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Facebook Portal: Echo Show rival officially announced by Facebook

As well as the base model, there will be a high-end Portal+

Facebook finally officially announced its new Portal video chat device today.

Portal-based rumours have been around since a DigiTimes report last year, and the California-based firm originally planned to announce the device at its annual F8 developer conference in May. However, the Cambridge Analytica revelations led to a lengthy delay, due to privacy concerns.

Zuckerburg and co will be hoping that enough time has passed for consumers not to be worried about privacy concerns, as Facebook attempts to challenge the market dominance of the Amazon Echo Show.

Facebook Portal: Everything you need to know

My first reaction when I read the word “portal” is to think of a certain well-known first-person shooter/puzzle game. But alas, Facebook has not invented the portal gun just yet (although I’m sure it’s in Zuckerburg’s schedule somewhere). This product is more like a smart speaker with a screen.

This is the first product of its kind ever produced by Facebook, and is also the company’s first foray into selling its own consumer hardware outside of Oculus.

Facebook also has a less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to privacy, so it remains to be seen whether people will be keen to have an ‘always-listening’ device made by the company in their home.

Facebook Portal: Price and release date

Facebook is launching two versions of the new device: Portal and Portal+. They will retail at $199 and $349 respectively in the US.

For a bit of perspective, the aforementioned Amazon Echo Show currently retails at $230, so Facebook’s device will start a little cheaper than its closest rival.

You can currently receive $100 off any two devices, which brings the combined cost to $298. This offer is currently available on pre-orders in the US.

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As for a release date, the new device is available for preorder from Amazon, Best Buy and Facebook’s website in the US from today (9 October). Shipping will begin in November, but the social media giant has not yet given an exact date.

Unfortunately, Facebook has no plans to roll out the device in the UK “at the moment” – the wording of their press statement does hint at the possibility, however.

The social media company is keen to make clear that Portal users can call Facebook friends and connections on Messenger even if they don’t own the device, which should help make the transition a little easier.

Stay tuned to this page for news of a worldwide release, as and when we get it.

Facebook Portal: Design, key features and specs

As for design, Portal and Portal+ will feature 10in 1,280 x 800 720p and 15in 1,920 x 1,080 1080p HD displays respectively. The screen is made from Gorilla Glass 3, which should help make it suitably smash-proof.

The whole display is on a pivoting mechanism, which will allow you to opt for a horizontal or vertical setup, depending on what suits your needs.

On the base model, the camera is embedded within the main device, whereas on Portal+ it sticks out the top on what looks like a rather sizeable notch.

It is available in two colours: black or white. Credit to Facebook for keeping it simple in that respect.

Inside, Facebook is keen to make a song and dance about Portal’s ‘Smart Camera’ and ‘Smart Sound’ capabilities.

The former is a 12-megapixel camera with 140 degrees field of view. It is AI-powered and will automatically pan and zoom to track movement and keep everyone in the picture in view.

‘Smart Sound’ is essentially the audio equivalent. It will enhance the voice of whoever is talking, even as they move around the room, minimising background noise in the process. The sound will be picked up a four separate microphones, and produced by two 10W speakers on the base model, and a single 4in bass speaker on Portal+.

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Supported apps include Spotify (if you have a premium subscription), Pandora and Food Network, amongst others. You can also use the device as an extremely expensive picture frame when you’re not on a call, as photos and videos on your Facebook profile will automatically be downloaded.

Saying “hey Portal” and then the name of whoever you’d like to speak to will automatically start your call. Somewhat surprisingly, Portal also has Amazon’s Alexa built in, meaning you can use this tool to check weather and traffic conditions, amongst other things.

One report from CNBC inferred that Facebook was planning to introduce its own voice assistant called ‘Marvin’. We’re gutted this didn’t happen – Marvin is a far superior name.

For connectivity, you’ve got 2.4GHz & 5GHz MIMO Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth version 4.2 on both models.

Naturally, Facebook is keen to let consumers know that their information won’t be unknowingly transmitted.

The AI technology in the Smart Camera and Sound systems is local, rather than linked to Facebook’s servers, and information is automatically deleted after every call. You can also completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap, and both devices come with a camera cover.

Thank god it only took the one worldwide scandal to force Facebook’s hand into including these features, eh?

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Facebook Portal: Early verdict

It’s still early days for the smart-speaker-with-a-screen genre as a whole, but it’s refreshing to see an attempt to challenge the Echo Show’s market dominance.

As previously stated, Facebook’s previous forays into the world of hardware have been, well, almost non-existent. It’s good to have a bit of excitement and a venture into the unknown, though, in the age of microscopic annual updates to smartphones and tablets.

Will Facebook be able to make the video chat device for the home a mainstay of the tech industry? We will have to wait and see.