Facebook today announced its first consumer hardware product: Facebook Portal. Portal is a video conferencing device that lets Facebook users video chat effortlessly. As Facebook said in announcing the product:
What if you could easily connect with your closest friends and family and feel like you’re in the same room — even when you’re miles apart? Today, we’re excited to announce Portal and Portal+, two new video communication devices for the home that dramatically change the way we keep in touch. Thanks to AI technology, Portal makes video calling easier and more like hanging out, while a widescreen display lets you enjoy every moment together. When you can’t be there, Portal and Portal+ let you feel there.
Two Facebook Portal Products
The company is launching not one, but two Portal products. The first is simply called Portal while the second is called Portal+. The entry-level Portal will feature a 10in 1280 x 800 display that remains stationary. The high-end Portal+ features a 15in 1920×1080 pivoting display. Yep, it rotates around so the camera can track who is speaking.
Facebook says that your friends won’t need their own Portal to accept calls either. The social media giant says calls can be made from a Portal to another Portal or any device, such as a smartphone or tablet, that has the Messenger app installed.
Facebook also announced Portal features voice control and Amazon’s Alexa built-in. “Portal offers hands-free voice control. You can start a video call simply by saying ‘Hey Portal’ and noting who you’d like to call,” the company notes. And with Alexa, you can access the best skills Amazon’s platform has to offer.
There are also two other hardware features built into Portal: “Smart Camera stays with the action and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view. Smart Sound minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking, no matter where they move,” the company says.
And it wouldn’t be video conferencing in 2018 if you couldn’t add AR overlays onto your video messages. Portal will let you add custom sound effects and visuals in a feature Facebook calls Story Time.
Facebook obviously understand that plenty of people don’t trust the company with their data after the recent data breaches and other associated scandals. But Facebook says portal was designed with privacy in mind and points out the following:
- You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap.
- Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can easily block your camera’s lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands.
- To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Changing the passcode requires your Facebook password.
- Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.
- For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.
- Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.
Whether or not that satiates your concerns is up to you.
Portal isn’t available for sale yet, but the company is taking pre-orders in the US. You can buy Portal for $199 USD and Portal+ for $349 USD. Facebook is also offering $100 USD off any two devices — this means a bundle of two Portal devices will be priced at $298 USD, so you can share the experience right out of the box.
Portal will ship in November.