If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of staying connected with friends and loved ones.
Staying connected has always been a challenge for RVers, but the advent of powerful smartphones and at least marginally better WiFi access (yes, even at campgrounds) have made it a bit easier to send emails and texts. But nothing can replace seeing your loved one’s faces.
Services such as FaceTime and Zoom certainly helped close the gap on live, face-to-face communications from afar. But there is another pretty cool tool out there RVers might want to consider.
I’ve had a Facebook Portal device in my home (and on the road) for a few years now. A few Christmases ago, I gifted myself, my 92-year-old mom, and my sister with a Portal. That was well before the pandemic hit, and that little 10-inch screen has become our lifeline.
What makes Portal special
The Facebook Portal is a piece of hardware developed and owned by Facebook (hence, the name) that operates not only on their Messenger platform, but also on Zoom, WhatsApp and a few others. More services are being added all of the time.
What sets the Portal apart is that it includes a high-powered microphone and intelligent camera system that acts just like you had your own cameraman in your home or RV. The camera on the device pans and zooms, following a person as they move about a room and expanding the shot if someone else walks into the frame and joins the conversation. The highly sensitive noise-canceling microphone zeros in on the speaker’s voice and filters out the unwanted background noise.
Inside an RV, I could see the device being handy in the confined space, following you as you move from the galley to the table to the front of your rig. Those on the receiving end will see a seamless shot of you as you move about, making dinner, cleaning, or just moving to the couch.
The Pros of Portal
- As I said, I use the device primarily to stay in daily contact with my mom. All she has to say is “Hey Portal, answer,” and there I am. A simple command to “hang up” ends the call.
- The device hooks up to your WiFi connection, and that can be a hotspot being generated by your smartphone.
- You can use it for calls with multiple parties at once, and even use it as your Zoom device and still have all of the camera and microphone features. In Messenger Rooms, you can have as many as 50 people on the call (a virtual family reunion?).
- The Portal comes in several models. There’s even one that sits on top of your Smart TV and uses your TV screen. I have the 10-inch screen and love it.
- Your cost is a one-time cost to purchase the device. There are no monthly fees.
- It can be linked to Amazon Alexa, if you like using that interface, too, to control your music, your smart home features or get news and weather alerts. There’s even a handy timer, and you can interface with your Spotify or Pandora accounts.
- You can use the included apps to become a character in included children’s books you can read to the little ones – with cool animations and AR effects. The grandkid giggles alone make the Portal worthwhile.
- You can easily disable the microphone and camera when not in use. All Portal video calls are encrypted.
- The Portal comes from Facebook. Some folks don’t like Facebook’s privacy policies (although those seem to be getting better). You can set the privacy policies on the device to be as tight as you’d like, but it’s still Facebook-driven.
- The Portal needs to be plugged into a standard power source. It doesn’t run on batteries (I wish it did).
Facebook Portal is certainly something to consider if you’d like a hands-free, dependable and largely trouble-free gadget to make keeping in touch easier. I use mine every single day to touch base with my mom. It truly feels like I’ve just taken a seat in her living room as we seamlessly chat about the day’s events, even though I’m 3,500 miles away.
Find out more
Options available include an 8-inch display ($89.90); 10-inch display ($99); 15.6-inch display ($265); and the Smart TV ($138).
You can purchase a Portal or learn more here.