Very few modern tech companies have executed on their mission as consistently, and at such a high level of quality as Analogue. Analogue’s obsessively engineered modern consoles for old-school physical cartridge video games are museum-quality hardware design, housing specially tuned processors that offer pitch- and pixel-perfect play of all NES, Sega Genesis, SNES and other retro console games on modern HD TVs – and their new $ 199 Analogue Pocket aims to provide the best way to play classic portable console titles in similar high fidelity.
The Analogue Pocket is a portable gaming console that can play the entire library of Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games out of the box – natively, without emulation, so that the gaming experience is exactly as you remember it (or as it was intended, if this is your first experience with these classic titles). That’s not all, though: Using cartridge adapters, the Analogue Pocket can support Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Atari Lynx and other games, too.
It uses two FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) which are processors that have been programmed specifically to play these games back as they were originally intended, mimicking the the operation of the original silicon found in the consoles that these games were designed for with the faithfulness of true restoration hardware. The result is a great gaming experience that will feel like the original – but played on the Analogue Pocket’s much more impressive hardware, which offers a 3.5-inch, 1600×1440 LCD display that provides a very high-resolution 615 ppi. For those keeping tracks that’s ten times the resolution of the original Game Boy display. And it’s color tuned for amazing color rendering and brightness – it could actually be the best display on a dedicated gaming device, period, let alone for a retro console.
The Analogue Pocket also works with an accessory called the Analogue Dock (sold separately, pricing TBD), which adds HDMI out and Bluetooth/wired controller support, to turn the Pocket into a home console for your big screen TV, too. The dock offers two standard USB ports for wired controllers, and its Bluetooth support works with any of 8Bitdo’s excellent gamepads. It’s basically a Switch but for all your favorite Game Boy series games, and with what looks like much better quality hardware.
That would be plenty to offer in a portable console, but the Analogue Pocket is designed to do still more. It has a built-in synthesizer and sequencer for making digital music, and the second FPGA it’s packing is designed to be used specifically for development. It allows the development community to bring their own cores to the platform, which means it could potentially support a whole host of classic and ported games in future.
Analogue Pocket is set to release some time in 2020, with a more specific date to be announced later on. It’s a natural next step for the company that delivered excellent gaming experiences via the Nt Mini, the Super Nt and the Mega Sg, but it’s still a nice, exciting surprise to find out that they’re tackling the rich history of mobile gaming next.
Facebook wants to take over your television with a clip-on camera for video calling, AR gaming, and content co-watching. If you can get past the creepiness, the new Portal TV let you hang out with friends on your home’s biggest screen. It’s a fresh product category that could give the social network a unique foothold in the living room where unlike on phones where it’s beholden to Apple and Google, Facebook owns the hardware and operating system.
Today Facebook unveiled a new line of Portal devices that bring its auto-zooming AI camera, in-house voice assistant speaker, Alexa, apps like Spotify and newly added Amazon Prime Video, Messenger video chat, and now end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp video calls to smaller form factors.
The $ 149 Portal TV is the star of the show, turning most televisions with an HDMI connection into a video chat smart screen. And if you video call between two Portal TVs, you can use the new Watch Together feature to co-view Facebook Watch videos simultaneously while chilling together over picture-in-picture. The Portal TV is genius way for Facebook to make its hardware both cheaper yet more immersive by co-opting a screen you already own and have given a space in your life, thereby leapfrogging smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
There’s also the new pint-size 8-inch Portal Mini for just $ 129, which makes counter-top video chat exceedingly cheap. The 10-inch Portal that launched a year ago now has a sleeker, minimal bezel look with a price drop for $ 199 to $ 179. Both look more like digital picture frames, which they are, and can be stood on their side or end for optimal full-screen chatting. Lastly, the giant 15.6-inch Portal+ swivel screen falls to $ 279 instead of $ 349, and you still get $ 50 off if you buy any two Portal devices.
“The TV has been a staple of living rooms around the world, but to date it’s been primarily about people who are physically interacting with the device” says Facebook’s VP of consumer hardware Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth. “We see the opportunity for people to use their TVs not just to do that but also to interact with other people.”
The new Portals all go on pre-sale today from Portal.facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy in the US and Canada plus new markets like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and France (though the Hey Portal assistant only works in English). Portal and Portal Mini ship October 15th and Portal TV ships November 5th.
The whole Portal gang lack essential video apps like Netflix and HBO, and Boz claims he’s not trying to compete directly with Roku, Fire TV etc. Instead, Facebook is trying to compete where it’s strongest, on communication and video chat where rivals lack a scaled social network.
“You’re kind of more hanging out. It isn’t as transactional. It’s not as urgent as when you sacrifice your left arm to the cause” explains Boz. Like how Fortnite created a way for people to just chill together while gaming remotely, Portal TV could do the same for watching television together, apart.
Battling The Creepiness
The original Portal launched a year ago to favorable reviews except for one sticking point: journalists all thought it was too sketchy to bring Facebook surveillance tech inside their homes. Whether the mainstream consumer feels the same way is still a mystery as the company has refused to share sales numbers. Though Boz told me “The engagement, the retention numbers are all really positive”, we haven’t seen developers like Netflix rush to bring their apps to the Portal platform.
To that end, privacy on Portal no longer feels clipped on like the old plastic removeable camera covers. “We have to always do more work to grow the number of people who have that level of comfort, and bring that technology into their home” says Boz. “We’ve done what we can in this latest generation of products, now with integrated camera covers that are hardware, indicator lights when the microphone is off, and form factors that are less obtrusive and blend more into the background of the home.”
One major change stems from a scandal that spread across the tech sector, with Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook all being criticized for quietly sending voice clips to human reviewers to improve speech recognition in what felt like a privacy violation. “Part of the Portal out-of-box experience is going to be a splash screen on data storage and it will literally walk through how . . . when we hear ‘hey Portal’ a voice recording and transcription is sent, it may be reviewed by humans, and people have the ability to opt out.”
But if Portal if battling the perception of creepiness, why make human reviews the default? Boz defended the call from the perspective of accessibility. “We say ‘oh they’re good enough” but for a lot of people that might have a mild speech impedentment, a subtle accent, who might use different words because they’re from a different region, these assistants aren’t inclusive.” He claims more voice data reviewed by humans means better products for everyone, though better sales for Facebook wouldn’t hurt.
Instead, Facebook is leaning on the evolution of the smart screen market in general to help its camera blend in. “The more value we can create, not just any one player but as an entire industry, that allows consumers to feel – ‘yeah, I both am comfortable with how the data is being used and why’.”
Hands-On With The New Portals
If you can get past Facebook’s toxic brand, the new Portals are quite pleasing. They’re remarkably polished products for a company just a year into selling consumer hardware. They all feel sturdy and elegant enough to place in your kitchen or living room.
The Portal and Portal Mini work just like last year’s models, but without the big speaker bezel, they can be flipped on their side and look much more like picture frames while running Portal’s Smart Frame showing your Facebook, Instagram, or Camera roll photos.
Portal TV’s flexible form factor is a clever innovation, first spotted as “Codename: Ripley” by Jane Manchun Wong and reported by Alex Heath for Cheddar a year ago. It has an integrated stand for placing on your TV console, but that stand also squeezes onto a front wing to let it clip onto both wide and extremely thin new flatscreen televisions. With just an HDMI connection it brings a 12.5 megapixel, 120-degree camera and 8 mic array to any tube. It also ships with a stubby remote control for basic browsing without having to shout across the room. TechCrunch.
Portal TV includes an integrated smart speaker that can be used even when the TV is off or on a different input, and offers HDMI CEC for control through other remotes. The built-in camera cover gives users piece of mind and a switch conjures a red light to signal that all sensors are disabled. Overall, control felt a tad sluggish but passable.
Portal’s software is largely the same as before with a few key improvements, the addition of WhatsApp, and one big bonus feature for Portal TVs. The AI Smart Camera is the best part, automatically tracking multiple people to keep everyone in frame as zoomed in as possible. Improved adaptive background modeling and human pose estimation lets it keep faces in view without facial recognition, and all video processing is done locally on the device. A sharper Spotlight feature lets you select one person, like a child running around the room so you don’t miss the gymnastics routines.
The Portal app platform that features Spotify and Pandora is gaining Amazon’s suite of apps, starting with Prime Video while Ring doorbell and smart home controls are on the way. Beyond Messenger calls and AR Storytime where you don related AR masks as you read aloud a children’s book, there are new AR games like Cats Catching Donuts With Their Mouths. Designed for kids and casual players, the games had some trouble with motion tracking and felt too thin for more than a few seconds of play. But if Facebook gave Portal TV a real controller or bought a better AR games studio, it could dive deeper into gaming as a selling point.
WhatsApp is the top new feature for all the Portals. Though you can’t use the voice assistant to call people, you can now WhatsApp video chat friends with end-to-end encryption rather than just Messenger’s encryption in transit. The two messaging apps combined give Portal a big advantage over Google and Amazon’s devices since their parents have screwed up or ignored chat over the years. Still, there’s no way to send text messages which would be exceedingly helpful.
Reserved for Portal TV-to-Portal TV Messenger chats is the new Watch Together feature we broke the news of a year ago after Ananay Arora spotted it in Messenger’s code. This lets you do a picture-in-picture video chat with friends while you simultaneously view a Facebook Watch video. It even smartly ducks down the video’s audio while friends are talking so you can share reactions. While it doesn’t work with other content apps like Prime Video, Watch Together shows the potential of Portal: passive hang out time.
“Have you ever thought about how weird bowling is, Josh? Bowling is a weird thing to go do. I enjoy bowling, I don’t enjoy bowling by myself that much. I enjoy going with other people” Boz tells me. “It’s just a pretext, it’s some reason for us to get together and have some beers and to have time and have conversation. Whether it’s video calling or the AR games . . . those are a pre-text, to have an excuse to go be together.”
This is Portal’s true purpose. Facebook has always been about time spent, getting deeper into your life, and learning more about you. While other companies’ products might feel less creepy or be more entertaining, none have the ubiquitous social connection of Facebook and Portal. When your friends are on screen to, a mediocre game or silly video is elevated into a memorable experience. With Portal TV, Facebook finally has something unique enough to offset its brand tax and earn it a place in your home.
Insta360 has quickly established itself as the leader in 360-degree video capture, at least for the consumer market, and its new GO stabilized camera builds on that legacy and extends some of the tech it’s built into the category of more traditional, non-360-degree footage.
The $ 199.99 GO is truly tiny – it weighs under an ounce, and measures less than two inches tall, by under an inch wide. It’s tiny, and that’s ideal for the use case that Insta360 has in mind for this device – wearing it or mounting it virtually anywhere for capturing quick clips. The GO’s all about quick action grabs, with a 30-second cap on clip recording, which you trigger by pressing the lone control button on the device (a second press stops the clip, unless you let it run the entire 30 seconds).
GO’s design is clearly meant for social sharing, but its secret weapon vs. just using your smartphone or making use of other devices is that it packs Insta360’s FlowState stabilization on board. This is the company’s digital video stabilization feature, which works to great effect in its Insta360 One X 360-degree camera for smoothing out footage so that even in intense action sequences it’s not nausea-inducing.
GO also features a magnetic body, which is designed to work in tandem with a variety of accessories, including backs for securing them unobtrusively to clothing, an underwater housing (the camera itself is IPX4 rated, which means essentially it’s protected from splashes but not meant to be submerged), and mounts for sticking to things like surf boards or vehicles. It can capture clips at resolution of up to 2720×2720, but it crops the image to 1080p (at 25 fps) for export as a result of the stabilization tech.
Shooting modes include a standard 25fps as mentioned, as well as a 30fps time-lapse which can record up to 8 hours (which will output a 9 second video) and a hyper laps mode that can shoot for up to 30 minutes to generate a 5 minute video. It can capture photos, too, exporting square images at 2560 x 2560 resolution, or a number of landscape options reading down from there.
In addition to simplifying capture, the Insta360 GO also hopes to make editing and sharing much easier, too, with its FlashCut auto editing feature. This software tool uses “AI” according to the company, in order to find the best clips (you can even sort by category, ie. ‘food’) you capture throughout the day and then stitch them together in a final edit. You can also fully tweak the edits it provides if you’d rather be a more involved creator.
The biggest limitation, based on just reading the specs and not having had a chance to test this out yet, is that the battery life is rated at around 200 clips per day, based on an average of 20 seconds per clip. But that’s including recharging the camera when not in use using the included Charge Case, which has 2.5 extra charges using its built-in battery. That and the recording limitation could prove challenging to anyone looking to create a lot of content with this camera, but on the other hand, it’s very easy to ensure you have it with you at all times – even when your smartphone isn’t nearby.
At $ 199.99, the Insta360 GO isn’t exactly cheap – but it does include the Charge Case, a pendant with a magnet you can use to wear it around you neck, a stand, a clip for clothing and a sticky mount for putting it on most smooth surfaces. You can also laser-engrave it if you purchase it directly via Insta360’s website. But after some missed starts for this category like the Google Clips camera, and earlier entrants like the Memoto and Narrative Clip lifelogging cameras, I’ll be curious to see if Insta360’s additional features help this gadget define a category.