Published: Tue, October 09, 2018
Hi-Tech | By Kristin Zimmerman

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

Facebook Unveils Portal Smart Speakers

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.

This uses the Portal's Smart camera feature to transform your face and voice into those of the story's characters, meaning you can still give your kids (or your pets) un-rivaled bedtime tales no matter how far away you are. You can ask the device questions by using the voice command, 'Hey Portal'. Portal supports group calls of up to seven people at the same time. 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.

We first heard rumors that Facebook would make a foray into smart speaker hardware a few months ago, well before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light.

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.

Portal and Portal+ have two AI-based features: Smart Camera and Smart Sound. Unlike when making a video call on your mobile device, these allow you to be hands-free, so you can use your hands to show off items, wave, and more while chatting with your friends and family.

Since Echo's release almost four years ago, both Google and Apple have followed Amazon in releasing smart speakers designed for use with their other digital services - some of them, at least. For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera.

The Portal is the closest in style to the Echo Show, with a 10.1-inch 720p screen. It is controlled using voice commands, although Facebook has eschewed the personal approach of competitors such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa in favour of a more disembodied presence: users initiate instructions with: "Hey Portal". There is also a one-touch option to completely disable the camera and mute the microphone.

The Portal+ is a larger device, with a 15.6-inch 1080p display that can be swiveled to a portrait position, as well as landscape.

They are only available for pre-order in the U.S. at present, priced at $199 (around £152) and $349 respectively.

The device comes with a lens cover which you can put over the camera.

Facebook does not record or listen to calls, and your chats are encrypted (Facebook doesn't say whether or not this is end-to-end encryption). 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.

Facebook Portal, the smaller of the two. Two different models were announced today, the Portal and the larger Portal+.

Like this: