Facebook Enters Smart Speaker Market With Alexa-Enabled Portal Line

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In short: Facebook on Monday officially announced its long-rumored entry into the smart speaker market, unveiling two such display-equipped devices – the Portal and Portal Plus. Both offer support for Amazon's Alexa and have been primarily designed for the purposes of video calling, though they also feature a wide variety of secondary functionalities. The Portal is priced at $199, whereas its larger counterpart goes for $349, with Facebook also offering to bundle them together for $298, i.e. a $100 discount. The black and white variants of both gadgets are available for pre-orders in the United States as of today and will start shipping in mid-November.

The smaller portal uses a 10-inch HD (1,280 x 800) display and resembles Amazon's Echo Show series, whereas the Portal Plus (stylized as Portal+) offers a 15-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) screen in portrait orientation. The latter can also automatically pivot its display around its base and follow users around the room while they're in a call thanks to its built-in motor and AI-fueled subject detection. Facebook claims the functionality has been envisioned as a way to make video conferencing feel less like a call and more like actually being in the same room with the person or group you're talking to. As Alexa is the main brains behind the gadgets, the Portal and Portal Plus can also act as traditional smart home speakers, though they also ship with support for Facebook's Messenger even if their users don't have a Messenger account and can also be used for calling smartphones and tablets. The current software supports video calls for up to eight people and the device itself can be woken up with the phrase "hey, Portal."

Background: Due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a wide variety of other data-collection issues Facebook experienced over the course of this year (that also delayed the Portal's release), the company made some last-minute changes to the Portal line, industry insiders previously claimed. The novelties come in the form of a camera cover that can be used for blocking the front-facing lens of either device, as well as a one-tap option to disable both their camera and microphone. Multi-user support for up to four people is part of the package as well, as was previously reported, as well as an unsurprising pledge that Facebook won't listen, watch, or even store any of your Portal-enabled conversations, all of which will be encrypted. The smart speaker range also doesn't use any kind of facial recognition that got Facebook sued in the U.S. earlier this year. Last month, AndroidHeadlines exclusively revealed the design of both the Portal and Portal Plus, in addition to reporting on a number of its now-confirmed functionalities.

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Impact: The Portal range is unlikely to seize a significant portion of the smart speaker market in the immediate future but still signals Facebook's growing ambitions in the consumer electronics segment. As the European Union is still keeping a close eye on the company following its many privacy debacles and given the strict nature of the General Data Protection Regulation that went into effect in late May, the Portal series may not make its way to the Old Continent anytime soon.