Portal: This is Facebook’s new Smart Speaker

Gamer speak with awe of portal. The legendary video game was launched in 2007 by the developer smith Valve. Since then, Portal has always been the synonym for the first-person game.

Til today. From now on, the term portal is more likely to be linked to Facebook.

The social media network has taken the name Portal to its own and in the afternoon of German time surprisingly presented its first smart speaker with video chat connection: Portal and Portal +.

Rumors of new hardware from Facebook have been around for months. Now they are real: portal and portal + can be ordered from today.

Portal and Portal + cost US $ 199 (about € 170) and $ 349 (€ 304), respectively. If you order the portal double pack, you save $ 100. Selling price for the duo: 298 dollars (87 euros). For now, only in the US, about a Germany start is (still) not known. Delivered in the states “from November”.

Portal Facebook
Practical – and scary: The camera follows the person through the room, so you do not have to sit in one place (Photo: Facebook)

Portal and Portal + are symbolically the entrance gates of Facebook into the smart home. Facebook was always there, but only on smartphone and tablet – while competitors like Amazon were clearly faster with the Echo Show. As early as June 2017, online mail order company Amazon presented its first Echo Show, a networked smart speaker with a screen. Suitable for the living room, but also for the kitchen. Meanwhile, the second generation of echoes is already on the market. The Google Assistant, currently the largest echo competition, will also be integrated into smart devices with displays. Lenovo and LG have already introduced corresponding gadgets.

display

While Apple has launched its first-generation HomePod without a screen, Facebook is now catching up. In view of the competition a courageous step, but also a logical one. Facebook was behind.

And had to skip another hurdle in recent months. In the wake of the data scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica Facebook (once again) had gambled away credit. In Germany, the scandal had no major legal consequences, but the credibility of the company has suffered again, in this country as well as worldwide.

Almost every day, the group is struggling with major security problems. For example, the account of Düsseldorf mayor Thomas Geisel fell into the hands of Facebook scammers. And by the end of August, a newly-discovered cyberattack had hit 50 million accounts. The BSI (Federal Office for Security in Information Technology) repeatedly advised a password change.

Is this the right time for a co-located device?

The dilemma of a project such as Portal or Portal +: Can such a smart, listening and communicating device be successfully marketed on days like this? Internally, the hardware may have been finished for some time, but the right time to launch the devices, so far was not.

Is there – especially on Facebook – even an optimal launch date? Hardly likely. That’s why Facebook suddenly launched the product today.

The specs are written down quickly and hardly differ from the competition: two models, portrait and landscape.

Portal Facebook
Portal is called Facebook’s own Smart Speaker with video function (Photo: Facebook)

The technical details

The base model offers a 10-inch screen. The Plus model is 15 inches on the larger screen, but otherwise does not differ from the Basic device.

Each model goes all-in, features AI technology, smart camera and smart speaker. The smart camera can follow the movements in a room, it pivots and zooms automatically. Unlike the Echo Show, you do not necessarily have to sit directly in front of the device. Portal and Portal + keep everyone in sight.

Portal’s virtual address book is created by linking to Facebook friends’ friend list. Calls are also possible. The phone calls via portal devices are also sent to the corresponding Facebook Messenger apps on iOS and Android. Group chats can be initiated with up to seven people.

Portal and Portal + are started quite simply, with a HotWord like Alexa and Siri. Facebook is not surprisingly “Hey Portal” here.

Facebook knows about its credibility problem

The question remains: Would you buy a social speaker from Facebook or do you lack confidence in the group?

Of course, Facebook expected this question and answered it very clearly: The company will do “everything for security and privacy”, which is possible.

In fact, the list of security measures reads convincingly. Facebook refers to the fact that camera and microphone can be completely deactivated with a single touch of a button. With a cover, the lens of the camera can be blocked at any time. Okay, but it’s also clear that anyone who initiates these measures does not need to bring a portal speaker into the house if he does not even use the two most important features.

Important for the kids in the household, but also for their own safety: The screen can be locked with a four- to twelve-digit passcode. In addition, Facebook promises that all calls are encrypted via portal. Facebook will not save any conversations on its own servers. This is done locally on the device.

Even on a face recognition, as you know from Face-ID on newer iPhones, Facebook waived. One does not want to identify people. The course of the activities should also be able to be deleted completely “at any time in the activity profile”.

Portal Facebook Photo 1
Portal has no Face ID – but filters (Photo: Facebook)

This all sounds promising. But was not Facebook even promising as it was launched in 2004 as a digital version of the printed university yearbooks, in the form of a clever and interesting project for students who wanted to network? Since then, Facebook has gotten a face: that of the data octopus, which generates billions in sales with personal profiles. Now the faces are transferred to the portal. Successful or not? That decides the Facebook clientele.

In a sense, the idea of ​​portal and portal + also includes a circle. Facebook actually started back in 2003, at that time still under the name “Facemash”. Mark Zuckerberg presented two photos of female students in the Facemash portal. Unlawful, because the presenters had not given their permission. Facemash users should then decide which student was more attractive.

The project was discontinued after a few days due to a wave of protests. 15 years later, a new portal opens up.

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