Attractive, lightweight design; Responsive gesture controls; Compatible with Windows and Mac; Exciting and immersive user experience; Easy setup
Limited app selection; Difficult to focus pointer on small buttons
The Leap Motion Controller lets you interact with your PC or Mac in an exciting new way with responsive and intuitive gestures, but the app store is fairly limited
Microsoft's Kinect brought gesture controls into the mainstream for gaming, but Leap Motion is out to transform the PC with its tiny but powerful device. The $79.99 Leap Motion Controller attaches to your Windows or Mac and allows you to navigate the desktop, play games, create music and more without even touching your computer. With an immersive user experience and a growing app store, does Leap Motion represent the next era of computing or a fun fad?
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When glancing at the controller's face you'll notice three subtle infrared LED lights, which paired with its dual cameras are used to detect your hand's movements. You'll also notice a solid green light located along the side of the device that glows solid when the controller is in use.
After plugging the Leap Motion in, head over to leapmotion.com/setup to download the necessary software. Click the Mac or Windows button to begin downloading the software automatically, and the setup wizard will guide you through the process. After installation is complete, you'll be prompted to launch the Airspace App Store, where you'll sign up for a free account to get started. Once you select a username, create a password and enter a valid email address, you're all ready to start downloading apps.
We found this Orientation demo (found in the Airspace App store) extremely fluid and responsive--perhaps more so than any other app we've interacted with. The camera detected every swipe and gesture with no latency as we raised our finger to draw shapes on screen.
The Control Panel lets you make minor adjustments to the way your computer runs Airspace Apps and how the camera tracks your movement. For example, you can adjust the tracking priority to Balanced, Precision or High Speed. Balanced is the default recommended mode that provides a medium between speed and accuracy, while Precision focuses on accuracy over speed. High Speed, like the name implies, chooses speed over accuracy when detecting your movement. During our testing, we used the Leap Motion Controller on Balanced mode.
In the General tab within the Control Panel, you can enable the Leap Motion software to launch when you start your computer, allow permission to Web apps or apps running in the background, and enable automatic power saving among other settings. If you're in the mood to simply experiment with the controller without having to play a game or interact with apps, the Visualizer is right up your alley. This brings back the skeletal, robotic rendering of your fingers that was shown during the Orientation.
Airspace App Store
The Airspace App Store is divided into various categories such as Creative Tools, Education, Experimental, Games, Music & Entertainment, Science and more. However, we noticed that in most cases these categories overlap. For instance, genres such as Science, Experimental and Education share several of the same titles. The Airspace App Store currently boasts some big-name titles such as "Cut the Rope," which is only available for the Mac platform, and "Fruit Ninja," with works with Windows systems. Most of the apps will be unfamiliar to users, but The New York Times announced plans to launch a gesture-optimized version of its news app for the Airspace store.
The Airspace store's layout is fairly simple and straightforward. When launching the app marketplace, you're be greeted with a home screen that showcases Top Picks in a tiled format. A sidebar on the left side of the screen lists other options such as Browse and Search, and Account, which lets you edit your Airspace login and payment info.
The controller was particularly responsive when using apps that required large-scale gestures, such as Gravilux. This simulator app lets you experiment with the properties of gravity by manipulating colored dots on a grid. We used gestures such as swiping left and right and moving our hand toward the screen to gather colored specs in a single spot.
The Leap Motion Controller remained responsive when holding our hand as close as one inch above the controller or up to the maximum height of two feet. With the device and accompanying notebook placed at waist height, we still controlled an airplane while playing "Solar Warfare" as we stood up from our chair.
Apps and Gestures
As Leap Motion notes, the controller doesn't come with any preset gestures, giving developers the freedom to get creative and incorporate any controls they please. While this proves advantageous in some respects, it also means each app comes with its own learning curve. Upon opening apps and games, you'll be greeted with a set of instructions and gestures that are required to interact with a given app. We found these opening tutorials to be helpful and intuitive, but it was sometimes difficult to remember the instructions when revisiting various apps.
Overall, we were impressed with the gesture recognition within apps. For example, tilting your hand from left to right to simulate the wings of a plane when playing "Solar Warfare" controls the direction of the plane. Making a fist when exploring Google Earth stops the cursor from moving so you can remain stationary.
While the Airspace store's apps proved to be intuitive and engaging, we noticed that most apps don't include a convenient way to exit the application. When playing games such as Boom Ball or experimenting with Gravilux, we had to either hit the Escape key or use Ctrl+Alt+Del to pull up the task manager and manually close the app.
Windows 8 Integration
We installed "Touchless for Windows" on a Windows 8 notebook and breezed through the Modern interface with ease. After launching the app, you'll have to enable it in the System Tray for it to work. A tutorial will show up initially, but once it's completed you'll have to right click the icon that looks like three bubbles in your System Tray and hover over the Interaction option to enable gesture controls in Windows 8.
The app works by setting up what is referred to as a "hover zone" and a "touch zone" in front of your display. The hover zone is located slightly farther back from the screen, and moving your hand while in this area lets you move your cursor around and scroll. To make selections or click on apps or links, we simply extended our hand forward toward the screen to enter the touch zone.
We found that using one finger to move the cursor was much more accurate than waving our entire hand. It's also best to use fine gestures rather than large exaggerated motions when moving around the desktop or navigating the Web, which makes it easier to maintain full control of the cursor.
Generally, we were pleased with the Leap Motion Controller's responsiveness and accuracy when navigating the Windows 8 interface. However, the device performs more precisely when it comes to scrolling and launching apps than it does when pressing small buttons. We had a difficult time getting the cursor to stay on the X button in the corner of our Chrome window when trying to exit the browser.
We especially enjoyed playing "Fruit Ninja" using the Leap Motion's smooth gesture controls to slash fruit in mid-air. This gives the game a much more natural and realistic feel, enabling a richer gaming experience overall. Using air gestures rather than touch screen controls lets you see what's happening on screen at all times, since your finger won't occupy any screen space.
When playing more complex games such as "Solar Warfare," each subtle movement can be crucial to the gameplay. This title requires meticulous control because moving your arm ever so slightly determines the fate of your aircraft. Still, we enjoyed firing missiles at our enemies by making our fingers touch and dodging attacks by swerving left and right and tilting our hand.
The Powers of Minus Ten, which is currently available for the iPad, lets you virtually delve into the human body with simple hand gestures such as swiping up, down, left and right. You start on the surface of the human body with skin and can dig all the way down to the molecular level, exploring the human body in a full 3D view.
However, we found it difficult to focus on small areas such as a links or exit buttons, which at times made us resort to touch input or our touchpad. We also wish the app store was a little more robust. Our hope is that developers will see the potential in this platform and embrace it. Overall, though, we're fascinated with what the Leap Motion Controller can do now and looking forward to seeing how it evolves.
|Accessories Type||Laptop Accessories|
|Size||3 x 1.2 x .5 inches|