Portal moves beyond its Facebook roots, adding games, news and a web browser

Portal moves beyond its Facebook roots, adding games, news and a web browser

New features for the video calling device makes it more competitive with smart displays from Google and Amazon

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Portal, Facebook's smart home display, already has new updates even though the device is barely five weeks old. Owners of the two new devices, Portal and Portal+, can start taking advantage of many of the video and news features starting today, Friday Dec. 14 which will bring wider access to online content and abilities.

To start, there's also a web browser, which will open up sites including YouTube, AllRecipes.com and even ESPN, where Portal owners will be able to go to and stream Monday Night Football.

Portal will open up Facebook Instant games, which can now be played ad-free, and at launch will include Sudoku, Battleship, Disney Tsum Tsum, Draw Something, SuperBaseball, Shake It Up-Poker Dice, and yes, Words With Friends.

For those who turn to smart video displays for news content, they'll be able to access stories from ABC News, CNN and the Great Big Story, which is also a CNN brand.

Privacy and Portal

Portal launched as Facebook continued to deal with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and right after it admitted that 90 million accounts of its users may have been compromised. Facebook, understanding the concern growing around its user base, said at Portal's launch that it encrypted all video calls made through Portal, doesn't use facial recognition to know who you are, and allows users to delete recordings of your voice from the Facebook Activity Log.

The video calling tool is also getting some extra abilities. With Smart Camera, everyone in view stays visible, as the camera pans and zooms to keep them in frame.This is one of Portal's main feature at launch, and unique to the display, something that Google Home and Amazon Echo devices can't currently do. Portal also uses what called smart sound, which means it tries to muffle background noise and keep the person, or people talking, more sharp and easier to hear.

Camera updates

New features now include a manual mode for the camera, so people can select what, or whom, the camera should focus on when talking. With Spotlight, you can focus on a single person, or users can pinch and zoom to customize who is the main object. You'll also be able to assign nicknames to people you call — like your mom, friend or family member — and call them by saying, 'Hey Portal, call my daughter.'

There are also two new Story Time titles with a winter theme including "Cold Snap," about making a snowman, and "Professor Right," who may not be seeing things as they really are. There are also new AR effects that can overlaid during a video call including Spa Day, North Pole Knits Elf and Tropical Lut from Messenger. And you can tap into music during a video call, and share it as you're chatting, from iHeartRadio, as well as Pandora and Spotify Premium.

These updates start appearing today, Friday, Dec. 14th with additional features coming, said Facebook, over the next few months. (See GearBrain's review on Portal and Portal Plus from Facebook here.)

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