On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook announced two new additions to its Portal lineup of smart displays, the compact Portal Go ($199) and updated Portal Plus ($349). You can pre-order either device through Facebook’s site, with a shipping date of October 19. The Portal+ offers a large 14-inch tilting display that sits atop high-fidelity speakers for improved immersion, though it’s almost prohibitively expensive. But it’s not really what caught my eye from the announcement anyway. Pairing the smart camera and microphone technology that shape Portal’s cinematic video calling experience with an integrated handle and long-lasting battery, the Portal Go looks to be a portable powerhouse. Facebook might actually shake up the smart display market with the Portal Go.
Video chatting on a smart display sucks, plain and simple. Facebook solved this in 2018 with the introduction of its Portal device lineup. These smart displays offer an excellent smart assistant experience (either through Amazon Alexa or Facebook Assistant), albeit with superior video calling capabilities when compared to competitors such as the Echo Show or Google Hub Max. Portals can call anyone with a Facebook, WhatsApp, or Zoom account across device types. They offer accurate proportions, autofocus, and subject tracking that feels natural and gives friends and family a presence in your space when you can’t physically get together. It’s quite an impressive feat, made possible by the Smart Camera and Smart Audio systems.
Smart Camera is Portal’s unique camera system that uses both advanced hardware and AI to smoothly pan and zoom you into the center of the screen, similar to Center Stage on Apple devices. Simultaneously, the system captures vivid HDR-level colors across various lighting conditions so your image always feels lifelike. Smart Audio allows you to speak naturally from any point in a room and adjusts your volume so that you sound close to the camera near or far away. It’s like having an on-site cameraman standing by to make you look and sound your best.
Portable Cinematic Video Calls
I’ve spent the past month using the regular Portal, the previous generation Portal Plus, and Portal TV. To say I’ve come away impressed is an understatement. When you video chat with grandparents or toddlers as much as I do living a few states away from my family, you come to appreciate the cinematic view and ease of use a Portal provides. Within seconds my calls reach family members that live hours away. The cameras on both Portal devices focus on each speaker in a room instead of being pointed at the floor or ceiling. Because of this, my calls now last much longer than usual. I’ll call my little sisters and play Roblox with them on my phone while we talk using Portals. My grandpa who usually likes to say a quick hello and goodbye as not to extensively hold a phone sits and chats in 30 minute blocks. The streamlined operation and automated camera system makes the Portal especially helpful for older adults and young kids.
While the Portal and Portal Plus see a lot of use, they’re plugged into inaccessible power strips in my kitchen and office. And Portal TV, which turns my 65-inch screen into a Portal device complete with video content and calling apps, sits atop my display in a nest of wires. The Portal Go breaks the mold with a lightweight three-pound frame that you can carry from room to room with relative ease thanks to an integrated handle. A long-lasting onboard battery powers the 1280 x 800 resolution, ten-inch screen throughout the day. While that’s not such an impressive view for you, recipients on the other end of a chat will be impressed with the Go’s crisp 12MP camera. Ultra-wide angles and vibrant colors capture a more immersive view of your space. You can take the Go anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection from your kitchen to a balcony since theres no need to place it near a power outlet. This opens up not only new entertainment, but work possibilities as well.
Hybrid and remote work models are thriving, so Facebook built productivity features into the device where other displays haven’t. The Portal Go is getting Microsoft suite integration. Soon your Outlook Calendar will be viewable on the Portal’s calendar app. With a single tap of an event button, the Portal can take you directly into meetings through installable apps like Microsoft Teams (arriving in December), WebEx, Zoom, and other conferencing services. You won’t have to fidget with a phone or external webcam to set the perfect angle as the Go provides an optimal angle without any friction. With your laptop free to take notes and reference materials simultaneously, the Portal Go looks to be incredibly useful productivity tool. Throughout your day you can use your Go as not only a smart display but a portable picture frame or even a smart dashboard, showing daily tasks and information like time or the weather.
When not video chatting, the smart display provides plenty of content suggestions so you can listen to your Spotify music or watch videos. Using two full-range speakers and a woofer, the little Go is capable of producing big room-filling sound and bass as a quality portable smart speaker. While we’ve seen portable smart display concepts like the Lenovo Tab or Fire Tablet running Show Mode, a truly wireless fully-featured smart display experience has yet to exist.
The rich sound and capabilities of the Go means you can use Facebook’s Watch Together viewing party feature to watch movies and shows with friends and family as if you’re in the same room. With the wireless freedom of the Go that means you can start a show in the kitchen and take it outside. The augmented reality Story Time app has allowed me to read my younger sisters a bed time story each night. Now I no longer have to run downstairs to partake in this part of my routine. When I’m not on a call my Portals display my favorite Instagram photos like a digital photo frame.
I’ve had plenty of hands-on time with today’s most popular smart assistant from Google’s Nest Hub to Alexa’s Echo Show. Facebook’s initial foray into the smart hub market has been a bit of a soft thump. Facebook refuses to disclose sales numbers, but Portal devices aren’t the most popular choice of smart assistant, ranking lower on Best Buy and Amazon’s top-seller lists. That can be due to many variables from a lack of brand trust to the exclusion of Hulu, HBO Max, and other content services.
Even with these shortcomings, the Portal Go could help Facebook disrupt the market with a truly unique device unlike any smart assistant available. It’s large, it’s loud, and it’s portable. It handles easily and lasts all day. And its video chatting quality is unrivaled. The Portal Go’s portability, performance, and price have really piqued my interest as an all-in-one smart device that goes where you do for a smart display in every room you’re in.
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