I’ve been writing about compact laptop computers for more than fifteen years because I’m a firm believer that the best computers for on-the-go use are the ones that are small enough that you actually want to take them with you rather than leaving them on your desk.
But I’ve also grown used to plugging my laptop into a big-screen display when I’m working from home, because the extra screen space helps me get more done. A startup called Sightful is trying to offer the best of both worlds in an unusual way: with an “augmented reality laptop” called Spacetop that pairs a keyboard base with a pair of AR glasses. There’s no traditional screen, but Sightful claims the Spacetop offers a virtual 100 inch display experience.
Here’s the idea: instead of staring at a 13 inch display, you can put on a pair of glasses and view a virtual large-screen display that floats in front of your eyes… or the equivalent of a multi-monitor, multi-window setup.
Since the laptop uses AR glasses rather than VR glasses, the display will be superimposed on your real-world environment. You can look down and see the keyboard and touchpad or grab pen, paper, a coffee cup, or anything else. And you can look to the side to see what’s going on around you. But nobody will be able to look over your shoulder and see what you’re working on.
According to The Verge’s Monica Chin, who got a chance to test a pre-release version of Spacetop, it’s actually kind of fun to use. But there are some serious limitations.
First, that virtual 100 inch display? You can’t actually see it all at once. The Spacetop uses a customized pair of Nreal augmented reality glasses, which have a rather limited field of view (around 46 to 52 degrees, depending on the version). And that means you may have to look around to find the window or other graphic that you’re looking for if you’ve opened a bunch of different apps or browser tabs.
But the bigger limitation may be that this laptop that’s supposed to free us from the limitations of small screens by allowing users to open as many apps and browser tabs as they want across multiple virtual displays… doesn’t have the hardware to support heavy duty multitasking.
It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Basically it’s got the specs of a smartphone from 2020. The good news is that Sightful’s not trying to have you run Windows on that hardware: the company developed its own operating system called Spacetop OS. But at this point the company is positioning the system as a platform that works best for users who are running web apps… and possibly not too many of them at once.
Sightful is also only promising 5+ hours of battery life, which is pretty underwhelming. and with only two USB Type-C ports, you may need a hub if you want to connect peripherals.
Folks who’d prefer to use an actual screen from time to time can use either of those ports to connect a display. Both USB-C ports support DisplayPort 1.4 Alt mode as well as 10 Gbps data transfer speeds and 65W USB Power Delivery for charging.
Other features include support for WiFI 6, Bluetooth 5.1 and 5G NR Sub-6 wireless connectivity and a 5MP, 2560 x 1920 pixel webcam… for folks who don’t mind participating in video calls while wearing a pair of AR glasses.
Not counting the glasses, Spacetop measures 266 x 249 x 40mm (10.5″ x 8.8″ x 1.6″) and weighs around 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds).
Sightful hasn’t announced retail pricing or availability yet, but the company is launching an Early Access Program. The company is inviting early adopters to apply to receive one of the first 1,000 units.
I really love the idea, and I’ve been waiting for a viable consumer product to do this.
However, I can’t help but think that this would be an easier buy for me if it were simply an accessory that I could use with any device I wanted.
I don’t see myself lugging around a PC that can ONLY serve as an AR device. That means that I can’t easily show someone else something on my screen. It’s permanently going to be a 1-user private device.
Combine that limitation with the poor battery life, and the fact that it’s an ARM device running a proprietary OS. This thing is going to be a tough sell.
Cool concept, and I really hope they do well. But I’ll hold off on this until they make something similar that I can use with a laptop of my choice.
Another concern, how could you ever do a video call with this? (assuming that you don’t want to look like a moron with those glasses on)
I think alone prevents this from being a device that people could use for work.
I’d rather just get the goggles (from lenovo?) that are just straight displays that you plug into whatever and use as a monitor, no VR features at all.
You know, maybe it would be a better idea to just make an accessory for any computer. Except Nreal and all those other VR headsets already did that. Maybe they could just write a VR window manager for windows or something, except I’m sure that already exists.
If their OS is a fork of a linux distro then maybe I’d be even slightly interested, but linux users are not usually profitable to pander to. If it’s android, then ha, ha, ha, no. Hard to say which, since it looks like they expect you to use the browser for literally everything.
They’d also have to be offering it for way cheaper than any PCVR headset.