp camera mounted front and centre offering an expansive 125-degree field of view - 5 degrees more than Apple’s Center Stage tech on much of its iPad range. Numbers aside, it’s wide enough to capture most of a standard-size living room, allowing you to move around while you chat.

Of course, you don’t want the entire room on show the whole time, so the Portal Go crops in on the person in the shot, doing it in a smooth fashion with impressive framing. If another person comes into the shot, the angle will adjust to fit both people in the scene. It’s intuitive, and it means you don’t have to constantly reposition the camera like when video calling on a tablet or laptop. 

Even with a digital zoom applied, video quality is generally quite sharp, providing a detailed Full HD video feed ideal for chatting online. I had no qualms about using the Portal Go for work meetings, briefings and chats, although like most webcams, the quality does diminish as light levels drop. But, as long as you’ve got a lamp on, the quality should suffice for most video chats. 

That’s backed up by an impressive four-mic array that can pick up your voice from wherever you are in the room - no need to sit next to the Portal Go - and it’ll even isolate background noise so others in the call can clearly hear you. It’s not quite Nvidia Broadcast background cancellation, but the end result is a great sound to back up the detailed video on offer.

Speaker quality hasn’t been overlooked either, with the Go sporting two 5W speakers and a 20W woofer for a well-rounded audio experience that’ll fill even the largest of rooms. That Spotify integration makes sense now, right? 

Audio performance is quite surprising for a tablet of this size too, with plenty of bass, great stereo separation and a lack of distortion, even at high volume. The highs can occasionally sound a little harsh, but that’s easily overlooked. 

Battery life

  • 15-hour battery life when listening to music
  • Drops to 5 hours when video chatting

When it comes to battery life, Facebook claims that the Portal Go can last up to 15 hours during general use - accessing Alexa, playing music from Spotify - but that number drops down to 5 hours when video calling.

Though it may seem like a big drop, that should still be enough to see most people through an average day of work, and it’s easy enough to move the dock to wherever you’re using the Go if worst comes to worst.

Still, for most people, there’s more than enough charge within the Portal Go for a standard day’s use. 

Price

Coming in at £199/$199, the Portal Go is cheaper than the competing £239.99/$249.99 Amazon Echo Show 10 and £219/$229 Nest Hub Max, albeit with the caveat that Facebook’s option is more limited in the smarts department, working mainly as a video calling device than a fully-fledged smart display. But, if you video call on a daily basis, the portable nature of the Portal Go will likely appeal. 

If you’re interested, you can grab the Portal Go from Facebook directly, along with third-party retailers including Amazon in the UK and Best Buy in the US. We also round up the best smart displays separately if you’re curious as to how the Portal Go compares. 

Verdict

The Portal Go is the perfect video chat companion, offering support not only for Facebook-owned Messenger and WhatsApp, but a growing list of third-party alternatives including Zoom, WebEx and soon, Microsoft Teams. The 12Mp, 125-degree camera with auto-tracking tech performs better than Apple’s Center Stage tech with better framing and a sharper image, and that’s backed up by a 4-mic array that’ll pick your voice up from anywhere in the room. 

The ability to pick the display up and move around the home is a refreshing change compared to most tethered smart displays, and with 5-15 hours of battery depending on what you’re doing, there shouldn’t be much concern over battery life either. 

The only real catch is in the smarts department; Facebook Assistant seems half-baked compared to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and the smart display is lacking some third-party apps available on Google and Amazon equivalents too. 

Specs

Portal Go: Specs

  • 10.1in (800 x 1280) display
  • 12Mp 125-degree camera with AI-powered crop
  • 4-mic array
  • 2x 5W speakers, 1x 20W woofer
  • 17.37 cm (h) x 25.65 cm (w) 7.87 cm (d)
  • 1.4kg
  • 15-hour battery life (general use)
  • 5-hour battery life (video calling)
  • Privacy-focused camera cover and mic/camera disable button
  • Wi-Fi 5
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Facebook Assistant integration
  • Amazon Alexa integration available
  • Limited number of third-party apps

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