A new update out today for Facebook’s Portal devices adds some much-needed features to the dedicated video chat screens. Now, both the smaller, standard Portal and the larger Portal+ version will be able to access the web through a custom-built browser. That opens up the devices to a proper version of YouTube and any number of other news and entertainment sites. (Portal could access YouTube before, but only its rudimentary smart TV version.) In addition to a browser, Facebook is also launching support for its Instant Games platform on Portal, starting with titles like Battleship and Words with Friends.
This update should go a long way in helping reposition Portal as not just a standalone video chat device and more in line with a proper Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub. When Portal was first announced in October, the device didn’t have much of a reason to exist beyond giving Facebook a way to try its hand at hardware. But the number of people who seemingly feel comfortable bringing a Facebook camera and microphone into their homes seemed slim, especially after reviewers largely panned it for its total lack of feature support and third-party apps.
Now, with a proper browser and Instant Games support, Portal sounds like a much more viable smart home device. The gadget still has a long way to go before it can rightfully rival an Amazon or Google product — there’s still no Netflix, and you can’t even browse your Facebook feed on it. But these features will certainly make it more appealing to anyone who might have been on the fence before, though that category of consumer might be rare.
Facebook has a few other features bundled in with this update. It’s worked with CNN and NBC News to bring the documentary and short film series Great Big Story to Portal, starting with what Facebook says is “a library of compelling human interest stories.” There’s also a new manual mode for the Portal camera, some new AR effects for video calls, in-call music sharing via iHeartRadio (Portal also supports standard Spotify and Pandora playback), and a new nickname calling feature that will let you use custom names for family members, like mom or brother, that are based on your relationships established via Facebook profiles.