Facebook launches AI video-calling device Portal

Facebook's new Portal device

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The Portal and Portal+ are new video calling devices which feature built-in speakers and large touchscreens.

Privacy is a big issue with Facebook especially with recent developments which is why the company is putting a lot of emphasis on it. Users can completely disable the camera and microphone on the Portal and Portal+ with a single tap.

The company has also been heavily linked with making its own smart speaker to rival the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, but no such device has yet appeared.

"Both models are created to help you feel closer to the important people in your life and make video chats feel less like a call, and more like you're actually in the same room", Facebook said in a blog post.

Already up for pre-order starting at $199, Portal has a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display.

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The larger Portal+ device boasts a rotatable 15.6-inch 1080p display with 20W speakers and a price tag of $349.

Portal and Portal+ are available now for pre-order in the United States - from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy - and will begin shipping in November. The devices will start shipping in November. The Portal may be competing against Amazon Echo devices, but the same Alexa assistant will power them.

In terms of privacy, Facebook claims the calls are encrypted and that Facebook does not listen in or save a copy of them. The company has been working on a smart display product for a while, and it finally made things official this afternoon with the Portal and the Portal+. Facebook says it and your friends can't look into your house anytime they want: Video chats have to be explicitly accepted before the camera cuts on. The company also incorporated its Spark AR platform into each device so users can video chat with custom sound and visual effects (a Snapchat-esque feature dubbed Story Time). These new widescreen displays are created to help you feel as though the two of you are in the same room.

If multiple people are in front of the camera, the Portal will use a wide-angle lens to fit everyone in. It doesn't use facial recognition, it doesn't record your calls, it doesn't run on Facebook servers, and it comes with a cover you can slide over the camera, Facebook says. Even as these two tech giants team up, though, Facebook has asserted ownership over the device by offering its own voice controls, as well. You can also receive $100 United States dollars off any two devices - this means a bundle of two Portal devices will be priced at $298 USD, so you can share the experience right out of the box. As a camera, it offers a nice upgrade to the Skype or FaceTime video-chat experience that many of us have on a phone or computer.

Like its competitors, the Portal works with a handful of steaming media services such as Spotify, Pandora, Food Network and, of course, Facebook Watch.

In addition to collecting data on users' commands with Alexa-powered artificial intelligence software, the Portal and Portal+ speakers are equipped with cameras that can follow users around a room and enhance the sound of their voices when they talk.

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