Facebooks home video chat devices, the Portal and Portal Plus, are going on sale today, a month after they were initially announced. The products are almost exclusively focused on video chatting. While they also display photos, play music, and support a small number of video networks, their feature set is very limited at launch — you cant even browse Facebook on them. Youre primarily meant to use them to chat with people over Facebook Messenger, and Facebook has built in some smart camera tricks to make that easier. Both devices have a single, fixed camera at the top, but the camera will zoom in and follow you around, so that you dont have to hold a phone up to your face while youre chatting. That way, you can move throughout a room and remain engaged on a call. But the story of this product isnt just what it can and cant do — its whether people will be willing to bring a Facebook-connected mic and camera into their home at all. Facebook has emphasized the privacy features built in here (theres an off button that completely deactivates the camera and mics), but that may not be enough to comfort those already skeptical of the company, which has been beset with recent privacy scandals. Both the Portal and Portal Plus are shipping today. Theyll be available from Facebooks website, as well as through Best Buy and Amazon, which will also have the devices in stores. The smaller Portal sells for $199, and the larger Portal Plus goes for $349. At launch, youll be able to get a $100 discount if you buy two at once — which makes some sense, since youll probably want another Portal user to chat with.
Facebooks Portal and Portal+ devices for Facebook Messenger video calls go on sale today, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email. Following years of stealth development, the 15-inch Portal+ and 10-inch Portal with Alexa inside made their debuts last month. Portal costs $199, while Portal+ sells for $349. The main selling points for Portal are artificial intelligence-powered features like Smart Camera, which automatically zooms in on video calls and frames them to make sure all the people in a room are in the same shot. Smart Volume modulates microphone intensity so that everyone in the room can be heard at a reasonable volume. Facebook Portal with Messenger video calls and Amazons AlexaThe highlight feature can fix the cameras attention on a single person in the room and follow them so that, for example, grandpa can watch his grandkid as she runs around during a video call. Another big selling point for Portal is shared experiences during calls, which includes the ability for callers to play Spotify or Pandora music together at whatever volume each wants to hear. And Storytime offers augmented reality stories for children. To create more Storytime and in-call experiences, Facebook will open a Portal app third-party ecosystem for developers. When not being used for video calls, Portal devices have a feature called Superframe that displays pictures from personal Facebook albums, as well as recent photos of close friends. While Facebook hopes the 1.3 billion monthly active users of Facebook Messenger will see value in Portal and Portal+, early critics of the device cite Facebooks poor privacy record as among the chief reasons they will not be purchasing a Portal.