Facebook Portal+ (2021) review: Quirky traits hinder an otherwise excellent experience

Facebook Portal Plus Lifestyle
(Image: © Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: Top to bottom, the Facebook Portal+ (2021) is a quality piece of hardware. It not only looks great but performs equally as well. The inclusion of Alexa adds extra functionality to the device to enhance the video calling features. However, a few software missteps hold back the overall experience from total greatness.

Pros

  • +

    First-rate hardware

  • +

    Impressive sound quality

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    The camera and its features work well

  • +

    Multiple video calling platforms are available

  • +

    Works as an Alexa smart speaker

Cons

  • -

    Very limited photo display options

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    Dueling voice assistants can be frustrating

  • -

    Can't customize the home screen

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    Have to trust Facebook

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The use of video calling apps has grown a lot in the past couple of years. Not only has the use of these services expanded, so have the hardware options that take advantage of them. The most common way to use apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp is through one of the best Android phones, but when possible, using a larger screen can lead to a better experience. That's what the new Facebook Portal+ (2021) aims to offer consumers.

Facebook announced two devices, the Portal Go and Portal+, to provide a better experience when video calling as well as flexibility for where those calls happen. The Portal Go brings a lower price and benefit of portability thanks to its built-in battery and smaller display. The Portal+ is the flagship version of the two offerings sporting a large 14-inch QHD display and some nifty camera tricks.

I've been using the Plus model for a few weeks and putting it through some tests while staying in touch with friends and family during the holidays. The Facebook Portal+ also doubles as an Alexa smart speaker, so that feature put some work in as well.

Does this device have more to offer or provide a better experience than something like the Nest Hub Max or Echo Show 10? Well, it's complicated. Let me explain.

Facebook Portal+: Price and availability

Facebook Portal Plus Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Announced in September 2021, the Facebook Portal+ later went on sale in October 2021. At launch, the Portal+ retailed for $349.99 but recently sold at multiple retailers for $299.99, including Amazon and Best Buy. The device is available in a single color option for the fabric surrounding the base: light gray.

Facebook Portal+: What's good

Facebook Portal Plus Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Out of the box, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the hardware for the Portal+. It feels solid and well put together. The hinge that allows the large 14-inch QHD display to tilt is smooth and holds the screen precisely where you leave it. At the bottom of the light grey fabric-covered base is a small aluminum foot that extends to help balance the device.

The Portal+ uses a proprietary plug located below a USB-C port for power. While it would be nice to use the far more ubiquitous port as power input, it is only available as an output source to charge your phone.

When looking at the display, you'll find the physical volume buttons on the backside of the display in the bottom right corner. Resting atop the display is the camera, three of the four microphones, and a button to disable both the camera and microphones. There is a physical slider to cover the camera as an added level of privacy.

Plugging in the Facebook Portal+ plus revealed that not only does the hardware for the screen feel nice, but the actual display quality is also equally good. The colors look great on it, the text is crisp, and the auto-brightness and color tuning sensors work very well. Swiping on the touchscreen is fluid with responsive actions to taps.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
SpecsFacebook Portal+
Dimensions12.31" x 9.87" x 3.86"
Display14" HD display with tilt, 2160x1440
Speaker2 x 5W full-range speakers
1 x 20W woofer
Camera12MP, 131° FOV
Microphones4-mic array
Privacy and securityMic and camera disable button with integrated camera cover
ConnectivityWi-Fi, 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz
Bluetooth 5.1
PortsUSB-C
Voice assistantsAlexa
Hey Portal
Video calling appsMessenger
WhatsApp
Zoom

After logging into my Facebook account and choosing which contacts I wanted to show up in the favorites bar along the top of the homepage, I also logged into my Amazon account. This is because, alongside Facebook's Hey Portal voice assistant, the Portal+ is also an Alexa device. All of the features you'd expect from an Alexa-enabled smart speaker are here, though there are some quirks I'll cover later.

The sound quality from the Portal+ was impressive both for calls and listening to music.

Starting a voice call can be done in two ways: tapping on a contact you'd like to talk with, or using Facebook's digital assistant. Saying "Hey Portal, call Mom" will fire up a Facebook Messenger call to your contact Mom. You can change the default calling app to WhatsApp if you choose. This assistant can also pull up the Spotify, Pandora, or iHeartRadio music apps and to answer calls.

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central

The Facebook Portal+ has 26 apps available like Contacts, Facebook Watch, Story Time, and more. You'll also have 19 website bookmarks that include Facebook, AllRecipes, CNBC, Amazon, Google, and more available to download for quick access from the Apps button. Yes, there is a full Chrome browser on this device, and you can add any website as a shortcut within the Apps page.

Tapping on one of those bookmarks opens up the Chrome browser, which displays the mobile version of the website by default. So while Netflix isn't technically available on the Portal+, you can go it in the browser. Unfortunately, it throws an error when starting a video and won't play. However, Disney+ works just fine in a browser tab on the device.