What can a Meta Portal do?

Google and Amazon may rule the roost when it comes to smart home displays but, as Meta’s Portal range proves, there are chinks in their armour.

Originally launched in the UK in 2019 and discontinued in late 2022, Meta’s Portal smart displays were always pitched as a fundamentally different proposition to their competitors from Amazon and Google.

Unlike Echo Show and Nest Hub smart displays, which have always tried to offer a wider range of functionality and be jacks of all trades, Meta’s range of Portal devices primarily are intended to excel at one task: video calling and conferencing.

However, Portal displays can also act as a digital photo frame, and there are some useful apps included, while the incorporation of Alexa gives the devices additional voice-assisted control smarts. 

A video call taking place on a Meta Portal Plus smart display, which is sat on a kitchen counterCredit: Meta

With around 1.4 million Portal devices reportedly sold worldwide according to data cited from research firm IDC, and Meta still promising to support them (though it’s unknown for how long) we thought it would be useful to give you a brief rundown of the devices’ main talents. 

Some retailers still have some stock left of the smart displays, but it’s limited and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.


The final line-up of Meta Portal devices

10-inch (25cm) smart display.

Portable, battery-powered 10-inch (25cm) smart display.

14-inch (36cm) smart display.

AI-powered webcam with Netflix, designed to be used with a TV.

1. Video calls

Use can use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp

Meta Portal Go on a side in a homeCredit: Meta

This is the main reason to have a Meta Portal smart display. It will let you easily make and receive calls to/from your Facebook friends (except for those Messenger contacts who don’t have an associated Facebook account) and anybody you’re connected to on WhatsApp, so long as the latter is open on your smartphone.

Sadly, support for chats via Microsoft Teams has now ended, and the ability to hold calls via Zoom, BlueJeans and Webex will be gone by the end of June 2023.

Portal users can contact each other directly but they can also reach smartphones/tablets with Facebook Messenger on them. While it’s possible to use Portal devices if you don’t happen to have a Facebook account – you just use WhatsApp instead – you will miss out on some functionality. 

2. Video AR effects

Add some fun to your video calls

Older woman making a video call on a Meta Portal with AR backgroundCredit: Meta

While it’s not a feature you’d be likely to use on a business call, Meta has included AR (augmented reality) filters to add a little interactive fun when speaking to friends and family.

In practice, they’re very similar to the same sort of filters you can apply when using smartphone apps like Instagram and Snapchat. 

3. Story Time

Make bedtime with the kids fun

Man making a video call, surrounded by AR visual effectsCredit: Meta

Imagine your work commitments have taken you away from home but you love reading your kids stories at bedtime. Or you’re a grandparent who wants to do the same but lives hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away.

Well, you could just video call the young ’uns and read out a story. But that’s so, well, staid. 

If you really want to make the experience more memorable, just use Portal’s Story Time app instead: it lets you narrate a curated selection of stories but overlays a host of clever interactive, AR animation effects on top of them. 

4. Talk to Alexa

Control your smart home, and get answers to your questions

Meta Portal TV showing a live video feed from a smart doorbellCredit: Meta

There are – or were – actually two voice assistants on Portal devices: “Hey, Portal”, for controlling built-in features such as calling, brightness and camera effects, and “Alexa”, for creating lists, playing music, controlling smart home devices and so on.

While the former service has now been wound down, Amazon’s Alexa is still going strong and will continue to answer your questions, carry out any commands and help you control your smart home, such as showing you a live video feed from any smart doorbell or camera you may have set up.

As you might expect, though, it’s not the full-fat Alexa experience you get with an Amazon Echo device: services such drop in (a two-way intercom feature between devices) and announcements aren’t supported on Portal devices. 


5. Photo frame

Put Portal to work when it’s idle

The ability to display photos on a remote Portal device, or a TV (if you’re using a Portal TV add-on) is a definite strength of Meta’s platform.

You can display photos from existing Facebook albums, Meta Portal albums and Instagram posts, or add images from your mobile phone into a new Meta Portal album (limited to a maximum of 20 per album).

Like all the best digital photo frames worth their salt, you can set your Portal device to display photos when you’re not on a call and it’s idle. 

Video calling via the Meta Portal to illustrate what is a smart displayCredit: Meta

6. A second screen

Extend the workspace on your PC or Mac

If you have a second gen Portal device (Portal Plus and Portal Go), one of Meta’s parting gifts before it ended sales was to deliver support for Duet Display, an app that allows you to use your display as a second screen/monitor for your PC/Mac.  

Once configured, you can easily drag open windows across to your Portal, mightily useful if you have limited desk space to accommodate multiple monitors. Use it while you can, though… the service is set to be discontinued on the June 27 2023. 

7. Use your TV as the screen

If you have Portal TV, utilise the biggest display in your home

A hand reaching to slide the camera privacy cover on the Meta Portal TVCredit: Meta

The Meta Portal TV is unique in that a) it’s the only Portal device that supports Netflix and b) it’s an Alexa-enabled, smart video-calling device, packaged up into a webcam-sized add-on designed to be plugged into a conventional TV.

That resulting difference in scale – coming from being able to conduct a video call via a (relatively) giant-sized screen instead of a small desk-bound monitor – adds a completely new dimension to the entire video-calling experience, making it feel way more natural.

Clever motion-tracking also allows the Portal TV’s camera to track you as you move within your room, allowing the sort of freedom that you’d never get from a desk-bound device.

Kulwinder Singh Rai

Written by Kulwinder Singh Rai


Kulwinder Singh Rai is a contributor to Saga Exceptional. Kulwinder has been a journalist, editor and public relations consultant for more than 30 years, specialising in technology, home entertainment and cars. During those decades he’s tested, benchmarked and written about hundreds of products for both media and manufacturers, sifting out the wheat from the chaff.

At the tail end of the last century he was there for the birth of home cinema, the arrival and transformation of the first PDAs into smartphones, as well as the invention of the digital camera. Over the years, he’s written for the likes of The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard, as well as countless technology and motoring media.

When he’s not scribbling about tech or testing the latest gear, Kulwinder can usually be found immersed in the latest sci-fi blockbuster, inevitably being played far too loudly via his Dolby Atmos home cinema system, or out for a relaxing walk with his ever-faithful companion, Barney the Poochon.