Facebook’s Portal Plus brings your friends and family closer for a price

id=”cnetReview” section=”rvwBody” data-component=”indepthReview”> “If you can’t be there, feel there.” 

That’s a tag line Facebook’s using to advertise its new $349 Portal Plus and $199 Portal smart displays. 

Facebook envisions its new Portal product line as a way to bring you closer to your inner circle of Facebook contacts. The lower-cost Portal looks like Amazon’s Echo Show ( $230 at Amazon ) video chat device. Meanwhile the Portal Plus offers the same functions, but with a larger screen and a unique design that looks something like a pygmy robot giraffe.

By way of the touchscreen on either Portal device, or invoking the “Hey Portal” voice assistant, you can initiate a video call with your Facebook contacts. Portal video calling is accessible exclusively to users of the Facebook Messenger text and video chat service. Your contacts don’t need a Portal of their own to receive a call, but at minimum they need to use either Facebook’s Messenger app or the Messenger web interface.

What distinguishes the Portal Plus and https://www.facebook.com/ the Portal from the Echo Show, competing devices powered by Google or even a phone with a decent video chat application like Apple’s FaceTime, is the Portal camera. On both Portal devices, the camera boasts a 140-degree field of view, which gives you a much larger look at a caller’s environment. The camera can automatically pan and zoom around the video image — thanks to a feature called Smart Camera — to concentrate on the person in the frame. Another feature, called Spotlight, tells the camera to focus on a specific person when there are multiple people on screen.

Commentary: Hey, Mark Zuckerberg, is Facebook Portal the wrong product at the wrong time?

The overall effect of the Portal’s excellent camera is an expansive view of the caller’s environment, and an improved sense of closeness for the viewer. It makes you feel like you’re there with the people on the other side of the screen in a way that competing video chat devices and services can’t duplicate right now.

As compelling as that experience might be, Facebook doesn’t have the best reputation right now in terms of its ability to act responsibly with customer data. How do you feel about letting Facebook put a device with a microphone and an excellent camera into your home? More than any of the Portal’s product shortcomings, and there are a few, Facebook’s history of privacy-related issues might be the largest obstacle to its success.