Facebook is adding web browser & Instant Games Portal video chat devices

A new update out today for Facebook's Portal 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, Facebook.com, 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 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 the device doesn't have a built-in app store of any kind. But these new 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 to bring the documentary and short film series The Great Big Story to Portal, starting with what Facebook says is “a library of compelling human interest stories.” It's also working with CNN to bring general news stories and top headlines of the day to Portal, as well as with ABC News for a nonstop live news channel and an on-demand news digest. (ABC, CNN, and The Great Big Story will all be separate apps on Portal, Facebook clarified.)

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.

Update 12/14, 4:40PM ET: Clarified that CNN, the CNN-owned series The Great Big Story, and ABC News are all offering different content and will exist on Portal as three separate apps.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated you could not access your Facebook feed from Portal. That is incorrect; with the new browser, you can log in to Facebook.com and view your feed that way. Facebook is also partnering with ABC News, not NBC News.

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