Facebook intros new Portal smart hub line powered by Alexa

Noel Cummings
October 10, 2018

Facebook's new Portal communications device.

The main difference between the Facebook Portal+ and standard Portal is size, as the latter sports a fairly easy to maneuver 10.1-inch display, while the Plus version bumps that up to a gargantuan, portrait to landscape-rotating 15.6 inches.

Facebook unveiled the screen-like device called Portal, which has the Amazon Alexa voice assistant built-in today.

London- Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is now dominated by Amazon and Google.

Pre-orders are available from Facebook right now, with the smaller Portal being priced at $199 and the Portal+ coming in at $349.

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Would you like to get published on Standard Media websites? It is controlled using voice commands, although Facebook has eschewed the personal approach of competitors such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa in favour of a more disembodied presence: users initiate instructions with: "Hey Portal". Users also have two ways to cut off the camera: A button on the device "physically disconnects the camera and microphone", which can't be re-enabled through software alone, and a separate cover lets users block the camera lens itself. Portals also support a four- to 12-digit passcode; to change that code, you'll need to enter your Facebook password. Facebook will even give you a cover for the camera. Those Instagram and Snapchat face filters will also come to the big screen here via Facebook's Spark AR platform, so you can chat with people while sporting a cartoon face, if you prefer. Call out, "Portal, call Geoffrey", and it'll ring my home Portal or the Facebook Messenger app on my phone. The device only sends voice commands to Facebook's servers after the words "Hey, Portal" are said, according to Camargo.

I'm not saying we should all be paranoid about our data but it's a good idea to think about who we are handing it over to, and Facebook has ran out of strikes on this one. It's worth noting that you can't browse Facebook, the social network, on the Portal.

Compared to Amazon Echo Show, the Portal devices seem pretty limited in nature with a strong emphasis being laid on video calling.

For a while we've been hearing rumours about Facebook developing its own smart devices, specifically smart speakers and smart displays (ala Echo Show). The data affair uncovered problems with how Facebook allows third parties to access data it's gathered on its 2.2 billion monthly users.

During a conversation, the integrated camera can automatically zoom out to include a second person, or be instructed to follow a certain individual as they walk around.

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The Portal also takes advantage of the best part about Facebook: photos. But even Facebook acknowledges there are privacy concerns.

Facebook uses AI in order to enhance the video and sound, these features are dubbed Smart Camera and Smart Sound.

There are only a handful of third-party partners, so far, including Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Newsy, Food Network and Amazon Alexa.

Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls.

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