Facebook releases two new portal video calling devices with a focus on remote work

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Facebook announced two new portal video calling devices on Tuesday, the first major update to the hardware lineup since 2019.

The new devices, Portal Go and the updated Portal Plus, are priced at $ 199 and $ 349, respectively. The 10-inch Portal Go is an entirely new, portable form factor wrapped in a standalone battery, while the latest Portal Plus introduces a sleeker design of the most expensive 14-inch portal that first launched three years ago. Both devices can be pre-ordered now and will be delivered on October 19th.

Like the rest of the range, the Portal Go has a wide-angle camera that automatically tracks who is in focus by zooming and panning as it moves in and out of the center of the image. It’s the first portal that doesn’t require a constant power connection, and Facebook also bills it as a portable Bluetooth speaker with support for Spotify and Pandora. The new Portal Plus works in a similar way to its predecessor, but Facebook does without the swiveling display, which can be rotated from portrait to landscape format. Both portals have a physical shutter to cover the camera like previous versions.

“We’re really looking to the future of hybrid work.”

Unlike Amazon’s Echo range of smart home devices, Facebook’s portal is designed almost exclusively for video calls. The latest software updates to Portal’s Android-based user interface put even more emphasis on video calling in a remote work environment. A new calendar app is synced with Outlook or Google to show upcoming meetings and let you quickly jump into calls from the portal’s home screen.

Apart from Facebook’s own Messenger and WhatsApp, all portal devices now support Zoom, Cisco’s Webex, BlueJeans and GoToMeeting. And in December, Portal will add support for Microsoft Teams, potentially opening it up to a wider range of medium to large businesses.

Integration with Teams is an example of how Facebook believes Portal is increasingly being used as a standalone video conferencing device for remote workers. In the next year, the company will launch a program that will allow companies to manage bulk orders and portals that can be used without a Facebook account for the first time.

“We’re really looking to the future of hybrid work,” Micah Collins, Facebook’s director of product management for Portal, told The Verge last week during a virtual briefing. He said the portal is primarily used between families, but the company has seen a noticeable increase in use for work meetings since the pandemic shutdown began last year.

The Portal Plus (top left and top) and the Portal Go (top right).

Facebook hasn’t announced any portal sales, but according to research firm IDC, it shipped more than 600,000 portals in the past year, an increase of over 28% from 2019. And nearly 400,000 units were shipped in the first half of this year – a signal that year-over-year sales will grow again. Those numbers pale in comparison to the success of Amazon’s Echo range, despite the fact that Amazon hasn’t disclosed sales of its most direct portal competitor, the video-calling-powered Echo Show. (Apple is also rumored to be working on a dedicated video calling device.)

While Facebook has seen steady growth in portal sales, its “growth is being dampened by negative brand perceptions,” Adam Wright, IDC senior analyst for smart home devices, told The Verge. Even so, he noted that “some aggressive marketing in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic” helped boost sales by positioning the portal “as a great way to minimize the impact of bans and social distancing.”

In our 2019 test of the Portal series, we gave the devices bad marks for the lack of streaming services and apps, poor sound quality when playing music and the requirement that a Facebook account is required. While app integrations have certainly improved, Portal still doesn’t support most of the major video streaming services. And a Facebook account is still required unless the portal is acquired through the new business program.

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