Facebook has moved into the hardware field with a couple of alternatives to Amazon’s Echo Show.
Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget meant to make video calls easier and more intuitive. By purposefully excluding many features, the Portal becomes purely a music-playing and video-chatting device.
Portal and Portal Plus make it easy to keep in touch with friends and family when you can’t see them face-to-face in real life. And Pandora, iHeart Radio and other streaming services can be played through the built-in speakers.
The $199 Portal looks similar to the new Echo Show with its 10-inch, 1280×800 touchscreen, but its speaker sits at the bottom edge, facing the user.
During a conversation, the integrated camera can automatically zoom out to include a second person, or be instructed to follow a certain individual as they walk around, even picking out their voice over background noise.
A four mic array picks up voices for voice recognition and calling, while the stereo speakers included are capable of 10W total output.
Created to rival the Amazon Echo Show, the Portal will retail for $199 (around £150 / AU$280), whereas the larger model, the Portal+, will cost $349 (£270 / AU$495), with Facebook’s current deal of $100 off any two devices meaning you can get both for $298 if you’re a U.S. customer. A camera cover can be used to hide the camera away, and there’s also a way to prevent video and sound recording.
First going on sale in the U.S. in November, Portal will come with a 10in display for video calls, or a 15in display on the Portal+. Both come in white or black.
Facebook also touts Amazon Alexa integration, but it’s unclear how deeply Amazon’s voice assistant is embedded into these devices.
There were 17 billion video calls made on Messenger in 2017, double the number in 2016, according to official data.
If multiple people are in front of the camera, the Portal will use a wide-angle lens to fit everyone in. The smaller of the two options, the Portal, offers a 10-inch display, while the Portal+ jumps up to a 15-inch display that can pivot between portrait and landscape modes.
Facebook is marketing the device, called Portal, as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat with one another without having to fuss with positioning and other controls.
Portal represents Facebook’s entry into that fray. Smart Camera helps you read a fun story via a simple teleprompter, perfectly framed, while your loved ones on the other side watch as your face and voice transform into the story’s characters. If you splash out on two Portals, you can save $100, with a pair costing just $298. You will also use your existing Facebook or Facebook Messenger account to sign in.
The Portal is available for preorder online and will arrive in stores in November.