What is Facebook Portal and how does it work?

Helen Aguilar
October 10, 2018

Facebook has unveiled the company's first ever hardware product - a video calling device called Portal.

The smaller Portal packs a 10-inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution, while the Plus gets you a 15-inch screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution.

You can use Portal to call your Facebook Messenger friends, even if they don't have a portal, and each call supports up to seven people at once.

And since Messenger can be used without a Facebook account, Portal users won't need a Facebook account to use it - only Messenger.

In order to make the Portal hands-free, Facebook has enabled voice controls - all you have to do is say "Hey Portal" followed by the name of who you would like to call to start a video chat.

However, to address potential security concerns about Portal (aside from the general rising distrust of Facebook), Facebook says the Portal's microphones and camera feature an option that will "physically" disconnect those components, and the company has installed an indicator light that glows red so you know they're off.

Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. The Portal comes with controls that allow you to disable the camera and microphone with one tap, they come with a camera cover so you can block the lens but still receive incoming calls, notifications, and just use voice. That means Portal users can call other Portal users, as well as those with Facebook Messenger installed on their smartphones and tablets. The company has revealed details about its Amazon Echo competitor, a voice-controlled, webcam-equipped smart screen named Portal.

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The social network does not intend to stop with Portal, promising to "invest very heavily, not just hardware through Oculus but also through Facebook", Bosworth said. The larger variant looks more distinctive, with a swiveling 15.6 inch screen that lets you orient it in landscape or portrait.

Portal lets users place Facebook's augmented reality camera effects, like those found in Instagram, over their faces during video calls.

The Portal also takes advantage of the best part about Facebook: photos.

Still, Amazon has shipped 1 million of its Echo speakers with displays over the last year, according to research firm Canalys, which expects 4 million such devices across brands to ship globally next year. By shipping the Portal with Alexa, Facebook might be proactively avoiding a controversy about data collection.

Portal, and a larger 15-inch Portal+ model, is billed by Facebook has a smart home device created to let users make calls to friends and family. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

The main selling point of these devices is that the cameras track action and automatically pan and zoom to keep the subjects of the video in view. If the video call has multiple people in the frame, the camera shifts to a wide-angle mode, keeping everyone in its bounding box.

Scrutiny this year over Facebook's privacy and content moderation practices have led some people to abandon the service and the company to warn of thinning profits. The Portal does have a few apps, including Facebook Watch for video, and Spotify and Pandora for music.

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