Facebook's Portal smart-displays are getting a makeover and include a new battery-powered model, still oriented towards Messenger and Whatsapp. Equipped with a handle and a camera that follows the user, it is designed to accompany him from one room to another.
Like all smart-displays, the Portal Go is designed to support you in your daily life. Its little plus: it is not restricted to the kitchen or living room and follows you everywhere in the house. Launched at 229 €, it abandons the power cable in favor of a charging station. With a handle on the back, it can be carried and accompany the user in his travels; it is the first device of its kind to be so mobile. The virtual assistant Alexa is still part of the game. And like its predecessor, it is equipped with a 10.1-inch touch screen, an audio system and a smart camera: everything is designed to optimize video conferencing conversations, especially on the Messenger and Whatsapp platforms.
Facebook abandons the "photo frame" appearance for this new version of the Portal. No base is planned, the device is sufficient on its own. This time, it is impossible to position it as we wish, it must be installed horizontally.
On the other hand, it follows you from one room to another thanks to its handle and its integrated battery. You just have to put it on its station to recharge it fully, in order to benefit from 5 hours of video calls or 14 hours of audio playback; that's what Facebook says anyway. The circular tip of the docking station is not very ergonomic and does not systematically launch the charge of the device. We would have preferred a magnetic system to facilitate the positioning of the smart-display on its base.
Dressed in a gray fabric, the Portal Go conceals a sound system composed of three speakers. On its edges, two tweeters produce high-pitched sounds; on its back, a woofer takes care of the bass. The device retains its 10.1-inch screen and four microphones, already present on the standard Portal. Its appearance, however, makes it difficult to read or navigate on the screen, which is obviously not tiltable.
A power button is placed on the back of the smart-dispay, while three other controls are present on the top of the device. Two of them allow you to adjust the sound level and the third one disables the microphone and the camera. And if that's not enough, a somewhat crude cover can be manually slid in front of the lens. A reassuring option for some users, especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that shook Facebook in 2018.
Anyway, the Portal Go keeps its appeal, which is none other than its smart camera (down from 13MP to 12MP on this model). With a field of view of 125°, it follows the user in his movements so that he remains in the frame. In the same way, the camera zooms and unzooms to adapt this frame to the number of interlocutors present.
Functions and applications
A total of four different profiles can be installed on the smart-display, each with its own contacts and preferences. To keep some privacy, it is also possible to limit access to this information through a four-digit code; a second one can also be configured to unlock the screen.
When the Portal Go is plugged in for the first time, the device installs the latest available update. And like a smartphone or tablet, the smart-display must be connected to the Wi-Fi network for the download to begin. The device sometimes loses this connection unexpectedly.
Then begins a waltz of identification requests to the networks. Facebook, Whatsapp and Workplace (Facebook's professional network), first of all. It is of course possible to refuse certain connections, but the device then loses its usefulness, its main asset being video calls.
Once identified, the user finds his contacts on the smart-display and can identify them as favorites. On Messenger, calls can include up to 8 people, while Whatsapp includes 4, including the user. During the call, various options can be activated: use filters, read stories, play with others, etc. It should be noted that it is not possible to send written messages via these platforms, which we feel is sorely lacking.
Portal Go also requires you to connect to Amazon. Why? Because once again, it's the voice assistant Alexa, developed by the American giant, that has been chosen by Facebook to integrate its Portal range. The user can ask her to set an alarm clock, give her the weather or turn on the radio. Alexa can also be used as an interface to control the connected equipment in the house. But using the voice assistant is not very intuitive. For example, when Alexa starts the radio, it is not possible to change the frequency. So you have to ask her for a specific radio from the start. Once launched, the radio plays in the background, but the window disappears from the screen. You must then display the drop-down menu at the bottom of the screen to access it or ask Alexa to stop the radio. The same applies to the alarm function. Once the time arrives, the Portal Go starts ringing, but no window appears on the screen and it is impossible to stop the alarm clock with the Portal's commands: only Alexa can stop the massacre.
And to use the basic applications, the requests for identification to the networks start again. These are the photos published on Facebook that are displayed in the album or those of your Instagram account. Otherwise, it is also possible to transfer photos from a smartphone through the Portal application. A slightly outdated system that reminds us of how iTunes works. For the calendar, the same is true: the user has the choice of connecting to his Google Calendar or Outlook.
In addition to these main applications, it is possible to download others. Among them, Zoom, BlueJeans, Webex and soon Microsoft Teams complete the video conferencing experience. They bring a professional dimension to the use of Portal Go, which can take on the role of a second screen on your desktop. News apps are also available for download, as well as music apps with Spotify, Deezer and Tidal.
But the list of absentees is long, too long. Instagram, which Facebook bought, does not have an application on the Portal Go. No video-on-demand service (MyCanal, Prime Video, Molotov) or YouTube application either, even though the 10.1-inch screen would be enough to watch series and videos. It also lacks some VOIP services like Skype. The smart-display offers shortcuts to these platforms, somewhat useless, it must be said, since they simply redirect to the browser. Note that the Amazon Echo Show 10 has Netflix and Molotov services on its screen.
Finally, we also regret the lack of fluidity of the smart-display during certain commands. Latencies slow down the experience, whether it's scrolling through photos, opening an app, quitting it, or even unlocking the device. The unintuitive interface does not improve this experience. We find ourselves several times having to search for a basic feature, easily accessible on other devices in this range.
The Portal Go abandons the large black bands that the Portal had. The new version is equipped with a 10.1-inch screen displaying 800 x 1280 px and offers the possibility to automatically adjust the brightness according to the environment of the device. With a temperature reaching 6459 K, the smart-display does much better than its predecessor and approaches the expected 6500 K (video standard). The colorimetry is also improved on this model. Our probe reveals a Delta E of 4; knowing that below 3, the eye is not able to detect the colorimetric drift.
This smart-display has a well-calibrated screen, but it can be improved. There are still failures on some colors, such as blue and magenta, which are too dull.
On the other hand, there is no improvement on the reflectance, which reaches 55.7%; knowing that a mirror reaches 100%. In comparison, the reflectance of the iPad Mini is only 26% and offers pleasant reading conditions, indoors or in the sun.
The Portal Go offers very decent sound performance and can be used for music listening without any problem. Although it does well, it is not without its faults.
One of the first complaints is the relatively strong directionality of the upper midrange and treble. When you're in front of the screen, the sound can be soft or even dull. One reason for this is the position of the two full-range speakers, which are directed to the sides. Such an arrangement nevertheless makes the sound stage quite wide with some well-transcribed room effects. Without being irreproachable, the highs are also precise enough to limit the phenomena of sibilance (aggressive reproduction of the sounds [s], [f] and [ʃ]). Same for the mids, which are correctly reproduced, with timbres completely respected. The voices are perfectly intelligible, but suffer inevitably from the withdrawal of the highs.
The Portal Go also benefits from sufficiently deep bass to offer the speaker a very warm sound signature and a more than comfortable seat. However, they are rather poorly controlled and clearly lack definition, giving the sound a muddled, even slobbery appearance at times. Songs with a lot of bass suffer greatly from this and also suffer from the very low dynamics of the Portal Go. Moreover, the woofer in charge of reproducing the bass is placed at the back of the speaker and is therefore likely to find itself facing a wall, amplifying de facto the defects mentioned above.
Finally, the management of distortion is correct on this Portal Go, at least as long as the volume remains below 80% of the maximum power. Beyond that, the dynamic range is crushed even more and the distortion reaches peaks in the bass and treble.
As with the previous version, it is Alexa who gives the reply. And thanks to the four built-in microphones, the voice assistant hears and understands our requests. Whether in a quiet environment, in the middle of discussions or in an environment similar to a kitchen, Alexa answers our questions and manages to program a reminder, for example. The assistant is just as effective when we are positioned behind her back and several meters away.
The quality of the microphone is satisfactory. The voice is intelligible, even if it lacks a little natural. During a Whatsapp call in a quiet environment, the microphone continues to pick up the voice of the interlocutor when he moves away from the Portal Go. In an environment similar to a kitchen, with appliances nearby and water running, the microphone picks up the words, but loses effectiveness when the user moves away from one or two meters.
On this point too, Facebook seems to have improved its smart-display. The device has performances close to those of the Nest Hub 2nd generation, which works with Google Assistant.
It is undeniable, the Portal Go is technically an improved version of the Portal released in 2019. Better screen, correct audio system and rechargeable battery make this smart-display a powerful and easily transportable device. However, if it claims to be a family device that can be used by everyone, shortcomings remain in practice. Still very Facebook and Whatsapp oriented, the Portal Go is not always intuitive and lacks versatility. The limited number of available applications may frustrate many users.