No one should buy the Facebook Portal TV

In over six years of testing tech, this is a first for me.

Megan Wollerton Former Senior Writer/Editor
5 min read

Meet the Facebook Portal TV, a $149 video chatting device I wholeheartedly don't recommend.  

Chris Monroe/CNET

When I first sat down to write this article, I struggled. A lot. Reviewing products is one of my main roles at CNET -- and yet, I had no nuanced words for the Facebook Portal TV. "Don't buy it" is all I could -- and can -- come up with. 

I ditched my own Facebook account earlier this year after covering the social media giant's original Portal video-chat-centric smart displays last fall. Like so many other folks, I had read about Cambridge Analytica and the other ways the social media giant misused user data. But the headlines surrounding Facebook are still pretty bleak.

Most recently, Facebook has been in the news for how it handles fact-checking of political ads. Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren protested with her own false ad. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin chimed in on Facebook's policy on political ads in an open letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg published last Thursday in The New York Times. "Every square inch of that is a lie and it's under your logo," Sorkin wrote regarding a Trump campaign ad on Facebook aimed at 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden that contained misinformation. "That's not defending free speech, Mark, that's assaulting truth," he added. 

Some have called for Facebook to join Twitter and stop displaying political ads, but Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg defended the decision to keep them on the site in a video posted to Twitter:

While "posts and ads from politicians are generally not subjected to fact-checking," according to a Facebook support page, it relies on the nonpartisan International Fact-Checking Network to certify fact checkers for other site content. Check Your Fact, a subsidiary of Daily Caller, is one of those third-party fact checkers. Daily Caller has published stories from white supremacists

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Facebook is also testing out Facebook News, a curated news service that includes Breitbart, a conservative outlet with a history of publishing misinformation, according to reports. (CNET and some sister sites, including CBS News, CBS Sports and ET, are also paid partners of Facebook News.)

In short, there's way too much going on with Facebook for me to recommend sticking its latest round of camera-equipped Portal devices in your home. That includes the $149 Facebook Portal TV. 

New territory

99.9999% of the products I have trouble recommending have issues related to the products themselves that are hard to overlook. They don't perform well. They cost too much. They have a weird app. Sometimes, it's all of those things combined. 

Even when there are multiple issues with one product, there's usually something that makes it recommendable to at least someone. 

I just can't get there with the Facebook Portal TV. It's a complete anomaly -- a solidly performing, decently priced device that just isn't suited for anyone because of the privacy concerns and increasingly alarming issues plaguing the social networking site. That said, here's an overview of the tech that separates the Portal TV from the 10-inch Facebook Portal smart display I reviewed back in October. This may be an antireview, but I can't close out the article without any tech talk. 


Use the remote to control the Portal TV. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The antireview

Unlike the Facebook Portal smart display, the Portal TV is a little camera-equipped webcam that tethers to your television via an HDMI cable (not included in the box). Your TV screen is your smart display; the Portal TV just provides the camera, microphone and Alexa voice capabilities. It has a built-in privacy shutter and a stand, along with a power adapter and a remote.

The Portal TV's stand doubles as a clip that can snap to the top of a TV. The TV I used for testing hangs high over a fireplace, so I stuck with the stand and simply set it on the mantle directly under the TV. Connect the HDMI cable to the Portal TV and then the TV -- then connect the power adapter to the Portal TV and a nearby outlet. Once that's done, the TV screen will light up with an image of the Portal TV remote. Pull the battery tab from the remote (the batteries are included) and use it to enter your Wi-Fi info and name the room you're in.

After that, you'll be asked to log in to your Portal TV. As with the Facebook Portal review, I borrowed a Facebook account from a co-worker to test out the Portal TV. 

Not surprisingly, it works just like the regular Portal. Call friends and family from your list of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp contacts. Use the augmented reality features to wear face filters, play games and read a children's book while becoming one of the characters in the the book -- all over video chat. All of that worked the same as the regular Portal, just on a larger screen. The larger screen is nice, though, I won't lie. It was easier to see everything, although ultimately unnecessary since the Portal TV's 12.5-megapixel sensor and 120-degree field of view is very similar to the smaller Portal's 13-megapixel sensor and 114-degree field of view.

Facebook Watch works differently on the Portal TV, and is ultimately the distinguishing feature that separates it from other Portal devices. Portal TV makes it possible to view curated Facebook Watch content with whoever you're chatting with. Think of it as a remote watch party -- the Facebook Watch video takes up most of the screen and a little square in the corner shows your friend or family member reacting to whatever you're both watching. 

Facebook Watch is extremely limited compared to streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. There are select live videos, original series and gaming videos, but that's about it. Still, you can watch the content with your contacts far away. 

The Facebook Portal TV works just fine, but in light of the various issues surrounding the company lately, it isn't a product I can recommend. 


Dave and I watched Limetown on Facebook Watch.

Chris Monroe/CNET

In short

Don't buy the Facebook Portal TV. I don't know what else to say, y'all. Ask Mark Zuckerberg. 

Originally published Nov. 5.
Update, Nov. 6: Adds note about Facebook News program.