Facebook introduces Portal, its new video calling smart display with Alexa built

Facebook is one of the most untrusted companies when it comes to protecting or even being ethical with its user's data (it practically pioneered the quote "if you're not paying for it, you're the product").

Video chatting is an important feature that most smart displays have. The Portal sits on a shelf or kitchen counter and lets your voice do the dialing.

Facebook expects to stand apart on the market because of Portal's touchscreen and the 400 million people who call through its Messenger service each month worldwide.

Facebook Portal+. The larger device can also pivot. Designed specifically for video-calls, the hi-def camera has the ability to detect how many people there are in the room, and focus on them, panning and zooming on the subject's face as they move around.

The Portal also has a few other tricks. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you're calling. There's also an AR storybook mode, which adds animated effects to your chat screen while you read a children's story. There's also no way to record video from the camera. Featuring a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display, Portal from Facebook improves video calling hands and distraction free.

Just as Amazon's newest Echo Show comes out, Facebook enters the smart display space with two devices of its own. The larger variant looks more distinctive, with a swiveling 15.6 inch screen that lets you orient it in landscape or portrait.

The Portal isn't a fully functional computer. As of today, all listeners across ad-supported, Plus, and Premium tiers can play their music on Pandora using the power of their voice with Alexa, or share their favorite tunes while chatting with up to six friends directly on Portal's touchscreen interface.

But the elephant in the room is privacy.

It's not year clear when Facebook will be launching the devices in markets outside the United States, or how much they'll cost, but we've reached out to Facebook and we'll update this story as soon as we know more.

But Portal has one big stumbling block to overcome: Facebook's brand. 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. The company says you can completely disable the camera and microphone whenever you want, and it doesn't listen to any of your video calls, either.

Facebook has since reasserted itself as a guarantor of privacy. Cameras are Silicon Valley's next frontier, and it's trying to persuade us to install them as video-chat devices and security systems.

"The first thing consumers are going to wonder is 'how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'" said John Breyault, vice president of public policy of telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that has received donations from Facebook and other tech companies. "Hopefully our values shine through".

More than 60 million people in the United States will use wireless speakers in 2018, a figure expected to rise to 76.5 million by 2020, according to eMarketer.

Vanessa Coleman