Facebook released their own video-calling device, and the jury is still out on whether or not people will choose it over the available Amazon and Google devices, as well as the built-in Facetime option for Apple device users.
Facebook Portal is here, and they are not being shy about advertising the device. The video-calling device is meant to make you feel like you are with your loved ones, even when you can’t be there. The main feature that they push is the Smart Camera, which follows you around and keeps everyone in frame. That means you don’t have to sit in one place, carry your device around, or constantly adjust; you can just keep doing whatever you’d be doing anyway so it feels less like a video call and more like you’re just hanging out.
Facebook Portal allows you to contact any of your Facebook contacts, even if they don’t have a Portal device themselves. Since Facebook video calling goes through their Messenger service, your contact just needs to have Messenger and any video-enabled device like a smartphone or a tablet.
When Portal is not being used for video calling, it can be used in similar ways to a smart home speaker. Portal is even Alexa-enabled, so it can help you search the Internet and can even access and control your smart home devices. Other than that, Portal can display images that you have added to Facebook, play music from popular sites like Spotify and Pandora, and access the Facebook video feature.
Here are some of the features of the Facebook devices:
- 12-megapixel front-facing camera
- Large HD screen
- 4-mic array with 360-degree pickup
- Ambient light sensor
- Available in two sizes:
- The Portal has a 720p or 1200×800 (WXGA) resolution, with a stationary mode
- The Portal+ with 1080p or 1920×1080 (FHD) resolution, and can be used in landscape or portrait mode
Though Facebook claims that Portal was “created with privacy, safety and security in mind” and that it “has clear and simple settings, so you stay in control,” people are still pretty wary when it comes to Facebook and privacy. There have been several high-profile incidences where Facebook has been questioned on how they collect and use data – including the platform’s role in spreading questionable materials pertaining to the 2016 election. Here are some of the ways they list to ensure our privacy:
- Completely disable the camera
- Portal conversations are not listened to, viewed, or recorded by Facebook
- The Smart Camera is not connected to Facebook servers; it does not use facial recognition and isn’t collecting data on who you are (and then using that data along with keywords in your conversations to target you with ads and recommend content in your Facebook feed).
- Though the device is voice-enabled and so needs to be “always listening,” the only time your inquiries are sent to Facebook servers is after you have actively used the wake phase “Hey Portal” to give a command.
Facebook is entering a space that is getting crowded, with a reputation that is not enviable. I’m not sure that it is going to take a lead here, but I’m interested to see how it all plays out.