Facebook’s home video chat devices, the Portal and Portal Plus, are going on sale today, a month after they were initially announced.
The products are almost exclusively focused on video chatting. While they also display photos, play music, and support a small number of video networks, their feature set is very limited at launch — you can’t even browse Facebook on them.
You’re primarily meant to use them to chat with people over Facebook Messenger, and Facebook has built in some smart camera tricks to make that easier. Both devices have a single, fixed camera at the top, but the camera will zoom in and follow you around, so that you don’t have to hold a phone up to your face while you’re chatting. That way, you can move throughout a room and remain engaged on a call.
But the story of this product isn’t just what it can and can’t do — it’s whether people will be willing to bring a Facebook-connected mic and camera into their home at all. Facebook has emphasized the privacy features built in here (there’s an off button that completely deactivates the camera and mics), but that may not be enough to comfort those already skeptical of the company, which has been beset with recent privacy scandals.
Both the Portal and Portal Plus are shipping today. They’ll be available from Facebook’s website, as well as through Best Buy and Amazon, which will also have the devices in stores. The smaller Portal sells for $199, and the larger Portal Plus goes for $349. At launch, you’ll be able to get a $100 discount if you buy two at once — which makes some sense, since you’ll probably want another Portal user to chat with.