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Facebook Unveils 'Portal' Video Chat Device for the Home

Facebook Unveils 'Portal' Video Chat Device for the Home

Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget meant to make video calls easier and more intuitive.

With a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display, the Portal is part of Facebook's mission to improve video calling by making it "completely hands and distraction free".

Facebook, whose founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was recently questioned by Congress about the company's privacy practices, clearly anticipated scepticism about it selling an AI device that can see and hear in your home and as such insists that it won't "listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls". Both also come with Alexa, Amazon's smart assistant, integrated in them, and both will respond to "Hey portal" command. While it appears the two devices have all the usual Alexa-powered smart speaker services built in, what Facebook really wants you to do with Portal is call your friends and family through Facebook Messenger (video calls placed on Portal do not need to be with other Portal owners). The former features a 10.1-inch screen with WXGA resolution and 10W speakers, while the latter features a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 20W speakers and a 4-inch bass woofer.

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Pre-orders are available from Facebook right now, with the smaller Portal being priced at $199 and the Portal+ coming in at $349. The devices will start shipping in November. "It enables the Facebook devices to piggy-back on the back of Alexa success".

Portal is Facebook's answer to the Amazon Echo Show. For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera.

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant in its bid for a slice of a market now dominated by Amazon and Google.

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"It´s been a big shift for the company", Facebook´s vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth told AFP before the launch of "Portal". And how many people are going to make jokes about Facebook opening a portal to... somewhere?

While Facebook's video calling smart home devices have always been in the works, the wake of another major data privacy scandal doesn't feel like the best time for a product launch. Plus, the AI tech runs locally, it reports, and the camera doesn't use facial recognition or identify users.

Do you trust Facebook to put a camera and microphone in your living room? Lastly, Portal only sends those voice commands to Facebook servers which are said after the "Hey Portal" keyword. The Portal does have a few apps, including Facebook Watch for video, and Spotify and Pandora for music. If you preorder, though, you can save $100 when buying two Portal devices at once. 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.

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Facebook seems to be well aware that privacy is a major concern for consumers in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so it's made it easy to turn off the camera and microphone with a single tap, set up a password to lock the Portal's screen, and has also included a camera cover so you can physically block the lens at any time without missing out on notifications.