Facebook announces video chat-focused Portal device

Facebook Portal, the social networks’ first smart device, has finally been announced.

After having initially postponed the device’s launch due to the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook has pulled back the veil on its long-rumoured smart device. Say hello to video communication tool, Facebook Portal. Still, not a great time to announce a smart home device while being in the news for a data breach.

Facebook Portal is pitched as a video communication device with Amazon’s Alexa built in. It lets users conduct video calls with others using Facebook messenger and sits at the crossroad between smart assistant and glorified webcam. It comes as a direct competitor to devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home.

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In its initial announcement Facebook touted the device’s many features. Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.

Facebook Portal release date: When will I be able to use it?

Unfortunately, Facebook Portal doesn’t have a UK release date just yet. We’ll update you when new information becomes available.

The device will launch in the US from November, presumably in time for Black Friday sales.

Facebook Portal price: How much will it cost?

Facebook Portal comes in two different variants: the Portal and Portal Plus
Portal comes with a 10.1 inch screen size and 720p display. It won’t have very powerful speaker, but is rather reasonably priced at $199 (£175).

Portal Plus is noticeably bigger with a 15.6 inch screen size and 1080p display, as well as more powerful speakers. In addition, you’ll be able to rotate it to portrait or landscape mode. The Portal Plus will set you back £349 (£270).

Facebook Portal security: How do I know my data won’t leak?

Understandably, data privacy is the key word when discussing Facebook or its products. Facebook Portal has data encryption, and the device won’t record or save your calls or transcripts of them. At least, that’s what Facebook says, despite suggestions its app is listening in to conversations.

However the device recalls metadata for calls, so will remember who you contact, when, and for how long. The encryption isn’t end-to-end, so calls can potentially be tapped by authorities.

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For those who are particularly security conscious, Facebook Portal comes packaged with a plastic toggle that you can place over the camera when it’s not in use — making sure hackers can’t watch you when you think you’re alone.

Facebook Portal features: What can it do?

The main draw of Facebook Portal is its video communication feature. Using Facebook messenger, up to 7 people can call at once to engage in calls.

The device has a 12-megapixel camera, which can rotate 140 degrees to view a wider area. The focus of Portal is to conduct video chats over a wider area, and users are to be between 1.5m and 3m from the device to use it properly, which lends itself to larger group chats.

In the SmartCamera mode, the camera can reframe the image when someone enters the room or auto-zoom or particular users at the behest of the other participants of the conversation.

Calls can be made to users who don’t have a Facebook Portal, however not all of the features of Portal will function in these calls.

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The device has certain aspects of messenger, including the use of graphic overlays like in messenger’s camera mode, but Portal takes this a step further by allowing users to run continuous graphics while telling bedtime stories, with prompts helping the teller with the story.

In addition, people in a conversation can play music from apps like Spotify and sync the songs together, allowing them to play simultaneously on both participants’ devices.

Portal comes with several apps available including Facebook Watch, Food Network and Newsy, although an app store and the actual Facebook main page won’t be available.

The stance on advertising, which is a huge revenue source for Facebook, is that there won’t be any — for now. While the device won’t come with the possibility of adverts, they could be introduced in the future.

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