Facebook released its first gadget

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The Portal and Portal+ will have a manual off switch for the microphone and a physical camera cover, Facebook noted in the announcement of its Alexa-powered home assistant devices.

Facebook further revealed that it teamed up with companies such as Spotify, Food Network and iHeartRadio (along with its own Watch) to allow shared activities through Portal devices. Portal+ is the bigger sibling with a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 display.

The Facebook Portal and Portal+ is available to pre-order now, starting from US$199. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you're calling.

The device is known by the name of "Portal" and Facebook is trying to advertising it as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat without having to worry about positioning and controlling the device during video calls. The Amazon Silk browser offers access to Google's YouTube, which was removed from the original Show, due to a corporate spat between Amazon and Google.

Now here comes Facebook introducing a product that may reignite privacy fears as it is a hardware that will be physically present in the user's living room, kitchen or bedroom. Around 50 million Facebook user accounts were exposed by hackers who used an exploit to take over the accounts, the company announced on September 28. You can start a video call simply by saying "Hey Portal" and noting who you'd like to call.

Facebook released its first gadget
Facebook released its first gadget

Calls will be encrypted, and the AI technology runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. The Portal will also support voice command, similar to home speakers such as Amazon's Echo or Google Home. It costs 1,699 yuan (US$250), has a 8-inch screen, and also lets users make video calls and watch videos on iQiyi... which is odd, because iQiyi is owned by Baidu, but JD.com is owned by Tencent - you'd think they'd use Tencent Video instead.

Facebook assures those interested that the Portal devices are "built with privacy and security in mind". Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, "Hey Portal".

Although Facebook acquired virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus in 2014, this is the first time it has developed a consumer hardware product in-house. This isn't the flawless time for Facebook to unveil the video communication device that keeps an eye on what you are doing and listening to what consumers have to say but it seems that the company couldn't hold the Portal announcement any longer. It will also show photos and videos from the user's Facebook library.

Given this long shadow that Cambridge Analytica or #deletefacebook continues to cast, the idea of putting Facebook-connected eyes and ears in one's home will surely raise some eyebrows! Is marrying a smart speaker with a video capability you already possess with your laptop, desktop or tablet/phone really that useful?

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