Facebook is now officially a hardware manufacturer. The social network-turned all round tech juggernaut today announced its Portal smart display device. Yes, it looks a lot like Amazon's Echo Show and does many of the same things, but Facebook insists Portal has more to offer and comes from an original place.
That's fair enough, not least because a home smart display is basically just a stationed tablet… there are only so many ways to do that. So, if the Portal's design similarities can be forgiven, do its features set it apart?
Before continuing, it is worth pointing out that the device comes in two guises. There is the standard Portal, which looks like the Echo Show. However, there is also the Portal+, which is larger and frankly more appealing.
The standard Portal comes with a 10-inch screen and will cost $199. That's cheaper than the Echo Show and comes with more smart features. As for the Portal+, it comes with a pretty huge 15-inch screen that can be swiveled between portrait and landscape modes. The device also boasts a meaty 4-inch subwoofer.
Both products come with a fantastic Smart Camera zoom facility, a unique feature to Facebook's products. With this ability, uses can zoom the camera in and out hands free during a video chat. As for the assistant on board, Facebook has sided with Amazon's market leading Alexa.
The company says support for Google Assistant will also arrive soon, providing even more functionality. Sadly (although unsurprisingly), no mention of Cortana support was mentioned.
Facebook could do with some good news after suffering a torrid year of data breaches and privacy scandals. However, there is no getting away from those issues, especially when you are asking consumers to put a Facebook camera and microphone system in their house.
While users have allowed Amazon, Google, Apple, and others into their living rooms, how do they feel about Facebook? It's a hurdle the company will have to overcome. Indeed, it is already trying to smooth relations with consumers.
Facebook's VP of Portal Rafa Camargo is already trying to ease privacy concerns, insisting the company had control from day one:
“We had to build all the stacks — hardware, software, and AI from scratch — and it allowed us to build privacy into each one of these layers”.
Portal and Portal+ are available now through pre-sales. Among the other features on the devices are voice control, navigations, Facebook Messenger integrations, Spotify, Pandora, and video calls. Facebook says it will add support for more video platforms (YouTube and Netflix included) in the future.