Facebook's first Portal smart speaker had a tepid reception, but the company is back for another swing with the new Portal and Portal mini.
The new duo look dramatically different to the OG Portal and Portal+, mimicking digital photo frames that can be stood in portrait or landscape orientations, and doubling down on Portal's biggest strength: video calling.
Hands on: Facebook Portal and Portal Mini review
Both the Portal and Portal Mini share the same 114-degree field of view, 13MP resolution camera and far-field four-mic array. The main difference here is the size: the Portal has a 10-inch display while the Mini's is just 8 inches.
Calls can be initiated with a "Hey Portal, call [name]". Facebook is also now adding WhatsApp video calling to Portal, though these can't be initiated by voice ‚Äď you'll need to start them using the touchscreen. Facebook says this is due to WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ‚Äď supporting voice calling would mean sending contact details to Facebook's cloud servers.
That camera uses Facebook's AI to track people around the room and keep people in the frame. If there are multiple people in the room (and close enough, within the Portal's FoV) it will automatically zoom out to track them in the shot.
There's no end of AR tricks and games too, if that's your thing, from funny filters to interactive storybooks you can read to children.
You'll also be able to ask Portal things like the weather, or have it load up your morning dashboard, which (of course) also shows you which Facebook friends have their birthday that day. But Facebook's assistant is a little thin, so Alexa is also on board to round out the smart speaker features.
Both Portal speakers have two full-range drivers and two-inch woofers, but Facebook says the larger speaker will produce a better sound overall.
Facebook knows it's competing in a saturated market, and Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's AR and VR vice president, made no bones of this. "What we're most interested in is how people interact with other people, ideally with the help of these devices, and that's the market opportunity we see," he told us.
While some smart speaker makers are eschewing cameras altogether to allay privacy concerns, Facebook sees its camera technology as the killer app, and to its credit, Portal's best feature was its pan-and-zoom camera AI, which is back and better on the 2019 models.
But data privacy is still a big topic ‚Äď and might be Facebook's biggest challenge with Portal. Facebook knows it has to be transparent about this, and as such it's giving the users the option to opt out of voice training.
If they opt in, "Hey Portal" voice interactions will be stored on Facebook's servers, and some may be reviewed to help improve Portal, Facebook told us. You will also be able to hear and delete individual recordings, or all of them at once, in the Portal settings.
Bringing the price down is another way Facebook might win people over: the new Portal and Portal Mini cost $179 and $129 respectively. They'll start shipping on 15 October.
The Portal+ is staying in the lineup, which also includes the new Portal TV ‚Äď an Xbox Kinect-like device that turns your TV into a Portal interface.