Facebook launches artificial intelligence video-calling device ‘Portal’

Kelley Robertson
October 9, 2018

Hot off the news of a massive user-data breach, today Facebook is entering the smart display wars with Portal, a connected gadget with speakers and a screen, built-in Alexa integration, and even deeper ties into Facebook for people who don't yet distrust Facebook with every fibre of their being. Facebook is promoting the Portal devices as a way to communicate, focusing on video calling - the device's camera will automatically zoom into the main subject in the camera when you are in a video call thanks to the Smart Camera feature, for example. The device itself is powered by Amazon's Alexa, and although Facebook was originally believed to be building its own personal assistant for the smart displays, using Amazon's Echo probably seemed like a much better idea and solution.

The Portal comes in two configurations: A $US200 ($283) model with a 10.1-inch 720p display, and the pricier $US350 ($496) Portal+, which features a larger 15.6-inch 1080p display that can rotate between portrait and landscape view. Meanwhile, the larger Portal+ boasts a 15.6-inch Full HD display, and it's coupled with 20W speakers and a four-inch bass woofer.

Both devices include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and are available for pre-order from Facebook's Portal website.

"This is going to gain (Facebook) not only a place in the smart home, but also data they may not have been able to collect before or understand before", said ABI Research analyst Jonathan Collins.

You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap.

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.


The smaller Portal is an Amazon Echo Show style device, which is basically a giant display with a speaker. You can use the AR effects with a feature called Story Time to "bring stories to life with custom sound effects and visuals".

Facebook describes these machines as flawless for video chatting on Facebook Messenger.

Facebook is hoping Portal and Portal Plus will be on people's holiday gift-giving lists.

Portal's Smart Camera works in tandem with "Smart Sound", which minimizes background noise and hones in on the person speaking for a clearer video call experience. Because there's no way Facebook wouldn't hook any of its products through the main features of the social network. There's also a physical camera cover to prevent recording.

The Portal devices feature Amazon Alexa inside, allowing users to ask for weather, news, sports scores, and more. Facebook said it can distinguish between different users and focus on them, but does not use facial recognition.

Calls will be encrypted, and the AI technology runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers, with it only sending voice commands to the servers after hearing, "Hey Portal". Users can play music from Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora and watch videos through Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy. People can delete their Portal voice history in their Facebook Activity Log at any time.

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