Hey, Portal…

One of the most difficult aspects of leaving our home has been leaving our children and grandchildren.  Our oldest daughter, Caitlin, lived next door to us with her two children Emma and Ezekiel (Zeek), so we saw them all the time.  It was a little easier for our younger daughter, Sydney, since she was off at college, but she would come home as often as possible to visit.  It might be months before we have the opportunity to see them again and Rachel wanted to find a way to keep in touch with them in a more meaningful way than just voice calls.

It can be especially difficult for grandchildren.  While talking on the phone is fine, it creates a separation that can make them uncomfortable in person.  I know I was always a bit uncomfortable around my grandparents because I only saw them two days a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas).  My grandma was nice and easy enough to talk to, but my grandfather was a crotchety man.  Very much like Red on That 70’s Show, except with less warmth and not as open minded.   I don’t believe I ever had a one-on-one conversation with him.

To try to relieve the concern that our grandkids would not know us we looked at options for video communications.  Rachel and I have been loath to use devices like Alexa or Dot because we already have our phones listening to everything we say.  The idea of having a video camera monitoring everything has little appeal.

However, in the end our desire to keep close ties with our kids outweighed our concerns over privacy.  We opted for the newly released Facebook Portal.  We chose it for several reasons.  First, it comes with a handy little clip that slides over the camera so even if someone is able to remotely access the portal they can’t see anything.  Second, you can contact people without a  Portal through Facebook Messenger if they have that app installed on a phone or tablet.  Since Sydney has a Google Pixel phone we couldn’t use Facetime on our iPhones to have video calls.  We wanted to be able to have both our daughters on the video call at the same time.  The Portal seemed like a good option.

Privacy concerns aside, Portal is a great device.  It responds very well to voice commands.  Just say, “Hey Portal, call so-and-so” and it does it.  By far, the best feature is the camera.  It has great video quality.  It is also capable of following you around as you move, so you don’t need to sit still while you are on a call.  It will even zoom in on different people talking in the same room.  This is especially good for the grandkids who are incapable of remaining still for more than 2 seconds.  Children are very animated and the camera does a good job of keeping up with them.  It also has what it calls “augmented reality effects”.  It adds cat faces, werewolf effects, etc. in real time.  While this is a bit silly for me, the girls have a lot of fun with it and make each other laugh, which is always a good thing!

Where we are currently located we do not have particularly good cell service or wifi.  While we have to make Portal calls off peak times, it does very well even with less than stellar connections.  Just prior to this writing, we had a Portal call with both girls and the video was smooth and the audio didn’t crackle or break up.  If you are in an area with solid wifi there is no problem with handling multiple participants.

I don’t have any regrets in buying the Portal.  It really does help make us feel more connected to our family.  I would recommend them to anyone who has family or friends that they do not get to see as often as they’d like.  Just make sure you slide that little cover over the lens when you’re done.  😀