Facebook debuts AI-powered smart speakers 'Portal' to make video-calling easy

Facebook could put a camera in your home with video calling Portal device

Portal could help Facebook stop users from flocking to rival chat and video apps on other speakers and give it a new, wholly controlled environment to sell ads. If you're looking for a larger screen, the Portal+ is 15 inches wide, with both devices acting as a digital photo frame, displaying images from your Facebook feed when they are not being used to make calls.

Facebook says it put a priority on privacy in designing the Portal, and it does appear to have learned some lessons.

As for privacy, Facebook claims they're taking it very seriously. Whether you're cooking in the kitchen or chasing the kids around the living room, Smart Camera stays with the action and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view. Both the devices will use a 12-megapixel camera to enable video calls. But the devices also come with built-in support for Amazon's Alexa, so you can talk to the Portal as you might the Echo Show.

The Portal devices feature Amazon Alexa inside, allowing users to ask for weather, news, sports scores, and more. "Portal's camera doesn't use facial recognition and doesn't identify who you are", it adds. "You can't watch YouTube; there's no web browser; WhatsApp and Instagram are nowhere to be found; and you can't send or receive normal Facebook messages, even if they're video recordings".

As previously rumored, the Portal family will have two versions: The more affordable Portal model priced at $199, and the high-end Portal+ that will cost $399. You can delete your Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time. For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera.

Portal and Portal+ are available now for pre-order in the USA - from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy - and will begin shipping in November.

That's definitely a cool trick up the sleeve of the Portal+, which also comes with a pair of tweeters, single 4-inch bass, and 20w audio output. Its primary goal is to make video calls - the thing any smartphone, tablet, or computer can do - but Amazon Alexa is built-in so it can be your assistant, too.

For now, the Portal and the Portal+ will be available only in the US.

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Do you plan on picking up a new Portal?

If you're still reading, let me run down what each speaker has.

Although Facebook acquired virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus in 2014, this is the first time it has developed a consumer hardware product in-house.

Since Echo's release almost four years ago, both Google and Apple have followed Amazon in releasing smart speakers designed for use with their other digital services - some of them, at least.

In video calls, Facebook is offering integrations with Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and its own video platform to let users watch or listen to content together on a call.

Facebook has moved to quickly allay security fears, saying that by keeping the processes on the actual device rather than in the cloud, the risk of hacking is lower than with a smartphone or computer.

Earlier this year, Facebook had to acknowledge that as many as 87 million people may have had their data accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm that worked for the Trump campaign and aimed to use the data to influence elections.

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