Facebook's creepy new speakers are freaking people out

Isaac Cain
October 9, 2018

Facebook has just announced its first video communication devices for the home, dubbed Portal and Portal+. As with any other smart assistant device, Facebook will store commands you make after invoking the assistant with "Hey Portal" but you'll have the option to delete your voice history in the Facebook Activity Log.

For more robust voice-activated assistance, Portal also has Amazon Alexa built in, so you can ask your new video calling device for weather updates, news, and more, just like the Amazon Echo.

When you're not using the Portal, a feature called Superframe will let you display your favorite photos and videos or important notifications such as birthday reminders. The former features a 10.1-inch screen with WXGA resolution and 10W speakers, while the latter features a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 20W speakers and a 4-inch bass woofer. If you need something bigger, there's the 15-inch 1920 x 1080 Portal+ for $349, complete with auto-pivoting screen.

Both the Portal and Portal+ are available to pre-order today, though as I said they're restricted to the United States for the time being. Why? Cameras are Silicon Valley's next frontier, and it's trying to persuade us to install them as video-chat devices and security systems.

The move also marks Facebook's first foray into the hardware space outwith Oculus - the VR headset company it snapped up in 2014. Calls can be made to and from Messenger-enabled smartphones and tablets. Visit portal.facebook.com for more information or to pre-order your Portal today.

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Facebook has also said that it's incorporating AR effects into the new video calling devices, with "Story Time" created to bring bedtime stories to life with colorful visuals and custom sound effects. 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".

Facebook doesn't listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Portal represents a new challenge because hardware is hard to tweak in the wild.

The mics go hand in hand with what Facebook calls its Smart Sound technology that's embedded into both Portal devices. You can bring Portal home for $199 United States dollars and Portal+ for $349 USD. If the video call has multiple people in the frame, the camera shifts to a wide-angle mode, keeping everyone in its bounding box. Facebook allows you to disable the camera and microphone, which supposedly physically disconnects them. Even as these two tech giants team up, though, Facebook has asserted ownership over the device by offering its own voice controls, as well. Portal includes no facial recognition technology, a built-in physical shutter for the camera, the camera and microphone can be disabled with the tap of a button, and even the camera-tracking feature runs entirely on-device.

Facebook is a software company famous for pushing out products quickly and adjusting later depending on the level of uproar. If you preorder, though, you can save $100 when buying two Portal devices at once.

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