Facebook announces Portal and Portal+ video chat devices

Facebook has just announced that its long-awaited video chat devices Portal and Portal+ are now available to preorder in the US, with shipping due to commence in November.

With a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display, the Portal is part of Facebook's mission to improve video calling by making it "completely hands and distraction free". If you're looking for a larger screen, the Portal+ is 15 inches wide, with both devices acting as a digital photo frame, displaying images from your Facebook feed when they are not being used to make calls.

Designed to rival the Amazon Echo Show, the Portal will retail for $199 (around £150 / AU$280), whereas the larger model, the Portal+, will cost $349 (£270 / AU$495), with Facebook's current deal of $100 off any two devices meaning you can get both for $298 if you're a US customer.

It's not year clear when Facebook will be launching the devices in markets outside the US, or how much they'll cost, but we've reached out to Facebook and we'll update this story as soon as we know more.

Smarty-pants

The new video call devices are powered by AI, with Facebook's 'Smart Camera' technology designed to follow you as you move around the room and zoom in to the action, meaning you can continue chatting over video while doing chores, cooking in the kitchen, or looking for something in your room.

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.

Your friends don't need to own a Portal to receive your calls; as long as they have Facebook Messenger on their smartphone or tablet, you're good to go, with up to seven different people on one call.

Security is key

In order to make the Portal hands-free, Facebook has enabled voice controls – all you have to do is say 'Hey Portal' followed by the name of who you would like to call to start a video chat. 

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. 

Facebook seems to be well aware that privacy is a major concern for consumers in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so it's made it easy to turn off the camera and microphone with a single tap, set up a password to lock the Portal's screen, and has also included a camera cover so you can physically block the lens at any time without missing out on notifications.

The social media giant claims that it won't "listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal calls", and that all calls are encrypted for heightened security. You'll also be able to delete your Portal or Portal+ device's voice history using your Facebook Activity log.

Sharing is caring

One cool feature of the new Portal devices is that they enable shared activities; so,for example, you can listen to music or watch TV shows with the person you're calling, with Facebook teaming up with Spotify, Pandora, Food Network, and more.

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

This uses the Portal's Smart camera feature to transform your face and voice into those of the story's characters, meaning you can still give your kids (or your pets) un-rivaled bedtime tales no matter how far away you are.

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