Facebook just unveiled two AI-powered, smart devices for video chatting
Just a few weeks after a major data breach affecting 50 million Facebook users, the social media giant has stepped into the hardware arena with a pair of smart-home devices. The devices, dubbed Portal and Portal+, are smart displays that leverage AI and a bunch of other technologies to bring a lifelike video-chatting experience into your living room or kitchen. Here are the details.
As Facebook's answer to Amazon and Google, the new Portal devices look like a cross between tablet and smart-speakers. They both pack a 12MP shooter with a set of 4 microphones, but Portal+ looks more pronounced, suited for bigger spaces. Its 15.6-inch full-HD display can be rotated from portrait to landscape mode, which isn't the case with Portal's 10-inch HD display.
However, the key selling point of the two devices is AI-backed facial recognition technology. In order to deliver a revamped video-calling experience, the wide-angle cameras on both the devices use AI to identify, track, and keep the person in the frame. It pans and zooms to keep everyone in frame and is paired with smart sound tech that minimizes background for audio clarity.
Portal promises to make people feel they're sharing the same room, but that doesn't mean it can only be used by people owning it. The device connects people via Facebook, which means any Facebook friend or messenger connection can be called from the device, even if they don't have their own Portal. Also, the device supports group calls with up to seven people.
Among other capabilities, Portal devices are powered by Alexa and can be voice-activated with the command 'Hey Portal' to make a call or just play music. They have Spotify and Pandora apps for music and Facebook Watch to stream video content. Plus, there are AR masks to enhance video chats (like messenger) and an option to run Facebook photos, notifications in idle mode.
Facebook has stressed Portal chats will remain encrypted and nobody, except involved parties, will be able to see them. It has also given a dedicated cover and button to cut the camera and microphone. Meaning, both parts won't work unless a call is explicitly answered. However, considering Facebook's myriad of privacy-related scandals, many will find that hard to believe.
Facebook has priced the smaller Portal at $199 and the bigger one at $349. They're up forpre-orders and will be shipped starting November in the US. However, as of now, there is no word on India availability or price of the two devices. This is the first hardware product from Facebook and might take a while to reach India.