AUG 18, 2023
Take Your Ultrawide Monitors Everywhere With an AR Laptop
AUG 22, 2023
THE CONCEPT OF working from home has been utterly redefined in the past few years. As long as there’s Wi-Fi and a computer, many people can technically work from anywhere. But for those who have gotten used to clicking through multiple monitors or walking at a standing desk, working away from the house requires schlepping around a bunch of peripherals in order to be productive.
But what if you didn’t have to crouch over a dark, tiny laptop screen at the coffee shop? Now you can harness the power of a multi-monitor setup with a pair of augmented reality (AR) glasses and a keyboard. Created by a new company called Sightful, founded by former executives of Magic Leap, Spacetop does exactly that. As the world's first AR laptop, it delivers the convenience of a virtual 100-inch screen with the ability to display as many windows and apps as you need to get work done from wherever you are.
It’s available for purchase through an invitation-only early access program for $2,000. Delivery to those selected will start in early July. Anyone can apply, but Sightful says it's specifically looking for “enthusiastic early adopters” who will provide feedback the company can use to refine the experience.
I spent only a brief time with Spacetop, but I was surprised at how little there was to it. It's a pair of glasses connected to a full-size keyboard with a touchpad connected by a wire. At 3.3 pounds, it's only slightly heavier than the latest 2.7-pound MacBook Air and compact enough to easily slide into your backpack or tote.
To help bring Spacetop to this current form, Sightful pulled existing hardware from NReal (known for its AR glasses) and Wistron (an electronics manufacturer that works with laptop brands like HP and Dell). But the company spent time customizing the device, adding well-thought-out features to enhance the experience.
The glasses went through multiple iterations to ensure they're comfortable to wear for long periods, without leaving marks on your face, snagging hair, or messing up makeup. The headset has also been optimized for viewing content up close, such as reading text. There's a physical button on the right arm that controls display brightness.
You can order the AR glasses with prescription lenses at no extra charge (with invite-only access). Your Spacetop will then ship with a pair of custom-ground lenses magnetically attached. I typically wear AR and VR headsets on top of my glasses, so I was relieved to be able to test the device with lenses that matched my prescription.
The keyboard is equipped with its share of custom-built features, including a mini display for QR codes, a cradle for the glasses, and custom LEDs for tracking the keyboard depending on how bright your surroundings are.
As for standard features, the keyboard has two USB-C ports, both of which support power delivery fast charging (up to 65 watts), DisplayPort 1.4 (for external Full-HD screen support), and SuperSpeed USB up to 10 gigabits per second. There's a 3.5-mm headphone jack too. And it packs support for Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and 5G (Sub-6) connectivity, so you can connect a mouse or other accessories.
The keyboard also has a 5-megapixel camera sensor (2,560 x 1,920 resolution) that you can use for video calls. I didn't get to test it, but I couldn't help but notice that the low camera placement (below eye level) might look awkward in Zoom or Skype. It reminds me of the front-facing camera on an iPad, which sits on the side when the tablet is in landscape mode, but you could plug in an external camera via a USB-C port.
Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 with a Kryo 585 eight-core CPU and Adreno 650 GPU. Sightful says it chose the 865 in part because of its real-time computer-vision capabilities coupled with extremely low battery consumption. You also get 8 gigabytes of memory and 256 gigabytes of storage. As for battery life, Sightful claims five hours at full use, which isn't a lot compared to other laptops that average nine or 10 hours (or more). At least you can recharge the Spacetop from 0 percent to 85 percent in less than two hours.
It runs the company's proprietary operating system, Spacetop OS. As Sightful puts it, “If it's accessible on the web, it works with Spacetop.” So you'll have access to Google Workspace, Slack, Microsoft 365, and more, in addition to videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
Judging from these specs alone, this isn't an ultra-powerful machine. It's not meant for handling intensive, graphically demanding work or power-hungry programs. At most, you'll be able to use it for basic tasks like web browsing, sending emails, video chatting, and messaging, simultaneously.
I've attended a lot of tech demos in my career, and I'm used to sitting through long tutorials before laying a finger on a new device—or else being micromanaged the entire time. So I was a little taken aback when Sightful founders Tamir Berliner and Tomer Kahan placed Spacetop in front of me without first demonstrating it themselves.
This approach proved how simple and intuitive it is. I just put the glasses on and got to work. Greeted by a sea of apps, I sent a test email to myself, resized and moved windows around, and watched a video on YouTube, all with a few clicks of the keys on the keyboard and taps on the touchpad. Spacetop OS is extremely bare-bones, but it's identical to navigating a standard laptop. If you've used a computer, you can use Spacetop without any explanation required.
With 1080p resolution per eye, the graphics and text looked crisp and clear enough to work with for long periods. You can also move freely around the room—all I had to do was press a couple of buttons on the keyboard to align the windows so they were in front of me again. Performance felt swift from what I saw, but I didn't get the chance to put it through its paces.
The glasses, on the other hand, are another story. Don't get me wrong—they're comfortable. I wore them for most of the demo, which lasted about 40 minutes. There's even a handy Reality mode that basically acts as a screen saver so you can see what's actually in front of you. And, looking in the mirror afterward, I didn't see any telltale red marks that would reveal I'd been wearing an AR headset 10 minutes before.
But I would have social anxiety wearing them in public. They just don't look like regular glasses. While they're certainly sleeker than a clunky virtual reality headset, they're not the most discreet. They look like a mix between swim goggles and safety glasses. I'm not sure I'd be able to sit in a coffee shop or on a flight without worrying about the weird stares I'd get.
A Refreshing Approach
I'm generally skeptical about AR and VR, especially when it comes to the workplace. When the pandemic hit, I spent a few months working in Spatial, the VR videoconferencing app, but the novelty wore off every time I had to race to put on the headset so I wasn't late for a meeting. We're still not using Meta Horizon Workrooms; it turns out that the only thing worse than a work meeting is a work meeting where you beam into a cartoon conference room and sit next to your coworkers’ cringe avatars.
Tech giants aside, Spacetop isn't even the only startup working on bringing AR to the masses. As just one example, Nimo's smart AR glasses are still somewhere in gadget purgatory. After three years of watching this rigmarole, I've grown to appreciate a boring, reliable laptop, monitor, and webcam.
But the best part about Spacetop is that the computer won't fundamentally change how we work. It just adapts to the way the workspace has changed, allowing us to take virtual versions of our ordinary desk setups wherever we want.
As someone whose setup has grown to three external monitors, the ability to stretch my tabs and windows across multiple screens now makes or breaks my ability to focus. It's hard for me to work anywhere other than from home, which makes conferences or traveling a little difficult. One day, I will be free of the cramped screens of a portable monitor, at a coffee shop, on a flight, or in the car. Here's to hoping I'll eventually get used to wearing those funny-looking glasses though.
By Brenda Stolyar writes about consumer technology for WIRED. She specializes in mobile devices, laptops, and desktop PCs.
Internet of Things (IoT)
JUN 26, 2023