Facebook isn't the first company that typically comes to mind when you think about virtual assistants, but for a ton of people around the world it is the first name that comes to mind when thinking about chatting online with friends. While video chat has been a part of smart displays from the beginning, connecting that experience to something people actually use has been a challenge. In this respect, Facebook has the upper hand. But there's a lot more to the smart display experience than video chat and pictures, which is something Amazon has had a lot more time to learn.
Displays for days
Amazon is the OG when it comes to smart displays, and while it made some mistakes with the original Echo Show, those flaws were corrected and then some with the second version. On the heels of that second version, Facebook has stepped up with its own display that features plenty of advanced features to help it stand apart. And at the same time, Portal includes Alexa to help make it easy for people who already own Amazon hardware to appreciate this new offering.
|Facebook Portal||Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen)|
|Microphone||4-mic array (2 front, 2 rear)||4-mic array (front)|
|Speakers||2 x 10W (front-firing)||2 x 10W (read-firing) + Dolby tuning|
|Assistant||"Hey Portal" and partial Alexa||Full Alexa|
|Streaming video||Facebook Watch, Food Network, YouTube||Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Hulu|
|Streaming music||Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Newsy||Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Podcasts|
|Chat||Facebook Messenger||Alexa Video, Skype|
If video chat is what you want to do with your smart display, Facebook Portal is the best there is. You get access to your Facebook Messenger contacts list, which for most people is massive, but the software on the camera is what really sells the experience. Facebook uses a 12MP camera with a fisheye lens to show a massive area with a lot of detail, but then uses software to follow you around as you walk and talk. The microphones make it easy to filter out background noise, and the camera zooms in on your face with ease. There's nothing else on sale today that even comes close, even on much more expensive systems than the competing Echo Show.
What the Echo Show does better than anything else happens with the two big speakers in the back. Amazon has tuned these Alexa speakers beautifully, and as a result, they're as loud as they are clear. Facebook Portal has a pair of 10W speakers facing forward, and yet they are neither as loud nor as clear as the rear-mounted speakers on the Echo Show. Since the Show has its speakers on the back, it's able to take up considerably less space than Facebook Portal while still offering a 10.1-inch display. It all comes down to design decisions, which Amazon corrected from one generation to the next. Facebook has yet to benefit from this experience yet.
For all of the video chat features on Facebook Portal, you use the custom "Hey Portal" command when you don't want to tap the screen. These work well, but the commands only work with a handful of things on the platform. For everything else, you use Alexa just like you would on an Echo Show. Unfortunately, this version of Alexa is nowhere near as complete as what you would get on an Amazon Echo Show. This means you can't access Amazon Instant Video, can't access Skype, and can't access many of the Alexa-exclusive features with a competing Facebook counterpart. What you do get is a browser, which allows you to access sites like YouTube an Instagram since those don't exist as native apps. Why Facebook can't manage an Instagram app for its own devices is kind of a mystery, but the workaround is alright.
Which should you buy? Ultimately, it depends on how you want to use your smart display. If you're a big Facebook Messenger fan and you think you'd enjoy a better way to video chat, Facebook Portal is absolutely right for you. If you're looking for a killer kitchen assistant with a powerful smart home platform attached, Amazon does it best on the Echo Show.
Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen)
One of the most capable smart displays you can buy today.
Amazon has worked hard to improve the Echo Show in this second generation, and in many ways there is no equal to the experience you can get from it. That is, as long as you really enjoy the Alexa platform and don't plan to use much else.
A killer video chat experience.
Facebook is doing things with Portal you can't get in any other video chat system today, but the rest of the smart display experience is somewhat lacking.
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