Facebook’s Portal+ and Portal Video Calling Devices Have Arrived
Recent hardware releases, however, have started to integrate screens to smart home controls control centers such as Amazon’s Echo Show and Lenovo’s Smart Display. Google’s recent foray into the smart home control center with a screen with the new Google Home Hub, shows that this device category is here to stay.
An obvious addition to these devices video calls. Currently, only Amazon’s Echo Show has this function. Quite honestly though, the feature on Amazon devices still seems a bit incomplete. The fixed angle, for example, makes placement an absolutely critical decision if you’re using it as video call device. The Echo is still primarily a smart home control center.
Enter Facebook Portal. It kind of looks like it’s made with the same purpose as the new devices, but upon closer inspection, you’d find that it’s almost a completely different product. Sure, it has Amazon’s Alexa built-in but it’s a video call device first before it’s a smart home control center.
It comes in two variants – the Portal and the Portal+. The latter is a $349 15-incher while the former is a $199 10-incher.
The touchscreens are decent with the Portal+ maxing out at 1080p and the smaller Portal with 800p. They’re not blindingly crisp 4k displays but for video chats, the pixel density is more than enough.
Another distinguishing factor of the pricier Portal+ aside from screen size is the its ability to swivel from landscape to portrait orientations. This is especially useful because of the vast methods that people can use to call users on the portal. Whether you’re being called on mobile device or on a PC, the orientation and pixel density on the screens can be fully utilized.
While the screens are good enough for video watching, their limited to Amazon’s services such as Amazon Prime Video. So, if you consume content from other video sharing websites such as YouTube, then you’re out of luck.
Both Facebook Portals have excellent sound quality that rivals the best Bluetooth audio speakers currently out there. This is an important part of the product as the video calling quality relies heavily on the audio quality. They’re loud and clear enough so that you can hear the person you’re calling even from across the room. This makes it an extremely great device to listen to music on as well. It produces powerful bass and extra crisp vocals on any track. It helps that these devices have Spotify Premium and Pandora readily available.
On the flipside, the microphones are also excellently tweaked for video calls. It minimizes background noise and does a great job at isolating and enhancing speech. This helps eliminate misunderstandings on video calls.
The camera is perhaps the headlining feature on both Portals. They both have A.I. enhanced cameras that has what Facebook likes to call the Smart Camera. What it enables the Portal to do is track the person who’s talking and focus in on them automatically. In essence, it can follow the speaker across a room. It can also zoom automatically depending on who’s talking and pan if the A.I. realizes that having everyone in the frame is the user’s desired effect.
However, if you want to focus on something else in the frame, the Portal’s focus can also be manually adjusted at the tap of the screen.
The interface on these devices have a combination of Facebook and Amazon developed software. It’s a surprisingly excellent integration that’s well executed on both the Portals.
For video calls, Facebook’s software with the camera tracking features are in place. Facebook’s fun effects are also included in the software. In essence, users can employ the different A.R. effects currently available in the social network’s video call library.
Furthermore, there are other animations and A.R. integration called Story Time that superimposes visual guides to help in storytelling. It’s an extremely useful features especially for parents who often have to travel. With Story Time, parents can still give their kids an immersive story before bed time.
It also comes with Alexa, Amazon’s smart home control center platform. So, from the Portal, users can integrate Alexa enabled smart devices such as smart lights and smart thermostats. Users can also do quick queries such as sport scores and weather reports.
These features are accessible with voice and touch controls so you don’t even have to come close to the display to access them.
Basically, Facebook’s Portal is hardware optimized for Facebook Messenger video chats. As such, these devices should be able to make and take calls from any Facebook Messenger-equipped device such as your smartphone or PC.
Facebook having such a vast base, the Portal instantly become a powerful communication tool that has potential applications in both home and office use.
Facebook heavily highlights it as secure device to do video chats on. True enough, it does have security features that seem useful such as the one touch disabling of both camera and microphone. Both devices also ship with a camera cover for added security.
Furthermore, Facebook is also upfront with the data collected from the Portals. In its website, the company discloses what and where data from the Portals are collected.
The ubiquity of Facebook makes the Portal and Portal+ devices totally relevant in today’s circumstances. It’s hardware that’s in line with the company’s mission of connecting people. The features are also ready for prime time in the sense that levels up an already usable experience in both mobile and PC and makes it even closer to the perfect video calling device.
However, some are worried especially since Facebook also just got busted quite recently for a massive data breach. The A.I. features on these devices make them seem pretty scary in a world where privacy and security are threatened. Even if Facebook’s claims are true, these data breaches may just be too much for some potential users.