Facebook put a battery in its new Portal
Facebook on Tuesday announced two new Portal video calling devices, the first major refresh of the hardware lineup since 2019.
The new devices, the Portal Go and updated Portal Plus, retail for $199 and $349, respectively. The 10-inch Portal Go is an all-new, portable form factor wrapped in fabric with a standalone battery, while the latest Portal Plus introduces a sleeker design of the most expensive, 14-inch Portal that first debuted three years ago. Both devices are available now for preorder and start shipping on October 19th.
Like the rest of the lineup, the Portal Go features a wide-angle camera that automatically follows whoever is in focus, zooming and panning as they move in and out of the center of the frame. It’s the first Portal that doesn’t require a constant power connection, and Facebook is also billing it as a portable Bluetooth speaker with support for Spotify and Pandora. The new Portal Plus functions similarly to its predecessor, but Facebook got rid of the swivel display that could rotate from portrait to landscape view. Both Portals have a physical shutter to cover the camera like past versions.
Unlike Amazon’s Echo lineup of smart home devices, Facebook’s Portal is almost entirely intended for video calling. The latest software updates to Portal’s Android-based interface put even more of an emphasis on video calls in a remote work setting. A new calendar app syncs with Outlook or Google to show upcoming meetings and let you quickly jump into calls from Portal’s home screen.
Aside from Facebook-owned 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 for use by a wider swath of mid to large-size companies.
The integration with Teams is an example of how Facebook thinks Portal will increasingly be used as a standalone video conferencing device for remote workers. Next year, the company will launch a program to let businesses bulk order and manage Portals that can, for the first time, be used without a Facebook or WhatsApp account.
“We’re really looking ahead to the future of hybrid work,” Micah Collins, Facebook’s director of product management for Portal, told The Verge during a virtual briefing last week. He said that Portal is primarily used between families but that the company saw a noticeable uptick in usage for work meetings since pandemic shutdowns began last year.
Facebook hasn’t disclosed Portal sales, but according to the research firm IDC, it shipped more than 600,000 Portals last year, an increase of over 28% from 2019. And it shipped close to 400,000 units in the first half of this year — a signal that sales will grow year-over-year again. Those numbers pale in comparison to the success of Amazon’s Echo lineup, though Amazon hasn’t disclosed sales for its most direct Portal competitor, the video calling-equipped Echo Show. (Apple is also rumored to be working on a dedicated video calling device.)
While Facebook is showing steady growth with Portal sales, its “growth is dampened by negative brand perceptions,” Adam Wright, IDC’s senior analyst for smart home devices, told The Verge. Even still, he noted that “some aggressive marketing during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic” helped boost sales by positioning Portal “as a good way to minimize the impacts of lockdowns and social distancing.”
In our 2019 review of the Portal lineup, we gave the devices poor marks for the lack of streaming services and apps, poor sound quality for playing music, and the requirement of needing a Facebook account. While the app integrations have certainly improved, Portal still doesn’t support most of the major video streaming services. And a Facebook or WhatsApp account is still needed unless the Portal is purchased through the new business program.