Managing long-distance friendships and relationships can be really, really tough. Trust me, I know all about it from years and years of experience. And even though regular phone calls, texts, and FaceTime sessions can help make long distance a little more bearable, it doesn't totally feel like your loved ones are right there with you. That's why Facebook created the Facebook Portal and Facebook Portal Plus, to make long-distance communication way easier and higher quality. So, you might be wondering, "What is the Facebook Portal?" In a nutshell, it makes video calls way more real and lifelike.
According to Portal's website, the Facebook Portal is basically a camera, screen, and microphone that you hook up in your general living space. It's a device that's 100 percent focused on video chatting, complete with a wide-angle camera that identifies and tracks your body as you move. In the beginning of the chat, the camera detects everyone in the room, and makes sure they stay in the frame for the duration of your video session. You don't need to aim it at yourself or keep it focused on anything in particular or anything, since it already captures the entire space on its own. Essentially, it was designed to make it feel like you’re in the exact same room as the person you're talking to, and you can only use it to call other Portal, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger users. It's pretty sweet, if you're just looking for a really high quality video chat.
Other than the fact that the Facebook Portal can play music through Spotify and Pandora as well as videos through Facebook Watch, it has no other major features aside from video chatting, according to The Verge. That's the point, though — it's solely focused on high quality video chats, and nothing else. Even so, it also comes with Amazon Alexa built in, so you can also access a voice experience to gather information like the current weather and sports scores, per the Facebook announcement of the Portal. According to the Portal's website, depending on what kind of display you want, you can get the Portal, which is smaller, or the Portal Plus, which is substantially larger. Totally up to you.
Between Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal and the reluctance people have with buying a home assistant, Facebook is working on fully protecting users' privacy. According to The Verge, both the Portal and Portal Plus come with a protective camera cover, as well as a button that totally shuts off the microphone and camera. This doesn't only deactivate the mic and camera, but to prevent hacks, it completely cuts the circuit. According to a Facebook representative, you can also keep your device protected with a four to 12-digit passcode, and it won't listen to, view, or save anything from your Portal video calls. Like, trust me — it takes security to a whole new (necessary) level.
According to an emailed statement from Rafa Camargo, the VP of Portal, Camargo recognizes that security is highly important to portal customers. He gave further detail on the actions Portal is taking to protect its customers.
We know that privacy and security are important when you bring new technology into your home. That’s why Portal was designed with privacy in mind along with clear and simple device settings that keep the user in control. This includes features such as a Camera and Microphone Off button that disables and disconnects the camera and microphone and cannot be turned on or off, without physically tapping the button again. Portal and Portal+ come with a camera cover, which you can slide over the camera lens to block your camera’s lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands. Additionally, you can set a 4-12 digit passcode to keep the screen locked and manage Portal access within your home.
The Portal will officially become available for any and all of your lifelike video chatting needs as of November 2018, but you can preorder them now on Portal's website. The regular Portal is going for $199, and the Portal Plus will sell for substantially much more, at $349. But, you can get $100 off if you buy both, with the idea that consumers will buy one, and give one to someone they want to stay in touch with. Kinda cute, right?
The Facebook Portal might remind you of the Amazon Echo Show — second generation Echo Show will be released on Thursday, Oct. 11. — and they do seem to have quite a few similarities. One of the main differences seems to be the type of entertainment available. The Portal, of course, offers Facebook Watch, while the Echo Show comes with Prime Video and a Hulu subscription, per Amazon's website. So, really it's all about what you prefer.
Staying in touch with long distance friends, family, and lovers can be really, really difficult, but Portal makes it feel like your cross-country pal is sitting next to you, on your living room couch. TBH, I think everyone could use one of these.