Video calling isn’t exactly new — with options like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype, we’ve been able to connect with people from all over the world for years. However, just this morning, Facebook announced two new devices specially designed for video calling and they’re called Portal and Portal+.
What makes Portal different from just pulling up FaceTime on an iPad? Well, there are a couple things. First, there’s AI technology built right into the device. Facebook puts this tech to use through a feature called Smart Camera, which pans and zooms the camera around to keep everyone in view during the call, eliminating the need to move the device around. They also have a feature called Smart Sound, which keeps background noise to a minimum and enhances the voice of the person talking, no matter where they are.
Portal is based on the video calling feature available through the Facebook Messenger platform. Both parties don’t have to have a Portal device, rather one can have a regular phone with the Messenger app installed while the other is using a Portal device for the call. However, Portal does integrate Alexa voice control by enabling hands-free voice calling. So, you can start a call by saying “Hey Portal” and then who you’d like to call. Other features of Alexa are still enabled, so you can get the latest on sports, weather, control your smart home, and more.
Facebook has also partnered with Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy in order to bring these services to the screen of the Portal. In a way, Portal is like the Google Smart Displays, expect with an emphasis on video calling and with Alexa instead of Google Assistant.
For those of you concerned about the privacy aspects of these new devices, Facebook has listed how they put security and privacy at the top of their list:
We know that privacy and security are important when you bring new technology into your home. That’s why we designed Portal with tools that give you control:
- You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap.
- Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can easily block your camera’s lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands.
- To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Changing the passcode requires your Facebook password.
We also want to be up front about what information Portal collects, help people understand how Facebook will use that information, and explain the steps we take to keep it private and secure:
- Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.
- For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.
- Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.
Portal has a 10-inch, 1280 x 800 display while Portal+ has a 15-inch, 1920 x 1080 pivoting display. Portal and Portal+ are available right now for pre-order in the US at portal.facebook.com, plus Amazon and Best Buy. They’ll begin shipping in November. Portal will cost $199 and Portal+ will cost $349.