Facebook gets in on home assistant action with Alexa-powered Portal devices

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Facebook on Monday unveiled a pair of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered smart video chat devices, Portal and Portal +, which are created to connect people and feel like being in the same room.

Facebook is promising its listening and video-capturing device for homes called Portal will safeguard consumer privacy, and that there won't be any ads on it - for now.

London- Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is now dominated by Amazon and Google.

The company worked with a USA film director in order to make the camera movements feel natural, said Nick Fell, marketing director for the Portal team. Both feature AI technology that can identify faces and automatically zoom in on them, regardless of where users move around in the room. However, putting history aside, Facebook chose to launch their first Facebook-branded piece of hardware today, the Portal. Both devices also feature a button that turns their cameras physically off. Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can block your camera's lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands.

Portal is also linked with Facebook, and is able to provide birthday reminders, notify you when close friends are available to connect, and display your photos and videos.

Portal also comes with Amazon Alexa built in. "We want to remove people from feeling that they are on a call - to the feeling of just being together", says Rafa Camargo, a Facebook vice president overseeing the product. Fast-forward to this Monday, and after the reported delay, Facebook has quietly unveiled the Portal video-chat and smart speaker platform. Meanwhile, the larger Portal+ boasts a 15.6-inch Full HD display, and it's coupled with 20W speakers and a four-inch bass woofer. But the company chose to delay the launch by six months due to the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, amid concerns that it was the wrong time to ask users to trust Facebook with more personal information. And even that can be easily deleted from one's Facebook Activity Log.

The Portal and Portal+ will take on Amazon's Echo Show and Google's upcoming Home Hub smart display. The processing of users' voice commands happens on the device, not in a Facebook data centre. Both are Amazon Alexa-enabled video calling devices.

The Portal comes in two models, a 10-inch model with a 1280 x 800 resolution display, and a 'Portal+' which has a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution pivoting display that can follow you around the room - it actually looks rather neat.

With that in mind, the cameras built into Portal are created to intelligently track you as you make your calls.

There are only a handful of third-party partners, so far, including Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Newsy, Food Network and Amazon Alexa.

The Portal and Portal+ are new video calling devices which feature built-in speakers and large touchscreens.

Portal's camera, which uses a form of artificial intelligence to recognize body shapes, is a major marketing point, offering users the convenience of staying in the frame without having to adjust the device.