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Facebook Portal Combines Video Calling and Alexa for $199

Amazon and Google have a new smart display competitor to contend with. Facebook's new Portal smart displays will make it easier for Facebook users to contact each other.

Unlike the Echo Show and Lenovo Smart Displays, which are more general-purpose devices, the Portal is centered around video chats through Facebook Messenger. Portal owners can contact other Portals, or smartphones or tablets running the Messenger app.

Facebook is launching two versions of the Portal: A model with a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 display will cost $199, while the larger 15.6-inch 1080p Portal Plus will cost $349. Interestingly, the Plus' display will be able to rotate between landscape and portrait modes.

Both devices will have a 12-MP camera—much higher than the 5MP camera on the Show—and, using a new AI, will detect subjects in front of it, and automatically pan and zoom to best fit them in the frame. For those concerned about privacy, both Portals have a button that mutes their mics, as well as a physical cover for the camera. There's also no way to record video from the camera.

To make a call, users will simply say "Hey Portal, call..." followed by the name of the person you want to contact.

Users will also be able to stream audio from Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio—and share it with others on their call—as well as watch videos on the device.

The Portal will have Alexa built in (and possibly Google Assistant in the future), so you'll be able to use it to check news, weather, and sports and control smart home devices. However, it remains to be seen if it will have all of Alexa's capabilities, such as drop-in and whole-home audio. Curiously, you won't be able to use the Portal to send or receive Facebook messages, nor are there other communication apps, such as WhatsApp or Skype.

There won't be any ads on Portal, but Facebook may still use your usage statistics to target you with ads on Facebook or on other platforms, Facebook told Recode.

Facebook's Portal looks like it will be great for video chats with other friends on Facebook, but will that be enough? The Portal and Portal Plus are available for preorder today, and will ship in November.