New Facebook portals offer a mobile option and more smarts for working from home

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Portal Go and Portal Plus of the second generation will be delivered in October.

Facebook

Many of us have got used to video chatting, both professionally and privately. We learned how to do it Share screen, Add cool virtual backgrounds and maybe, maybe you just find this elusive mute button.

Smart displays can play a role in communicating with loved ones and supervisors remotely. Now Facebook is expanding its range of portal devices for even more virtual visit options.

The release of two new devices shows how the social media giant wants to play an even bigger role in our daily lives as the coronavirus pandemic boosts the popularity of video chatting. Still, Facebook privacy concerns could make consumers think twice about purchasing portal devices, especially when they have many other smart display options.

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The Portal Go is a battery-operated smart display with a handle that can be carried around the house.

Facebook

Go portal

I have to hand it over to Facebook, the company has dealt with a problem that no other major smart display manufacturer has: portability. The Go portal is battery operated. It charges with a small magnetic charging base; A nifty handle on the back makes it easy to carry around the house. The shape and the fabric cover remind me of the tiny one Lenovo Smart Clock 2. The Portal Go contains a 12 MP camera and a screen with a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels.

The Portal Go is essentially an updated original portal with a battery and a handle. It will cost $ 199. The original portal is still on sale at a slightly lower price of $ 180 on Facebook’s online store. The Go portal scores in terms of portability, but I wonder why a consumer would no longer benefit from a similarly expensive tablet that comes with a broader app store like that of Amazon or even Google Play.

Spec-wise, both Samsung Tab A7 and the Amazon Fire HD 10 have a better resolution than the portal (2,000 x 1,200 or 1,920 x 1,200 pixels). The ability to download smart home apps from Amazon and Google makes them just as powerful at home. At 12 MP, the portal has the better camera compared to the 8 MP / 5 MP and 5 MP / 2 MP cameras of the Tab A7 and Fire HD 10. And the portal can also stand on its own – but buy a folio Case for your tablet and you’re done too.

I asked Facebook what could convince someone to switch from a tablet to the portal. Lisa Auslen, head of communications at Facebook, pointed out that the wide angle, pan camera, and tuned audio are better for video calls than a tablet, and that the built-in Facebook assistant and Amazon Alexa features are beneficial. Then there is the household mode function.

“[The] The portal is intended to be used as a shared device that is accessible to everyone in the household. Tablets are really designed as personal devices and are typically not used in a way that household members can rely on to be available, ”Auslen said. “Household mode is an example of how we build on it – one computer for the house, that can be shared, and anyone can make a call and offer a more personalized experience through our multi-user support.”

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The 14-inch display of the Portal Plus can be rotated horizontally or vertically.

Facebook

Portal Plus (2nd generation)

The second generation of the Portal Plus is slimmer than the original Portal Plus, but the 14-inch screen is smaller than the 15.6-inch original model. It retains the $ 350 MSRP of the first generation Portal Plus.

You get the same ultra-wide 12 MP camera as the Portal Go, but a better screen resolution of 2,160 x 1,440 pixels. The Portal Plus’ large screen allows for a 25-person gallery in zoom and you can rotate and tilt it manually.

Notable features

Both new models can pan and zoom to follow you around the room. This was a novelty when the first portals came out, but now it is Echo Show 10 can do that too. Work-oriented new portals come with new apps, including a calendar app that can be synced with your Outlook or Google calendar.

As with previous portals, you can say “Hey, Portal” to wake it up, make calls, and perform a handful of other functions. You can also say “Alexa” to access Amazon’s digital assistant. Facebook added an Alexa interface screen for these new models so you can do more than just enter the wizard and see a blue wave indicator. This is a welcome improvement over the stifled experience of the original portals.

Special effects functions like AR masks, AR games and story time are still on board. With the updated Watch Together feature, you can watch content with friends on any device. Previously, Watch Together required a portal-to-portal call. Now it’s accessible with Messenger on any mix of devices. Watch Together streams content from Facebook’s in-house studio, Facebook Watch.

A new household mode makes the portal a more manageable device for the whole family. You can choose which apps you want to share with everyone and which contacts are available to everyone on Messenger or WhatsApp so that your 4 year old doesn’t call your boss.

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The new portals support more business functions, including several conference call apps.

Facebook

Who needs a portal?

The portals are in part marketed as accessories for the remote workers that many of us have since become Coronavirus pandemic Blow. With multiple teleconferencing platforms on board – BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Workplace, Webex, and Zoom, with Microsoft Teams in December – the pitch for these new portals feels more for businesses than individuals.

According to Facebook, businesses can buy these new smart displays in bulk through Facebook for Business, a service that turns portals into corporate devices, complete with features like required password updates and remote erase and restart. Employees can use a Facebook Work account instead of a personal account.

“One of the big hurdles we’ve encountered in introducing employees is that their organizations actually want these simple tools to manage and deploy these devices,” said Micah Collins, Portal’s director of product management. Collins said Portal Plus could be a more popular choice for remote working because of its larger screen. The Go portal could be useful for chatting with friends and families when children or other people move to another room.

During the pandemic, CNET spoke to people who bought Portal devices for older relatives. Research firm Strategy Analytics said that while portal sales have increased, the device is still not very popular. According to Strategy Analytics, Facebook’s portal devices accounted for 1.1% of global shipments of smart speakers and smart displays in the second quarter of this year.

“Probably the biggest barrier to Facebook is that consumers will shy away from Facebook monitoring them and collecting more data than it already does. Jack Narcotta, a senior industry analyst at Strategy Analytics who specializes in smart home services and Devices.

Questions about data protection remain

When Facebook debuted, Original portal displays We reviewed them in 2018 but we weren’t comfortable recommending a purchase to everyone. the Cambridge Analytica data breach was at the forefront of a larger discussion about privacy and how mega-corporations like Google, Facebook and Apple are dealing with consumer data. Facebook has been under constant scrutiny since the scandal. New research on Facebook ownership just last week Negative Impact of Instagram on Teens popped up.

That hasn’t stopped Facebook from delving deeper into product development. A collaboration between Ray-Ban and Facebook produced new ones Sunglasses with camera in a way that feels like an ironic embrace of the espionage aesthetic.

Facebook contains data protection functions on the portal devices. You can set a lock screen passcode for access control. You can turn off the microphone and camera with a tap or use the physical camera shutter. A red light indicates that these data protection measures have been taken.

Encryption is available for WhatsApp calls and the Facebook Messenger app will soon have end-to-end encryption for portal voice and video calls, but only for contacts and groups you specify. Not offering end-to-end encryption as standard for all calls and chats is a red flag from the start.

Collins said customer concerns are “complex” but the company listens to feedback and takes privacy and user safety “extremely seriously.” In 2019, Facebook temporarily suspended human auditing of audio after Bloomberg reported contractors heard “Hey, Portal” clips to improve device software accuracy. Portal users can deactivate the storage of their “Hey, Portal” interactions in the settings of the device or delete this data.


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The expensive Portal Plus from Facebook brings loved ones closer


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Pre-orders for the portal begin today and the devices will begin shipping on October 19th. You can pre-order your portal directly on Facebook or at retail stores like Amazon.com and BestBuy in the US and Canada. Portals are available in the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand.

Given Facebook’s past and current privacy issues, I am still wary of assuming that a Facebook portal would be a good addition to your home. I’ll be reviewing Portal Go and Portal Plus in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for my final thoughts on these new smart displays.

CNET’s Queenie Wong contributed to this report.


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