Facebook Portal Review Roundup: Limited Features, Privacy Concerns

Facebook has released its Portal and Portal+ smart displays, and the first reviews indicate that it's...something. 

Credit: FacebookCredit: Facebook

The device's standout feature seems to be its high-resolution camera, which follows you as you move around the room. However, reviewers are less impressed with its other functions, and concerned about Facebook's use of their recordings.

MORE: How to Stop Facebook from Sharing Your Data

Here's what the critics are saying about Facebook's new smart display.

The Verge (6/10)

Dan Seifert from The Verge praised the Portal's hardware and display, but disliked its limited functionality. 

"Unless you are a heavy user of Facebook’s Messenger calling, the Portal doesn’t currently do enough to justify its existence." — Dan Seifert, The Verge

The Good
"Both the 10.1-inch Portal and the massive 15.6-inch Portal Plus have modern designs that wouldn’t look out of place in a trendy home."

"The picture is sharp, bright, with high frame rates, and the audio is clear and easy to hear without anyone having to raise their voice."

The Bad
"Unless you are a heavy user of Facebook's Messenger calling, the Portal doesn't currently do enough to justify its existence."

CNET (6.5/10)

In her review for CNET, Megan Wollerton is positive about the Portal's cameras, but didn't feel it had any standout features.

"If you decide you're OK bringing a Portal or a Portal Plus into your home, and you have a deep-enough roster of contacts willing to talk with you, you'll get to enjoy what may be the best video chat platform on the market today." — Megan Wollerton, CNET

The Good
"If you decide you're OK bringing a Portal or a Portal Plus into your home, and you have a deep-enough roster of contacts willing to talk with you, you'll get to enjoy what may be the best video chat platform on the market today."

"It makes you feel like you're there with the people on the other side of the screen in a way that competing video chat devices and services can't duplicate right now."

The Bad
"I also find it confusing that Portal has two different voice assistants ... you really have two voice assistants performing the job that one should be able to handle."

"It sounds distant compared to the clarity of devices like the Echo Show, and more like the Google Home Hub, whose audio quality was similarly underwhelming."

The Wall Street Journal

At the Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern was so put off by privacy concerns that she couldn't bring herself to set the device up in her home.

"Don’t fool yourself if you think Facebook isn’t collecting some data about you from this device." — Joanna Stern, The Wall Street Journal

The Good
"The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had."

"The face masks are entertaining—at least for a few moments. The interactive children’s books are neat—if I were willing to put my son’s face in front of this thing."

The Bad
"Don’t fool yourself if you think Facebook isn’t collecting some data about you from this device."

"It’s hard to believe we really have any control of our Facebook data and privacy given the last year."

Engadget (83/100)

Nicole Lee of Engadget praises the device's video-chat capability, but recommends that non-Messenger users pass.

"Both had loud, punchy volume and decently crisp audio. I wouldn't use them as my primary devices for listening to music, but they certainly work in a pinch." — Nicole Lee, Engadget

The Good
It's ... a surprisingly refreshing way to have a video chat. Instead of being held captive by the hardware, you're free to go about your daily life, preparing dinner or chasing after the dogs, without losing the person on the other line."

"Both had loud, punchy volume and decently crisp audio. I wouldn't use them as my primary devices for listening to music, but they certainly work in a pinch."

The Bad
"It's all about whether you trust that your data is safe with these companies. Unfortunately for Facebook, it hasn't done a lot to earn anyone's trust lately."

"The app experience isn't perfect. The YouTube app, which is essentially just a browser shortcut to YouTube.com, doesn't have an intuitive interface."

The New York Times

In a transcript-style review for The New York Times, Mike Isaac and Farhad Manjoo enjoy using the device to chat, but conclude that they won't be buying it.

"If you’re going to choose between a calling device made by Facebook and one made by Amazon or Apple, you wouldn’t be crazy to discount Facebook’s device because of its business model and history."— Farhad Manjoo

The Good
"I was frankly blown away by how well-designed Portal was. It has one purpose — calling other people who use Facebook — and it does that extremely well."

"I will also admit I loved the augmented reality lenses, a flourish Facebook is adding to pretty much all of its camera-based apps. Just like Snapchat, I can choose a filter that turns my face into a werewolf, or stick a (live) cat on my head as a hat. Cat-as-a-Hat: a goofy gimmick worthy of Dr. Seuss — but it works!"

The Bad
"There was no shaking the feeling that I was being watched."

"If you’re going to choose between a calling device made by Facebook and one made by Amazon or Apple, you wouldn’t be crazy to discount Facebook’s device because of its business model and history."

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