I know you have seen the Commercials for the New Portal by Facebook. A camera that follows you around while you are on a video-chat is a pretty cool device, Facebook has totally reinvented video-chat. You can be thousands of miles away and feel like your in the same room during a call.
I will be reviewing the New Portal by Facebook, is it worth the cost? What is it? How does it work? What about security? What is everyone saying? I am going to go over everything related to the new Portal and answer some questions that you may have been wondering about.
The Portal is developed and manufactured by Facebook and was released on November 8, 2018. Facebook wanted to show off the Portal at their F8 Developer Conference this past May but, decided to hold off due to their multiple data privacy scandals. They recently had breach affecting another 50 million users in September 2018.
The Portal is the first technical gadget Facebook has on the market and they are trying to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google in the home assistant devices. Facebook ran an experimental project called M, a text based virtual assistant. Facebook used human workers to train an artificial intelligent system. It was only made available to about 2,000 people in California and was discontinued in January 2018.
Let us dive right in and see what this new Facebook technical gadget is all about.
What is It?
The Portal by Facebook is a video-chat and smart speaker device. Facebook believes video-chat is broken so, they came up with a solution to the problem. With the Portal you can move and talk freely with the innovative technology of the smart camera. You never have to worry about being out of frame or missing a moment with loved ones.
You can call friends and family even if they don’t have a Portal. Calls can be made from and to smartphones and tablets with no compatibility issues. Just imagine, Grandma can now read the grand kids a bed time story while seeing everything going on in the room and with Story Time, the stories are interactive. It is like being there without actually being there.
Need a home assistant? The Portal has Alexa built in and is a voice-controlled home assistant and smart speaker. You can look up a cooking video while in the kitchen and never miss a step in the recipe. You can turn the downstairs lights off with a single voice command. You can even create your shopping list without having to look for a pen or better yet, just order your groceries and have them delivered without picking up a phone or getting into the car.
When the Portal is not being used, it doubles as a fancy digital photo frame. The Portal displays photos you have posted on your Facebook feed so, you never have to download photos onto a memory sick to display on your digital photo frame. Unless the camera and microphone are manually shut off, they default to always on, listening for commands and monitoring to see whether someone is in the room.
How does it work?
Let’s dig a little deeper into the Portal by Facebook. I know you would like to know all the features that the Portal comes with and how it compares to other smart devices that are on the market.
There are 2 versions of the Portal, a 10.1-inch version and a 15.6-inch one called, the Portal Plus. Both have the same operating systems but their appearance is vastly different. The Portal has a screen fixed in a horizontal position with a speaker that makes up its base.
The Portal Plus is a unique looking device, it seems to hover over the table. The screen can rotate 90 degrees for a wider view of the caller on the other end. A side view of the Portal, reveals the display is mounted on the back of an L-shaped looking speaker and base.
The Portal has a smart camera that can identify (Not Facial Recognition) people within view of the device’s wide-angle camera. It has a 12-megapixel camera on the front, and a big, bright HD screen so you can see the person on the other end of the call.
With Facebook claiming people spend 1.5 Billion minutes on video-chat calls every day, they wanted to invent a device to make the video-chat call experience more pleasurable. The Portal uses an AI-powered camera to pan, zoom and re-frame the picture, allowing you move freely and naturally around.
You no longer have the inconvenience of sitting in front of a computer or holding your smart phone for long periods at a time. You can sit the Portal on the counter and carry on a conversation with anyone on your Facebook Friends List.
You can even video-chat with multiple people, have a conference call or connect with several friends and have a party. There is no reason to miss out on an event because you are across the country. When you’re on a video-chat call, you can even add Snapchat-like effects, like a bunny ears and nose. A Facebook account is required for video-chat calls.
Stream Music, Watch Videos, and Share a Story.
With the Portal you can stream music you’re listening to via Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or Pandora. Shared songs are synchronized for both you and the person you’re chatting with. Portal users can also watch videos from Facebook Watch, Discovery’s Food Network and E.W. Scripps’ Newsy, with more networks coming soon.
Another great feature is Story Time. Currently there are 5 interactive story books and Facebook is working with book publishers for more books. When you launch Story Time, your screen becomes a teleprompter displaying the book on the screen. The person on the other end will hear your voice as you read and sees drawings and animations. The animations maybe you with a Snapchat-like effect.
What about Security and Privacy?
With all the talk of Facebook security and privacy issues lately, this is a real concern for a lot of users. Facebook even delayed the launch of the Portal due to the security breach back at the first of the year as I stated above. Timing is everything.
The Portal by Facebook does not have facial recognition like previously rumored. The Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI- technology that runs locally on the Portal, not on Facebook servers. Video calls are encrypted, so your calls are always secure. Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your video calls.
Portal comes with a camera lens cover, while using the cover you can still access features like voice calling, notifications, and voice command. The camera and speakers can be manually disabled with a touch of a button on the top of the device. You can set a 4 to 12-digit pass code to keep the screen locked, for added security.
The only thing being tracked is the date, time, and Facebook Friend you called. All activity on the Portal, such as video-chat calls, can be found on your Facebook Activity page and in Messenger. You can clear the activity by accessing your Facebook account.
Is it worth the cost?
*** Disclaimer – Prices are subject to change. Prices are current as of November 29, 2018.
The Portal is retailed at $199 and the Portal Plus comes in at $349. It is unclear if people are willing to shell out that much for a device with limited features and from a company with previous privacy issues, we will have to wait and see.
While Facebook’s ultimate goal has been to connect family, friends, and even strangers via a more human like communication device, it is no wonder Facebook developed the Portal. It is Facebook’s first gadget and it seems to be directly related to their mission statement.
If having a Facebook Smart Camera and Speaker doesn’t really appeal to you, there are other great alternatives currently available:
The Amazon Echo Show, retailing at $229, has a vibrant 10.1 HD screen, Alexa Voice Command (50,000 Skills and counting, she is getting smarter people.), eight microphones and far-field technology, stream music, videos, TV, and movies, and make video calls. Set up compatible Zigbee devices without the need for a separate hub.
The Amazon Echo Spot, retailing at $129.99, is a combination of the Amazon Echo Show and the Amazon Echo Dot. It has a 2.5 inch screen that can display Alexa Skills, the time, and it can be used to make video calls thanks to the VGA front camera; voice command, connect to speakers through Bluetooth or 3.5 mm stereo cable. You can connect to speakers all over your home.
What Everyone is Saying…
Not sure if you want to fork out the dough on the Portal? Well here are a few things people are saying:
The Good: Absolutely amazing video calling experiencing, WOW!!! huge screen to see who you are talking too, Super Easy Setup, Powerful Speakers, Most Bang for Your Buck, This is Amazing!
The Bad: Video Calling doesn’t Work, Has a few bugs wait for updates, Video calls work great, everything else is mediocre or immature, Nice built quality, great screen and sound, but lacks most of the advanced Alexa features, Screen does not move fast enough, becomes pixel screen.
Best Buy Reviews:
The Good: Like living with the Jetsons, Great for FB Messenger Calls, Fantastic Screen and Camera, Screen is a nice size.
The Bad: Not quite there yet, the Worst product ever, Doesn’t do enough, Alexa is extremely limited.
Here is my final thoughts about the Portal by Facebook. If you are the tech geek that has to have the latest cool device and you do not mind spending the $349, then by all means grab one today. I am not sure about the security of the device with all the breach issues with Facebook since, you have to sign in to your Facebook account to work the device.
The option not to have to sit in front of a computer or hold your phone is a cool feature. The Alexa voice command is a nice feature but it does not have full Alexa capabilities according to online reviews. You can steam music and videos but, one of the best features to me is Story Time. Having the 5 interactive stories with more coming soon is a feature most families will love.
Even though it is the only device on the market with a camera that follows you around, the slowness of the screen that other reviews have claimed makes me excited to see how Facebook upgrades it in the future. I do like that you can put a lens cap over the camera lens and disable the camera and speakers at the touch of a button.
Does all the security features make me feel safer? Not really, due to all the security breaches that a lot of big companies are experiencing, no devices make me feel 100% safe anymore. Facebook’s data breach over the last year has me wondering exactly what type of information could be leaked through the Portal.
As Facebook says, If you can’t be there, feel there. Connecting through Portal feels like being together in the same room, even when your miles apart. The Portal makes it easier to connect with loves ones, to some, this is priceless.
I personally would wait even though it has the wonderful features. There seems to be a lot of tech issues and bugs that need to be worked out. I would wait until the updated version comes out so, you have access to more features and better operating system. It seems pricey for limited features but, most smart devices are pricey when they first hit the market.
I hope this review helps in your purchase decision. In the end the decision is ultimately yours.
TTFN and Happy Shopping,
~I would love to hear your thoughts on the Portal by Facebook or recommendations to comparable devices. Please comment down below.~
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