Published: Wed, October 10, 2018
Tech | By Tabitha Holland

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

The Portal and Portal Plus marks a new foray into the hardware business in for Facebook.

In the end, Facebook's specific privacy claims about Portal may not be enough to offset the general sense of distrust that the company has engendered over the years.

Facebook could put a camera in your home with video calling Portal device
Facebook Portal and Portal+ go after Echo Show with Alexa support and 'Smart Camera'

It is similar to Smart Display devices from Google and the Echo Show from Amazon, which are also smart speakers with screens to display information or facilitate video calls.

The devices are available for pre-order now for November shipping (no exact date was given) via Facebook and will be available soon at Amazon and Best Buy.

The Portal family includes two variants, the Portal and Portal+.

A 140-degree wide angle camera lens will even follow users about the room.

Facebook's Portal looks like it will be great for video chats with other friends on Facebook, but will that be enough? It doesn't use facial recognition, it doesn't record your calls, it doesn't run on Facebook servers, and it comes with a cover you can slide over the camera, Facebook says. Portals also support a four- to 12-digit passcode; to change that code, you'll need to enter your Facebook password. That means Portal users can call other Portal users, as well as those with Facebook Messenger installed on their smartphones and tablets. Facebook built the device using Amazon's Alexa to help respond to queries from consumers, because the social network does not have its own such virtual assistant. Facebook will even give you a cover for the camera. Portal and Portal+ are 10- and 15-inch smart displays complete with integrated cameras and packed with AI. Facebook has incorporating augmented reality (AR) effects - powered by their Spark AR platform - to make calls fun and interactive. "Interestingly, Facebook has included Amazon Alexa software in their device, allowing users to ask questions such as" What's the weather?" or "How are my teams doing?"

"The first thing consumers are going to wonder is 'how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'" said John Breyault, vice president of public policy of telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that has received donations from Facebook and other tech companies. Both models come with screens and cameras, as Facebook wants customers to use them for video calls. Users can say "Hey Portal" and note who they'd like to call, signalling Facebook may have aspirations for Portal to become a larger AI brand.

The Portal comes in two configurations: A $US200 ($283) model with a 10.1-inch 720p display, and the pricier $US350 ($496) Portal+, which features a larger 15.6-inch 1080p display that can rotate between portrait and landscape view. The company is still dealing with the fallout of Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a British firm harvested Facebook user data to aid the Trump U.S. presidential campaign. In addition, a number of Portal's features are opt-in, and there is no video recording feature. Facebook said it doesn't "listen to, view, or keep the contents of" Portal video calls and that all video calls are encrypted as well. Users can play music from Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora and watch videos through Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy.

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