Facebook launches video device, says privacy is 'very, very, very important'

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Facebook is launching the first electronic device to bear its brand, a screen and camera-equipped gadget meant to make video calls easier and more intuitive.

Both speakers feature large displays and cameras to facilitate video calling and other communication functionality.

"It's been a big shift for the company", Facebook's vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth told AFP before the launch of "Portal".

The device, which will be available for pre-order in the United States from Monday, is created to allow users to make video calls at home without having to stand immediately in front of the screen or hold a phone at arm´s length. The smaller of the two options, the Portal, offers a 10-inch display, while the Portal+ jumps up to a 15-inch display that can pivot between portrait and landscape modes. Portal and Portal+ are 10- and 15-inch smart displays complete with integrated cameras and packed with AI.

Again, Portal and Portal+ are up for pre-order in the United States on Facebook, as well as Amazon and Best Buy.

After lengthy rumours Facebook has finally announced Portal, their answer to the Amazon Echo Show. For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera.

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Facebook has also built technology to ensure that the webcam can track and pan around the room, keeping the caller in-frame without requiring them to sit or stand in one position, or constantly readjust the device.

The Portal is available for preorder online and will arrive in stores in November.

Facebook on Monday unveiled the Portal and Portal+, directly challenging Amazon, Google and Apple in the fast-growing smart-speaker market with a unique approach that will emphasize video calling.To start a video call, users can say "Hey Portal, call." followed by the name of a connection on Facebook's Messenger service.

Facebook is hoping Portal and Portal Plus will be on people's holiday gift-giving lists. Facebook said it can distinguish between different users and focus on them, but does not use facial recognition.

The launch of the product comes at a tricky time for Facebook. You can bring Portal home for $199 United States dollars and Portal+ for $349 USD. The AI used in the Smart Camera and Smart Sounds technology runs locally on Portal devices rather than on Facebook servers, and only commands stated after "Hey Portal" are sent to Facebook's servers. Even as these two tech giants team up, though, Facebook has asserted ownership over the device by offering its own voice controls, as well.

The more expensive version also sports an extra subwoofer that should result in better bass, but aside from that, both share similar specs including quad mics and a front-facing, 12MP camera with an 8x zoom. The devices understand voice commands as well, allowing users to say "Hey Portal" before asking it to call one of their contacts. Additionally, you can also receive $100 off any two devices, meaning a bundle of two Portal devices will be priced at $298. The Portal does have a few apps, including Facebook Watch for video, and Spotify and Pandora for music.

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