Facebook’s Alexa-powered smart display is called Portal, and it’s enormous

Saul Franklin
October 9, 2018

The company announced the Portal and Portal+ smart displays today, both of which are voice-controlled speakers with touchscreens that focus on video chatting with Facebook Messenger.

Facebook is mostly marketing Portal devices as communication tools to talk with family and friends by video.

Facebook is promising its listening and video-capturing device for homes called Portal will safeguard consumer privacy, and that there won't be any ads on it - for now.

But the launch of a product putting a camera into homes is likely to raise privacy issues for the social media giant, which has suffered several data breaches this year involving tens of millions of user accounts.

The new video call devices are powered by AI, with Facebook's "Smart Camera" technology created to follow you as you move around the room and zoom in to the action, meaning you can continue chatting over video while doing chores, cooking in the kitchen, or looking for something in your room. The device features a camera that uses artificial intelligence to automatically pan and zoom as people move around during calls.

Facebook on Monday unveiled the Portal and Portal+, directly challenging Amazon, Google and Apple in the fast-growing smart-speaker market with a unique approach that will emphasize video calling.To start a video call, users can say "Hey Portal, call." followed by the name of a connection on Facebook's Messenger service.

Facebook has also installed Amazon's Alexa on Portal for smart home functions, a significant deal for the two companies in their efforts to dominate home technology.

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Another important aspect of the Portal is privacy and security.

Portal also comes with Amazon Alexa built in.

Facebook has just entered the smart speaker business and it's already partnered with three music services: Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. It has the same camera and microphone arrangement as the smaller Portal but better sound with two tweeter and one woofer arrangement totaling 20W.

Portal will cost $199 while Portal Plus will cost $349. Both devices support "Hey Portal" for voice control options. The device will allow users to disable the camera and microphone with a single tap and to lock it with a numerical passcode.

Both devices are available for preorder online in the United States through Facebook ($FB), Amazon ($AMZN), and Best Buy ($BBY).

But Portal has one big stumbling block to overcome: Facebook's brand.

Hardware wise, there really isn't a lot to see here apart from the huge 15-.6-inch display on the Portal+. This marks Facebook's first physical product aside from the Oculus virtual reality headset which Facebook acquired in 2014. Facebook says that even the Facebook Messenger users who don't have Portal will be able to connect with Portal users by utilising cameras built in a laptop, smartphone or tablet. Smart Camera helps you read a fun story via a simple teleprompter, perfectly framed, while your loved ones on the other side watch as your face and voice transform into the story's characters. Both display photos and notifications from Facebook and videos from Food Network, but offer few other applications. The Facebook app has been known to collect an ungodly amount of data from people's phones, including call history and SMS data on Android.

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