Facebook Unveils Their First Ever Smart Speakers Called the Portal
The Smart Speaker market is a highly-contested one, and today it has a new entrant in the form of Facebook. The company announced the launch of two Smart Speakers called the Portal and Portal Plus that feature tablet-sized screens. Facebook claims to use augmented reality and AI to make video calls more entertaining and easier to conduct. To address privacy concerns, Facebook states that one can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap, or block the camera lens with the camera cover provided.
The Portals only support Facebook Watch, for now
Additionally, Portal can call anyone with Facebook Messenger unlike the Echo Show and Echo Spot, which are limited to calling other Show and Spot users or folks who use the Alexa. Both Portals feature everything else you'd expect from a smart speaker. The devices can stream music from Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Music, and they are enabled with the Alexa assistant, giving Portal users access to the many skills available on Amazon's service.
Some of the augmented-reality features include virtual masks such as a pair of bunny ears and a werewolf face. The devices also include a story time feature that is designed for parents or grandparents to read to their children over video with the aid of animations that help illustrate the tale. The Portals also use artificial intelligence to get a sense of all the people within their line of sight and frame them front and centre. It can also be used to focus on a specific person during a call. This feature should make video calls on Portal easier and more casual than they are on a smartphone or laptop, where you're constantly having to hold up the device or adjust its angle.
Both devices can stream video from Facebook Watch (??????). Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video are all missing. The services may become available somewhere down the road, hopefully. Preorders for the devices are open now at $199 for the 10-inch screen Portal and $349 for the Portal+, which has a 15.6-inch display. They will begin shipping in November. The prices do seem a bit hefty for a glorified tablet that can't even run YouTue, but such is life, I guess.