The company worked with a USA film director in order to make the camera movements feel natural, said Nick Fell, marketing director for Facebook´s Portal team. 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.
Considering the popularity of Facebook Messenger, a smart display focused on video calls makes sense.
The cheaper Portal has a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 display that's fixed in landscape mode, while the Portal+ has a 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 screen that can pivot between portrait and landscape modes. 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. The Portal and Portal Plus are available for preorder today, and will ship in November. You can buy the device directly from Facebook, or via Amazon and Best Buy. If you don't want to use Alexa, either, you can flick a switch that disables the camera and microphone altogether. That means Portal users can call other Portal users, as well as those with Facebook Messenger installed on their smartphones and tablets. Users can ask for things like weather forecasts, traffic updates, and sports scores, but it's unclear if all of Alexa's more than 50,000 skills are available on Portal devices. Its primary objective is to make video calls - the thing any smartphone, tablet, or computer can do - but Amazon Alexa is built-in so it can be your assistant, too.
Facebook is also including features like Smart Call and Smart Sound.
Facebook is marketing the device, called Portal, as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat with one another without having to fuss with positioning and other controls. Because the screen pivots, you can have chats in both landscape and portrait mode, unlike the vanilla Facebook Portal which is created to sit in landscape mode only.
Billed as "private by design", the Facebook Portal vows to never listen to, view or store the contents of your video calls, keeping them secure at al times with strong encryption, while equipping the Smart Camera with "local" AI functionality and eschewing any type of facial recognition.
However, to address potential security concerns about Portal (aside from the general rising distrust of Facebook), Facebook says the Portal's microphones and camera feature an option that will "physically" disconnect those components, and the company has installed an indicator light that glows red so you know they're off.
Although, when Portal and Portal+ are in use the cameras will indeed follow users.
As previously rumored, the Portal family will have two versions: The more affordable Portal model priced at $199, and the high-end Portal+ that will cost $399. Users can play music from Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora and watch videos through Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy.
The launch of the product comes at a tricky time for Facebook. The smaller Portal is more modest in terms of sound quality, but both devices feature voice-enhancing 4-mic arrays with 360-degree pickup.
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