Facebook's Portal camera is an Echo Show rival focused on video calls, but will anyone trust it?

Don't worry, it comes with a camera cover.

Credit: Facebook

In what might be the worst timed product in the history of the world, Facebook has unveiled Portal and Portal+, a new smart speaker line with a screen and a camera that promises to track your movements, connect with Messenger, and notify you when your friends are available to chat.

And you were worried about Alexa spying on you. (Oh, it’s also an Alexa speaker, like Amazon's Echo Show.)

Priced at $199 for a 720p 10-inch model and $349 for a massive 1080p 15.6-inch one (which can rotate between landscape and portrait mode), the Portal is first and foremost a camera for making video calls. You can use the Portal to call anyone on your Messenger list, even people who don’t have a Portal in their home. And it’s not just for one-on-one conversations either. You can bring up to six people into a call.

facebook portal music Facebook

You can listen to music from Spotify and Pandora on Portal.

Here are the relevant specs:

Portal

  • Dimensions: 9.84 x 8.2 x 3.68 inches
  • Display: 10 inches (1200x800)
  • Camera: 12MP
  • Speakers: 10w

Portal+

  • Dimensions: 8.78 x 17.71 x 5.73 inches
  • Display: 15.6 inches (1920x1080)
  • Camera: 12MP
  • Speakers: 20w

Since the Portal is primarily a video-calling device, Facebook has added some features designed to make your calls better. The camera will follow you as you move so you always stay in frame. It will also automatically widen up to a 140-degree field of view when more people enter the frame. And its microphone “enhances the voice of whoever is talking, wherever they move in the room, and minimizes unwanted background noises.”

It also has a feature called Story Time that lets you add music, animation, and AR effects to children’s stories as you read them, as well as the ability to sync the Spotify or Pandora tunes you’re listening to with someone across the country. And since you won’t be using any of those features most of the time, the Portal is also an Alexa-enabled smart speaker in addition to responding to “Hey Portal” for voice calls.

Facebook ahead privacy concerns

But Facebook has a whole lot more to do to convince people to buy the Portal then add a few gimmicky features. It’s been barely a week since it announced that some 50 million accounts were hacked, exposing Facebook access tokens that allowed attackers to take over people’s accounts and any account associated with it. Facebook has patched the exploit, but that doesn’t exactly instill confidence.

faebook portal camera cover Facebook

The Facebook Portal comes bundled with a camera cover that you’ll want to keep in a safe place.

And that comes on top of a bruising year for Facebook. It was revealed in March that research firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested data from millions of Facebook accounts without consent in an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. And that comes on top of the fake news fight the company has been waging for years.

So, to say Facebook has an uphill battle with Portal is an understatement. And Facebook knows it. To tackle the issue head-on, Facebook says Portal was built “with privacy, safety and security in mind,” so much so that one of the three main tabs on its website is “Privacy.” Like the Amazon Echo and Lenovo Smart Display, you can completely disable the camera or the microphone in the settings, but Facebook takes it one step further with a bundled camera cover, so you won’t need to put a piece of duct tape over the lens to ensure it can’t see you.

Facebook also says that the AI tech inside its camera runs locally on the Portal, and never reaches Facebook servers. Also, Facebook assures that the Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition for identification. And Facebook Live, the company’s streaming protocol, isn’t even an option on the Portal. 

Facebook in your home

Even with the privacy settings relaxed, there are some pretty important things that the Portal can’t do, including play Netflix or YouTube videos and view your feed, so Facebook is clearly positioning its new device as an in-home video caller.

facebook portal Facebook

Your Facebook contacts are front and center on portal.

And that comes with a big mountain to climb: Facebook is still asking customers to put a camera in their homes that uses AI and location services to know when you’re home and looking at it. No matter how strict your privacy settings are you’ll still need to log in with your Facebook account. And if you want to use it for the reason it’s being sold, the privacy restrictions are basically lip service, since the calling functions won’t work. As far as ads go, Facebook says the Portal won’t display ads “at this time,” which is hardly a promise.

If anyone wants wants to pre-order a Portal before it starts shipping on Nov. 12, they’ll save $50 on either model. That’s not a bad deal, but is $50 enough to convince people to open their homes to a Facebook camera? I’m guessing the answer for most people is a firm no.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Michael Simon

Michael Simon

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?