Facebook Portal: Everything you need to know
Facebook has just launched a pair of Alexa-powered video chat devices for the home, called Facebook Portal and Facebook Portal Plus, which sound a lot like the Amazon Echo Show.
Portal features a 10-inch, 1280 x 800 display (in landscape), and is available for pre-order in the US for $199 (~£150). The Portal Plus, meanwhile, features a 15-inch, 1920 x 1080 pivoting display (in portrait), and is up for pre-order for $349 (~£270). For context, the 7-inch Echo Show costs £199.
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Other than the size and resolution differences, and the fact that one has a screen that can pivot and the other doesn’t, the only difference between Portal and Portal Plus is the general design. You can buy them both here.
Facebook says both Portal and Portal Plus start shipping in November, but there’s no word yet on whether or not the devices will ever see a UK release.
First and foremost, they’re video chat devices. That means they’re equipped with a camera and a microphone, but to calm fears from privacy-conscious consumers, the social network will let you disable the camera and microphone with a single tap. There’s also a camera cover.
The company says Portal’s camera is AI-powered, and it can automatically pan and zoom to keep everyone in view. The microphone, meanwhile, has a feature that Facebook calls ‘Smart Sound technology’, which is designed to minimise background noise and enhance the voice of the person speaking.
You can use Portal to call any of your Facebook friends through Messenger, whether or not they also own a Portal device. Portal supports group calls of up to seven people at a time, Facebook says, and you can make use of a selection of Snapchat-inspired AR effects too.
You can start a video call hands-free by saying “Hey Portal” and the name of the person you’d like to call.
“We know that privacy and security are important when you bring new technology into your home,” wrote Facebook in a blog post. “That’s why we designed Portal with tools that give you control.”
It continues: “To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Changing the passcode requires your Facebook password.
“We also want to be up front about what information Portal collects, help people understand how Facebook will use that information, and explain the steps we take to keep it private and secure:
“Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.
“For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.
“Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal’”.
Facebook says you can delete Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log, which you can access by clicking the downwards-pointing arrow that appears in the top-right corner of any Facebook page, and selecting Activity Log from the popup menu.
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The Portal and Portal Plus were reportedly originally supposed to launch at the start of May.
However, Facebook is believed to have pushed back its original plans because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which escalated in March. Because of this apparent delay, according to DigiTimes, Facebook has also cut its 2018 order volume by around 20%.
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