With a new update today, the Facebook Portal can be used exclusively with a WhatsApp log-in and calls — no Facebook account needed. Previously, the Portal could call people on WhatsApp, but callers still needed to create and log in with an active Facebook account.
This should be good news for anyone interested in the Portal, but who either didn’t have a Facebook account or didn’t trust Facebook (reasonable!), to have a video-chat device in their home. The original countertop Portal and the new Portal TV are genuinely great video-chatting devices, with clear pictures, easy-to-use interfaces, fun face filters, and a smart camera that makes it seamless to have several people onscreen (even little ones who move around a lot). The Portal TV is even better than the countertop device because it’s a tiny gizmo that turns your TV into a video chat, rather than a bulky device with a screen the size of an iPad. In BuzzFeed News’ review of these products, I wholeheartedly recommend them as fun and entertaining.
Of course, I also realize that nobody wants one in their home, because, you know…what dummy would allow an always-on Facebook video camera into their home? No matter how private and secure the company promises the Portal is (and honestly, it’s pretty secure!), a lot of people are turned off by it being a Facebook product.
Now you can use WhatsApp to log in and make calls to other WhatsApp users. (Previously, you could make video calls to someone’s phone, for which they didn’t need a Portal as well.) Yes, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, so technically you’re still using some sort of Zuckerberg-controlled calling. WhatsApp calls are end-to-end encrypted, which is more secure than just the Portal via Messenger calls. And while the content of your Portal calls isn’t used for advertising, some basic data, like how often you use it, is (you might see more Facebook ads for video-calling, for example). But if you’re using WhatsApp, you can avoid all that.
While the Portal is still only sold in the US, Canada, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, and New Zealand, adding WhatsApp log-in might make the device more appealing when Facebook eventually starts selling them in huge markets where the messaging service is dominant, like India or Brazil.
In addition to the WhatsApp log-in, Portal is adding a few new features, like additional titles from the Llama Llama kids’ series and Little Red Riding Hood for its “storytime” feature, as well as the ability to co-watch videos over Amazon Prime (previously you could only co-watch Facebook Watch shows). The new features will roll out starting today.