Facebook unveils new Portal smart speakers

Ruben Fields
October 9, 2018

Portal will also have an advantage over Amazon and Google's smarthome devices, being able to call any smartphone that has Facebook Messenger installed. All video calls over Portals are encrypted.

The company has been at the centre of several data privacy incidents this year, and also revealed details about the Portal's privacy settings in a bid to reassure potential customers. The inclusion of Amazon's software is an odd choice given that this appears to be a direct competitor to the Amazon Alexa line of devices.

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

The device has an emphasis on video conferencing and comes in two versions - the Portal and Portal+.

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.

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, even picking out their voice over background noise. However, Amazon's and Google's smart displays do much more than make video calls-namely, they integrate with other services, many of which are unique to their parent companies.

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Considering the popularity of Facebook Messenger, a smart display focused on video calls makes sense.

Last month the company confirmed it had been the subject of a data breach affecting up to 50 million users, which is now being investigated by the Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC), the lead supervising authority for Facebook in the EU. Facebook is also providing users with the option to set a 4 to 12-digit passcode for Portal before anyone can use it.

The larger Portal+ device boasts a rotatable 15.6-inch 1080p display with 20W speakers and a price tag of $349. The smaller one looks like a complete rival of the Echo Show, featuring a similar design with a 10-inch screen in the middle, a camera at the top, and a speaker unit at the base. Apparently though, Facebook is well aware of how little its consumers trust it. VP of the Portal's hardware team, Rafa Camargo, says that the biggest concern with the Portal is obviously the security aspect.

You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap. Amazon's Echo Show can make video Drop-In calls as well as video calls through the Alexa app. Amazon will be adding support for Skype video chatting in the future, too. They also come with a camera cover so that one can easily cover the camera when not in use.

The device comes with a lens cover which you can put over the camera. Two different models were announced today, the Portal and the larger Portal+.

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