Facebook’s Portal devices have proven surprisingly popular over the past year, largely due to the pandemic and our dependence on video calls. It’s no surprise, then, that the company is doubling down on the concept. Today, Facebook is announcing two new Portals: an updated Portal+ for $349, plus a brand new $199 Portal Go that is also the company’s first-ever portable smart display.
Yes, in brief, that means the Go can actually be taken out of its charging dock and toted around. There’s also an integrated handle on the back for easy carrying. Despite the handle, it has a relatively compact form factor, with a 10-inch, 1,280 x 800 display housed inside a soft fabric-wrapped enclosure.
The idea behind this portable Portal, according to Facebook, is that you can keep the device in, say, a kitchen or an office, and it can then be moved around the house if the family is congregating in a different room. Of course, since it’s portable, it can also be brought outdoors as long as you have a relatively strong WiFi signal. Since it can stream music from sources like Spotify, you can also use the Go as a portable speaker.
As for battery life, Facebook says that you will likely get up to five hours of one-on-one Messenger calling on a single charge and up to 14 hours of music playback if the screen is off.
In addition, the company unveiled a new Portal+, which hasn’t been updated since the original debuted in 2018. While we thought the first-gen model was a bit of an eyesore, the new Portal+ brings a much-improved design. With a 14-inch, 2,140 x 1,440 display, it still has the largest screen out of all the Portals, but its footprint is much smaller than before. The Portal+ display can also be tilted up and down to accommodate different heights.
Both the new Portals have a 12-megapixel camera with an ultra-wide field of view. Like the other Portals, these make use of Facebook's so-named Smart Camera technology, which uses AI to follow you around the room, panning and zooming to keep you in frame the entire time. There’s also a smart sound tech that allows you speak at a normal volume, regardless of the distance between you and the device, and still have your callers hear you clearly.
Of course, with any Facebook product, privacy and security are obvious concerns. To help allay those fears, both the new Portals have built-in camera lens covers, and there are buttons at the top that disconnects the camera and the microphone. The smart camera AI technology mentioned earlier runs locally on the device and not on Facebook’s servers. WhatsApp calls are end-to-end encrypted by default. On Messenger, however, you’ll have to specify the contacts and groups you want to enable the end-to-end encryption (and even this feature is still in the roll-out phase).
Aside from new hardware, Facebook also detailed some incoming software updates. One of them is Household Mode, which essentially lets you share the Portal with the whole family. In Household Mode, you can allow access to a selection of shared apps and contacts, while keeping the rest personal. For example, then, you can let the whole family use apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, and allow them to call grandma and grandpa, but they won’t be able to contact anyone else unless you let them. You can set up a screen lock passcode to control access to the device as well.
The Portal home screen has also been redesigned to be more personalized, with a top row of favorite contacts, and a card interface similar to the one on other smart displays. There’s a card for Messenger Rooms, one for Spotify playlist shortcuts, another for most used apps, and more. As for Portal TV, the company will soon be updating it so that you can see calling notifications like a pending Rooms invitation or a missed video call.
Additionally, Facebook has updated the Watch Together experience on Portal so it can be used not just on Portal-to-Portal calls, but also with Messenger pals on the phone, laptop or tablet. On top of that, the company says it’s bringing WhatsApp multi-device support to Portal in the next few months. This lets you use WhatsApp on your phone as well as four non-phone devices at the same time.
Facebook is aware that Portals can be used not just in the home context, but also for business purposes. That’s why it will be adding support for Microsoft Teams for all Portal devices starting this December. (It added support for Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans and GotoMeeting last year.) There will also be a new Calendar app, which lets you view your Outlook or Google calendar on Portal. The beauty of this is that you could then jump in on your next meeting with a single tap on the screen.
In addition, Facebook is introducing Portal for Business specifically for small businesses to deploy and manage Portal devices. They can create and manage Facebook Work Accounts which lets employees use company email addresses to set up the Portal. IT admins can use a Portal Device Manager to manage the devices remotely.
According to Facebook, the 8-inch Portal Mini will be discontinued, but the Portal TV and the 2019 10-inch Portal that requires a power cord will still be available.
Pre-orders for both the Portal Go and the new Portal+ start today. They will begin shipping October 19th.