Facebook Portal Combines Video Calling and Alexa for $199

Facebook's new Portal device

Facebook's new Portal device

There have been rumors that Facebook was working on smart speaker devices with touchscreens for quite some time, and on Monday the company finally made those rumors true.

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.

This image provided by Facebook shows the company's product called Portal. Interestingly, the Plus' display will be able to rotate between landscape and portrait modes. That means you can easily start a video call within Facebook Messenger, or you can watch the various content on Facebook's own video streaming service, Facebook Watch.

First going on sale in the United States in November, Portal will come with a 10in display for video calls, or a 15in display on the Portal+. Users activate the device by using the wake word "Portal" to make calls.

While Portal will be seen by many as a direct competitor to other smart assistant devices, particularly Amazon's screen-equipped Echo Show, Facebook is pitching the device as mainly a way to stay connected with friends and family. That sounds like a lot to ask for a social-media company mired in privacy scandals. 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. In addition, a number of Portal's features are opt-in, and there is no video recording feature.

To make a call, users will simply say "Hey Portal, call." followed by the name of the person you want to contact. If there are a bunch of people chatting, the camera will zoom out in an attempt to get everyone into the shot at the same time. After that privacy nightmare, rumors claimed that Facebook would be pushing back plans to launch the Portal ecosystem to later this year.

But 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. Rival smart speakers with screens lack a video-chatting app that is as popular.

Portal can be passcode protected.

Facebook is also including features like Smart Call and Smart Sound. Additionally, those AI features, which were mentioned earlier, all run locally so Facebook doesn't need to receive any data to enable those features. "Portal's camera doesn't use facial recognition and doesn't identify who you are", it adds. All other functions are local (aside from certain Alexa functions when you say "Hey Alexa"). The Portal also doesn't record any of the chats you have on it, online or offline, making it safer, on paper, than the Echo.

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 $199 Portal has a 10-inch, 1280×800 touchscreen. If you buy two devices together you'll also get a $100 discount.

Portal offers hands-free voice control.

Preorder your Portal today from the official website.

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