More than two years ago, Facebook commissioned a team to develop hardware to more closely integrate the Facebook apps family into people's lives. The result of these efforts are Portal and Portal +, 10-inch and 15-inch devices designed for AI-enhanced video calling with Facebook Messenger.
They are available for the first time this week.  Portal responds to basic voice commands for video calls and music playback, and comes with Amazon Alexa.
Here's some thoughts on Facebook's first consumer hardware that competes with similar smart display devices like the Amazon Echo Show or Google Home Hub.
After about a week using a portal +, the first thing to keep in mind is that the AI-based extensions that the video-calling portal brings are not just new ̵
The Smart Camera is an AI that anonymously identifies people in a video call so that each shot is automatically framed based on the people in that shot. The camera on both gantry devices can cover a 140 degree view. So when you see the portal camera, you can see it in the room, no matter where you are.
Smart Volume also enhances your calls by ensuring your voice is constantly heard, whether you are standing in front of the device or across the room.
These two features are a big plus If you're making video calls with a laptop or smartphone and you're used to constantly repositioning or repeating what you're saying because you're too far away from the microphone. 19659002] These are features not currently available from other smart display competitors.
However, the smart camera can be disoriented for people. On my first call with a friend, he said, "It looks like you're in the same room, but scary."
Another feature that distinguishes Portal from almost all competitors is the conversation during the call. These include augmented reality effects and filters, such as those available today at Messenger – so you can put a cat on its head or throw a cool hat and sunglasses.
There's also Storytime, a collection of half a dozen five-minute stories
Today they're all for kids, but Facebook's portal team will invite third-party developers to gain experience with AR for video calls, to bring in experiences adults can share together, as well as a bigger storytelling collection.  ProEXR File Description = Attributes = Channels (chlist) Compression: ZipdataWindow (box2i): [0, 0, 6340, 9052] displayWindow (box2i): [0, 0, 6340, 9052] lineOrder (lineOrder): Increase ynuke / full_layer_names (int): 0nuke / node_hash string): "2f827c417517208" nuke / version (string): "10.5v5" pixelAspectRatio (float): 1screenWindowCenter (v2f): [0, 0] screenWindowWidth (float): 1type (string): "scanlineimage" version (int): 1 = Channels = A (helped) B (helped) G (helped) R (helped) "width =" 420 "height =" 600 "data-recalc-dims =" 1 "/>
These features can be a lot of fun when you call someone in your area and they highlight the fact that Portal was made for calls to your favorite people, not as a firehose for Facebook activity.
In-call experience also includes the ability to hear streaming music like Spotify with a caller, but you must use both portal devices for this type of feature to work.
Another feature that differentiates portal from its competitors are the ability to quickly send a call from messenger to portal to messenger on your smartphone.
This is important if you need to move away from the portal and is very useful for privacy. During a call with a close friend, the conversation began to drift to a sick family member and his relationship with his girlfriend. With another person in the room, I quickly put the call on my phone by tapping a button in the messenger app and left the room.
After Cambridge Analytica and repeated data breaches, the question arose Many people have to say if they can trust Facebook to enter their homes, even though Google and Amazon could challenge that.
Using a device that is so closely linked to Facebook reminded me that I – like many people – did not use Facebook as often as before. It also made it clear how many of my friends deleted their accounts or left Facebook.
In addition to the family members of the family, and although Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion active users, it was sometimes challenging to even approach friends on the phone.
Even though calls are encrypted and there are no records, I do not believe that the privacy problem is alleviated by the fact that portal devices, as previously reported by Recode, use information about the usage habits of Portal to sell ads in Facebook apps ,
To address data privacy concerns, Facebook can not say that the portal will not be able to take or share photos or video during a call, nor will it take screenshots. One drawback is that this results in a much less powerful device and removes the possibility of exchanging social media interactions.
Social Media (or lack thereof)
When not in use, the portal device inserts something called a superframe, displaying photos from your Facebook profile, and recent photos of friends on appear in stunning clarity on the screen of the device. Superframe also recommends friends who can call you, though these suggestions never made me make additional calls.
In Portal, you have to manually select your favorite friends and their images will be included in Superframe.
This is very different from the merry-go-round of news articles and memories that Amazon has on their home screen, or the live albums that Smart shows with Google Assistant inside. After five or ten minutes watching the Superframe, I got a sense of how much I missed from my core group of friends who still use Facebook, but although I enjoyed catching up, the content started pretty fast to repeat.  It was also frustrating that I could not double-tap the screen or use generic portal voice commands to like a photo or comment or scroll through a friend's latest Instagram posts. The omission of such social elements on a device made by the largest social media company on Earth is, to say the least, amazing.
If you show me impressive photos of friends and family without giving me the opportunity to like or comment, a mistake is not a feature.
The lack of Stories for Portal on launch is also confusing. Facebook's facial recognition software could have been extremely helpful in switching between accounts for several people in a household, although I'm pretty sure that has exploded the heads of privacy advocates and may have killed Portal on its arrival.
A feature Facebook – as well as the manufacturers of ambient displays for Google and Amazon – might consider making a physical gesture to remove a photo from an album. You do not really have control over which photos your friends are tagged in. So, when photos are displayed on the screen that may not be suitable for children, you need to find a quick way to solve the problem without having to swipe to the next photo.  Sound
Of course, the gimmicks, the AI and the quality display are not for nothing if the portal can not cut it out while playing music – the top use case for smart speakers everywhere.
The Portal Provides Sound Quality The output is similar to a Sonos One or Amazon Echo show, offering a mix of rich quality, crisp tones and basses that makes using the Spotify App on Portal fun. However, unlike playing music on an echo or home speaker, you can not treat your phone like a remote.
Portal's ability to recognize voice commands was a bit oppressive. Compared to Google Assistant or Alexa music requests were not easy to understand.
If you are Facebook users and spend a lot of time with friends in the app, you can find portal is worth the price of the recording.
Whether or not you think Portal is valuable depends on whether you're the person making many family video calls. The portal allows video chat with up to seven people, so families might consider sharing a shared digital photo album and making calls. And the ability to move freely in a room while still being seen and heard has inherent value.
In my lifetime, video calls from non-existent standards have become standard, but often with insufficient clarity and restless material that leads to frustration. For many people, including me, regular video calls to check in with family members in other parts of the world have become a routine that deserves a device that delivers low-latency video and clear communication.
People have many choices When it comes to video calling, including Skype, the Alexa app on Amazon Echo Show, and Duo on Google Smart Displays. The Lenovo Smart Display even offers a portrait mode option like Portal +, although of course things like Smart Volume and Smart Display are missing.
Overall, you have to wonder if calling is a big plus for you. The answer may also depend on whether you already have something like a Google home or an Amazon echo.
Aside from phoning, I'm pleased to see if collaborating with third-party portal can enhance the portal over time and merge an ecosystem of phone experiences. Portal + will have some notable features at launch, but it will probably become much more interesting in six months to a year as more third-party apps and in-call experiences become available.
Most people could be better off waiting for more apps, in-call experiences, and items from the Facebook apps family.