Facebook is there on the front page again, and this time it is the home video chat devices, the Portal and Portal Plus, are going on sale today, which is exactly a month after they were initially announced.
The products are almost exclusively meant for video chatting. Also, even if they display photos, play music, and support a small number of video networks, their feature set is very limited at launch and users can’t even browse Facebook on them.
Now, this is primarily meant to use them to chat with people over Facebook Messenger, and Facebook has built in some smart camera tricks to make that easier. Both the devices have a single, fixed camera at the top, but the camera would zoom in and follow users around, so that they don’t have to bother themselves of holding a phone up to the face while chatting. That way, users might move throughout a room and remain engaged on a call.
But the story of this product isn’t just what it can and can’t do. The concept mainly states that whether people would be willing to bring a Facebook-connected mic and camera into their home at all. Facebook has emphasized the privacy features built in here (there’s an off button that completely deactivates the camera), but that might not be enough to comfort those already skeptical of the company, which has been beset with recent privacy scandals.
Talking of specs and features, Portal has a 10-inch 1280×800 pixels display and Portal+ brings a 15-inch 1920×1080 pixels pivoting display. The Portal devices supports group calls of up to seven people at the same time. Also, powered by artificial intelligence, Portal’s “Smart Camera” automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view, and its “Smart Sound” enhances the voice of whoever is talking. The devices allow users to make hands-free voice calls by saying “Hey Portal” and stating who they would like to call. Portal also has an in built Amazon Alexa, so users can ask a question, set a timer, add items to shopping list, control smart home, and more.
Both the Portal and Portal Plus are shipping today. Also, they would be available from Facebook’s website, as well as through Best Buy and Amazon, which would also list the devices in stores. The smaller Portal sells for $199, and the larger Portal Plus goes for $349. Also at the launch, users might fetch a $100 discount if brought two at once and this definitely makes some sense, since users would probably want another Portal user to chat with.
Facebook here concluded that, “Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, so this information cannot be used for advertising. In addition, Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure. You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log. We don’t use Portal voice commands to target ads”.