Following more than a year of rumors that Facebook Inc. could enter the smart home market, the company today officially debuted Portal, a voice-controlled video calling device powered by Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa assistant.
The system’s specifications are more or less in line with the details that were leaked ahead of the launch. It comes in two models, the 10-inch Portal and the larger 15.6-inch Portal+, which are priced at $199 and $349, respectively.
There are a couple of major differences between the two that weren’t reported before. The slender display on the Portal+ (pictured) has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, compared with the 1280 x 800 pixel density in the regular Portal, and it can swivel from a vertical to horizontal position. Other than their screens, however, the two models offer identical features.
The Portal and the Portal+ sport a wide-lens camera that can follow users as they move around a room to keep them in view during a video call. It’s paired with a four-microphone array that, according to Facebook, enhances the voice of the person who is talking in a given moment while tuning out background noise.
Beyond merely winning consumers’ trust, Facebook hopes the Portal can present a competitive alternative to Amazon’s rivaling Echo Show video calling device. To that end, the company has equipped the Portal with a selection of software features that allow it to function as a multipurpose device. Users can host video calls via Messenger with up to seven people, even if the participants don’t have a Portal, access outside streaming services such as Spotify and use the system as a smart picture frame when it’s idle.
Portal is available for preorder from Facebook, Amazon and Best Buy Inc. stores. The company will start shipping the device next month.