Facebook started as a bridge that joins friends and family. The bridge will now be even more sturdy with Facebook announcing its first ever physical device. On Monday, the social media platform unveiled a tablet-lookalike mini computer just useful for video calls. The device, named as Portal, comes with a screen and a speaker and is targeted for livings rooms and kitchens.
With this, the company has stepped into the emerging smart-speaker segment which is already exploding with the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple. The current smart speaker market value is approximately $11.8 billion but Research Firm International Data Corporation has estimated it to be $27.8 billion by the year 2022.
Though Facebook already sells Oculus virtual reality headsets, the all-new Portal is the company’s first consumer hardware product entirely developed within the company. And we know VR headsets have not shown the increasing popularity internet-connected smart speakers.
Facebook has launched two versions of Portal. The first one is the base model with is a 10-inch screen priced at $199. The second one is named Portal+ which comes with a 15.6-inch screen priced at $349. Initially, the two will only be available in the USA. Notably, Amazon’s Echo Show is also a video calling device with a 10.1-inch screen. Facebook’s device beats it at price at $199 to Amazon’s $229.
To activate the device, all you need is speak to the Facebook Portal. A sound of “Hey Portal” will wake it up and you can ask it to call any of your Facebook contacts using Facebook Messenger. It is required for a connection to be within Facebook Messenger for a video call.
Facebook Portal till now sports a limited number of apps including Spotify, the Food Network, Facebook Watch, and Pandora. The absence of YouTube and Netflix is annoying but the social networking giant has promised to bring many more video streaming apps.
It’s impressive to see how Facebook has packed a strong build quality giving a special attention to every part of both the screen.
“We had to build all the stacks — hardware, software, and AI from scratch — and it allowed us to build privacy into each one of these layers,” said Rafa Camargo, Facebook’s VP of Portal. “We set ourselves to answer the question, what would it take to make people feel they were in a call and to make it feel like they were hanging out in the same room.”
Facial recognition is missing from the camera software and the technology used feels outdated. There is a 2D pose that locally tracking your position so that camera can follow you. There is an extra chip installed locally to motion detection that activates with the wake-up call. This doesn’t save any data and the data sent or received is end-to-end encrypted. You can either disable the camera and mic with one tap or you can cover it with a plastic shield give that slides over the shooter while keeping the device voice controls active.
You can switch from landscape to portrait screen orientation anytime and it boasts an impressive 4-inch woofer assisting incredible sound quality. The base model looks and sounds a little bit sturdy in comparison to the Portal+. The smart camera is optimized for hands-free zoom-in and out that works very smoothly.
Despite its good build-quality and smooth functioning, video chatting sometimes will be much easier with your phone. The device is not impressing gadget gurus as a separate machine just to video call might be the last device someone would want. Over that, with so much going on in with privacy and security from Facebook, it is hard to think that it will impress consumers.