Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

Portal devices are also created to hook up through Facebook Messenger, so you can call people via the social network - even if they didn't buy one of these devices themselves.

You can use Portal to call your Facebook Messenger friends, even if they don't have a portal, and each call supports up to seven people at once.

For now, the Portal and the Portal+ will be available only in the US. You can start a video call simply by saying "Hey Portal" and noting who you'd like to call. Facebook is pitching it as a device that will make Messenger video calls easier and "more like hanging out".

They also share "Smart Camera" technology allowing users to move and talk freely as they're being followed around the room during a call. The two devices are priced at $199 and $349 respectively and are available from Facebook, Amazon, and Best Buy. Both devices also feature a button that turns their cameras physically off. Facebook says it doesn't listen to or store the contents of any Portal call, and all of the A.I. features for Smart Camera and Speaker run locally in the device, not on Facebook's servers. Plus, to manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. While the built-in camera can track users around the room, Facebook says the camera does not use face recognition, and the AI that handles the tracking lives on the device instead of on Facebook's servers.

Portal integrates Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to handle search queries, and Amazon collects audio files of requests made to Alexa.

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Facebook even includes a plastic cover that can be placed over the Portal's camera, though its simple, non-integrated design makes the cover seem like a bit of an afterthought. Fast-forward to this Monday, and after the reported delay, Facebook has quietly unveiled the Portal video-chat and smart speaker platform. The Portal+ has a bigger 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display.

The real head-scratching thing about the Portal is that while you'll be able to use it to browse your Facebook photos and videos and check the weather, Facebook's laser focus on video calling means you won't be able to view other tenets of the core Facebook experience such as the News Feed using the Portal. But the company chose to delay the launch by six months due to the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, amid concerns that it was the wrong time to ask users to trust Facebook with more personal information. You can delete your Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

The smaller Portal is an Amazon Echo Show style device, which is basically a giant display with a speaker. If the video call has multiple people in the frame, the camera shifts to a wide-angle mode, keeping everyone in its bounding box. The processing of users' voice commands happens on the device, not in a Facebook data centre.

As for privacy, Facebook claims they're taking it very seriously.

The camera is powered by artificial intelligence, and the Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology "take all the guesswork out of video calling", Facebook says. There are apps for Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and the Newsy news service.

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