Advent and a fancy new bit of kit from Facebook

By | December 2, 2019

Well – it’s officially December, so the kids had me pull out the tree and get the decorations up yesterday.  A bit early for my blood, but at least it was a good excuse for a mince pie!

It also means they’ve started their advent calendar.  We’ve got quite a nice one that we get out every year – it tells the story of The Nutcracker in 24 tiny little books that you can hang the tree.  But there’s another type of advent calendar that can be fun if you’ve got a phone or tablet.

Every year, people make little apps with a different Christmas-themed mini-game, puzzle, quiz or story each day – hidden behind a “door”, just like on a physical advent calendar.  I’ve got one called Advent Calendar 2019 by ComLev on my Android phone – but there are loads of them. If you fancy having a go, just type Advent Calendar into your app store and see what you find.

Facebook Portal

I was browsing the web the other day and came across an advert for a new bit of kit called the Facebook Portal.  Sounds a bit Star Trek, I know, but I’ll let them off this time…

I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they’re basically a fancy webcam designed especially for video calling.  You can get stand-alone versions that either look like a tablet or a photo frame – but I think the coolest-sounding one is the Portal TV.

You attach it to the top of your TV – then when you call someone on it, you can see them on the big screen.  The sound uses your TV speakers as well, so you shouldn’t have any trouble hearing what they’re saying.

The bit I think’s really clever with the Portal, though, is the camera.  It automatically zooms and pans. So it follows you as you move around the room, and zooms out when it needs to to bring other people into shot.  

It’s got clever microphones as well that kind-of focus in on the person who’s talking, and filter out background noise so you can hear them more clearly.

That means you can just turn the thing on, make a call, and then get on with cooking or whatever while you chat on the phone.  I used to do that all the time when I just made voice calls, but it’s always been harder with video calls.

They’re made by Facebook, so they’re set up to use Facebook Messenger video calling rather than Skype.  But it looks like you can use WhatsApp on them as well if you prefer.

They are quite pricey, though – the TV version is £149 and the stand-alone ones start from £129.  But if you use video calling a lot, it could be a good investment. If you know you want one, they are reduced at the moment in their Black Friday sale – but only until the end of the day today.  Chances are, they’ll be reduced again after Christmas, though – this sort of thing usually is. (By the way, If any of you do decide to get one, I’d love to hear what you think of it.)

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