Facebook has updated its Portal smart display line up with three all-new devices. The Portal, Portal Mini and Portal TV will launch in the US and Canada, UK, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.
The original Portal hardware was only released in the US and the range is like the
Google Nest Hub Max and
Amazon Echo Show 2 in its design and use cases. The Portal also has smart assistant features with a ‘Hey Portal’ command and Amazon Alexa built in.
In addition to video calling you can display photos and videos from Facebook, play music via Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio and stream films and TV shows via Amazon Prime Video. It’ll also work with WhatsApp calling, as WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.
The 10in Portal and 8in Portal Mini are an austere, rectangular redesign that streamlines the bulky original into HD screens that looks like plain black or white photo frames. Either device can stand landscape or portrait
All three are up for
pre-order today in the US, Canada and Europe. UK pricing is £129 for the Portal Mini, £169 for the regular Portal and £149 for the Portal TV. The first-gen 15.6in Portal+ is on sale for less than it sold for in the US at £269.
When Facebook released the first-gen Portal the company took a lot of flack in the media around the device’s privacy. Released around the time of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal when Sauron’s eye was fixed firmly on Zuckerberg, there was a lot of suspicion around the wisdom of bringing a Facebook-owned camera into your home.
Portal TV is a plug-in camera and speaker set up that turns your TV into a Portal if you want a living room-filling video calling option. The cameras on all three devices have what Facebook calls Smart Camera that pans and zooms in on you as you move about and Smart Sound that enhances your voice while getting rid of background noise.
The Portals all have software switches to disable the camera and mics as well as physical sliding switches to cover the cameras. A red light shows the camera and mic are off.
Facebook said in a press release that “for added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers”, but that does not mean your video calls and voice commands are stored locally. This is the same as the first-gen products.
In the same release, Facebook is very clear about what data the Portals collect, saying:
“If “Hey Portal” is enabled, Portal does listens for the wake word “Hey Portal.” If it’s detected, including during a call, it will send a short audio clip of the voice interaction to Facebook. Your “Hey Portal” voice interactions are stored by default to make Facebook voice services better for everyone. A trained team may review a sample to make our voice services smarter and more accurate. You can view, hear and delete any of your “Hey Portal” voice interactions in your Facebook Activity Log.”
The latter point of deleting your voice interactions does not actually imply they are deleted from Facebook’s own records or servers. This is not unusual – Google, Amazon and Apple all store user voice data and review it as it’s necessary to improve the voice assistant services they provide.
We asked Facebook to confirm exactly what this process entails, but you might be more comfortable with Apple doing this rather than Facebook given their comparative track records.
The new Portals look like fully featured smart displays at competitive prices. But the Facebook backlash is still ongoing even if it is less laser-focussed than when the first Portal was released. If you want a smart display in your home that has a camera and a mic, you’re going to have to really love Facebook services to not go for a Google or Amazon alternative.