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SEAN GLADWELL/Getty Images/Facebook Portal

  • Value: 16/20
  • Functionality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use: 20/20
  • Aesthetics: 19/20
  • Picture Quality: 20/20
  • TOTAL: 95/100
Like many families, mine has decided to celebrate the holidays safely this year due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Which meant for the first time in my life, I didn’t see my grandparents on Thanksgiving.

We knew it was going to be sad, so we decided to send my grandma a Facebook Portal in the hopes that it might make us feel more connected. The video calling device’s tagline reads “if you can’t be there, feel there with Portal,” which was exactly the vibe we were going for.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it could be much different from pulling out our laptops for a Zoom call with her. But after the first time we called my grandparents using Facebook Messenger (which you can use to call a Portal, even if you don’t have a device of your own) my family was totally convinced we needed to buy one. The picture and sound quality were great—my grandma didn’t freeze once, and the camera remained totally focused on her, following her around the the kitchen while she cooked dinner as she talked.

Luckily, the one we ordered arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. We set our Portal up at the end of the dinner table, and the camera zoomed out automatically to get all four of us in the frame. Yup, no huddling around the screen necessary. When we called my grandparents to have dinner “together,” we noticed they seemed to have a much easier time hearing us than they do over FaceTime. And the best part was that no one had to hold their phone up, or adjust their laptop since Portal is hands-free—it’s shaped like a picture frame so you can just set it down on any flat surface.

We keep the smart device set up in our kitchen, and we’ve been using it almost daily to catch up with my grandparents rather than calling or texting them. It feels almost like you’re in the same room, a feeling which you can’t get over the phone or Skype, and the easy-to-use features make impromptu calls hassle free.

The only semi-difficult part about using Portal is the initial set up process, which is a little time-consuming. Sometimes it requires a software update, and then you have to get it connected to both your wifi network and Facebook account. My uncle happened to be visiting my grandparents when theirs arrived, so he was able to help them with the process. That said, there are clear instructions for emailing, chatting or calling Portal’s support team, so they would have gotten it figured out either way.

Once it’s set up, it’s very user-friendly. When you turn it on, your Facebook contacts are displayed right on the home screen, and you can favorite the people you call most. Click on their name, and you’ll be given the option to video chat, audio call or send them a Facebook message. Not in the mood to talk to anyone? Portal comes with apps like Spotify, Pandora and a web browser built in so you can listen to music or browse the internet using the touchscreen.

My advice? Gift your loved ones a Portal if you’re going to be apart this holiday season. These days, we need all the connection we can get, and this gadget has made 2020 a little more bearable.

$179 at Amazon

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