Facebook is the newest contender in the smart home speaker segment with the launch of the new Portal home and Portal+ . However, those aren’t exactly smart speakers so to say, as the new Portal devices are more tuned for video calls than anything else.
Available in two size options, the base Portal device comes with a 10-inch 720p display and is priced $199. After that, there is the 15.6-inch version with a 1080p display and will naturally be costlier at $349. There is a $50 rebate applicable on both devices as a one-time offer for the initial buyers who place their orders before November 12, which is also when the device will start to ship. Meanwhile, both the Portal version will have the same 12MP camera though the Portal will come with a 10 w speaker while the same on the Portal+ will be of 20 w.
The Portal also shares quite some similarity with the Echo Show, or for that matter, any speaker with an integrated display. That isn’t all as the Portal too is powered by Alexa, though the Amazon smart digital assistant has a vastly curtailed role here on the Facebook device. For the Portal is basically a device that comes with its own web cam as well as the display to make video calls. Towards that, it will also respond to ‘Hey Portal’ when users are ready to make a video call.
Also, it isn’t just for a one-to-one chat as the Portal range can suffice for group chats as well, with the ability to accommodate 6 participants at a time. The Portal will also allow users to connect with those on Messenger, with a notification sent out each time a friend is available to chat. Facebook said the Portal will even be able to communicate with those who might not have the speaker installed at their end.
The camera on the Portal is also backed by smart software that enables it to follow users as they move around in their homes, thereby ensuring the user is always in focus. And when there are more people in the room, the camera will automatically enlarge its field of view to 140-degrees to include all.
Then there are fun bits built into the device as well. Christened Story Time, this allows for the ability to add music, animation, AR effects and such. That isn’t all as users will also have the option to sync tune from Pandora or Spotify that they might be listening to. Unfortunately, that’s all about it as the device isn’t able to playback YouTube or Netflix videos which can be considered a criminal waste of the huge displays it comes with.
So far so good though the Portal does bring back privacy concerns that has off late been a bugbear with all things related to Facebook. And the social media company does not have a sterling record when it comes to upholding user’s privacy. Interestingly, the company is also offering a clip in the package that serves to block the view of the camera if a user’s so want. However, it remains to be seen if that along with the several other software related privacy settings would be enough to convince buyers to actually buy a Portal device.