There’s no shortage of ambient noise apps currently available for Apple devices, but Portal has a few tricks up its sleeve which sets it apart from other mindfulness competitors.
Nothing to do with Facebook’s video calling device or the classic Valve game, Portal instead pitches itself as a productivity app, offering up a wide range of calming nature-focused sound beds that are intended to transform your actual surroundings and help you focus or wind down.
There’s dozens of soundscapes to listen to including forests, waterfalls, and beaches, with the app also offering equally peaceful images on screen for your selected environment.
While you can listen over your speakers, where things get interesting is with Portal’s use of spatial audio, with the app able to harness the dynamic head tracking feature on the likes of AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max, allowing you to turn towards certain sounds as they swirl around you.
Smart light integration for deeper immersion
There’s also integration with Philips Hue smart lights and bulbs, with the app able to provide complementing color schemes that sync to match the environment selected.
Once fired up, the app presents you with three options – Focus, Sleep or Escape. In Focus mode, you’re encouraged to choose a single task you want to focus on and set a timer to work on that item, with an appreciated natural soundtrack played during that period.
Sleep mode meanwhile allows you to set an alarm to go off, or a sleep timer to stop the audio, while the Escape option provides deep breathing exercises for meditation.
Previously only available for iPhone and iPad, a recent update brought Mac compatibility, making its Focus mode far more useful.
From an Amazon thunderstorm, to the birdsong from a breezy barley field in Devon, the addition of binaural 3D audio certainly adds a layer of immersion to the environments and from what’s normally offered by this sort of app. But the big question is whether that’s enough for you to justify Portal’s subscription fees.
While there’s a free 7-day trial, a subscription is needed for unlimited access to the full library of sounds along with the smart lighting and spatial audio features, which is priced at $9.99 per month, $49.99 per year, or $249.99 with a lifetime purchase.
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Kevin Lynch is a London-born, Dublin-based writer and journalist.
He started out as a music writer in the late 1990s, before moving to the Daily Mirror to become the newspaper’s technology editor, during which time he wrote a weekly column that saw him chart the boom of consumer tech and gaming as well as the resurrection and rise of Apple Inc.
He has also served as editor of GuinnessWorldRecords.com and has been a member of the judging panel for the BAFTA British Academy Video Game Awards.