Spacetop: The Future of Mobile Computers?
For nearly a century, since the 1930s when the first Z1 computer was created, computers have undergone significant changes. The Z1 was followed by large machines like the ENIAC, which occupied entire rooms. In the 1960s, computers transitioned from professional to personal use when the first personal computer (PC) was introduced to the public. In 1990, Intel began producing the first processor for mobile personal computers – the Intel386SL, and computers became even more widespread in a new form. Today, computers, including tablets and smartphones, come in various shapes and sizes.
But what will the next generation of computers be like? It can be speculated that the next stage will involve integrating AI into personal computers or working on computers through AR/VR. This would be a logical progression. While we can witness the development of AI firsthand, the situation with AR/VR is not as promising. This is the category that the startup Sightful hopes to advance with its new “augmented reality laptop,” which combines AR glasses and a keyboard, allowing users to carry a 100-inch desktop in a backpack.
Spacetop is a compact computer developed by the Israeli startup Sightful. It features only a keyboard, trackpad, and HD augmented reality glasses. It is positioned as the world’s first “augmented reality laptop.” Although the laptop is clearly thicker than a 13-inch notebook, it is equally lightweight and portable. The device does not have a monitor, making it simply the lower half of a standard laptop. By wearing the glasses, users can project a 100-inch augmented reality screen, regardless of their location. There are already those who have had the opportunity to test the laptop, and their conclusions and impressions are mostly similar.
At first glance, it is indeed an impressive technology. Users can have a clear view of their desktop but can also see what is behind and around them, allowing for mobility while using the device.
The best way to describe the experience of using Spacetop, which operates on a specialized operating system called Spacetop OS, is as if a giant projector is projecting your desktop screen in the air in front of you. This projection remains fixed in place—it doesn’t follow you as you walk—and you can see different parts of the screen by moving your head, thanks to the head-tracking camera. It differs from a projector in that you are the only one who can see what is being projected.
Similar to Chromebook, the user interface of Spacetop OS, based on Android, works with cloud or web applications and features a taskbar, an app panel, and support for multiple windows.
The keyboard is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera (2560 x 1920 resolution) that can be used for video calls. With 1080p resolution per eye, the graphics and text appear sharp enough to work with for extended periods. You can also freely move around the room—all you need to do to realign the windows is press two buttons.
Specifically, only two new key functions have been added:
- Pressing both Shift buttons resets and centers the screen.
- In addition to the function keys at the top of the keyboard, a special user button minimizes the augmented reality screen.
While the focused features of Spacetop and the “all-in-one” design may have some advantages for virtual desktop productivity, the main issues related to displays remain; specifically, field of view, resolution, the sweet spot for optimal perception, and comfort.
Spacetop uses a pair of individual Nreal Light glasses with 6 degrees of freedom head tracking, a 60° field of view, and a resolution of 1920 × 1080 per eye. The glasses provide augmented reality rather than virtual reality, allowing you to see through their transparent glass and screens even when they are powered off. Upon activation, a set of tiny 1080p displays appears, creating an illusion of a 2K display for the eyes. As the user looks around, the screens follow the software, creating a virtual 100-inch display. The glasses also have two small speakers located near the ears but not directly above them, like Bose Frames. The sound is quiet enough not to be heard by others, providing a secluded listening experience, but it lacks bass.
The glasses are lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods, unlike other smart glasses. Users who wear prescription glasses or contact lenses can order special Spacetop AR glasses based on their prescription. While the portability and the 100-inch monitor are certainly appealing, not everyone enjoys the idea of wearing augmented reality glasses all day long. If you are sitting in a café, you can be assured that no one else will see what you are working on. However, despite the lack of fancy gesture controls, the “strange” glasses may attract unwanted attention.
Although Nreal glasses are not heavy, their relatively small field of view contradicts the idea of having a vast virtual desktop ready for work at any time. Instead of slightly turning your head and eyes, you will need to actively move your head to bring the augmented reality screen into view, which can cause motion sickness. This problem is often exacerbated by the fact that when you turn your eyes, the image on the edges becomes more blurry.
Considering that Nreal glasses use transparent displays, it complicates the resolution and clarity, as the floating windows in front of you will always have some level of transparency.
The most serious downside is the narrow field of view of 60 degrees and the lack of peripheral vision. Therefore, you won’t be able to see the entire 100-inch space at once. Instead, you’ll be looking through a smaller viewing window, the size of which is not specified in the Sightful specifications. Anything outside your immediate field of view will be dark. While technically Spacetop can display more windows than you could fit on a 13-inch screen, you can still only see a few (the same as on a 13-inch screen).
This has led to some amusing situations where users lost their cursor somewhere off to the side and couldn’t find it or forgot where they placed a tab, and they turned their heads trying to locate it. Sightful claims that in future updates, the cursor will immediately move to where the user’s eyes are directed.
Technical specifications of Spacetop
- Chips: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
- Kryo 585TM 8-core 64-bit processor, up to 3.1 GHz frequency
- AdrenoTM 650 graphics processor
- Memory: 8 GB
- Storage: 256 GB
- Fast charging PD 3.0 (up to 65 W)
- Charging from 0% to 85% in less than 2 hours
- SuperSpeed USB up to 10 Gbps
- DisplayPort 1.4 (support for external Full-HD display)
- Keyboard and touchpad: Full-size keyboard and interactive touchpad
- Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.1, 5G NR Sub-6 features
The laptop runs on its own operating system called Spacetop OS. Sightful claims that they chose the 865 partly for its real-time computer vision capabilities combined with extremely low battery consumption. Users also get 8 gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabytes of storage space. As for battery life, Sightful claims five hours of full usage, which is relatively low compared to other laptops that typically last nine or 10 hours or more. The port selection consists of two USB-C ports, one of which will be occupied by the charging device most of the time.
Based solely on these specifications, it is not a powerhouse machine. The laptop’s performance also leaves something to be desired. Testers experienced glitches during demonstration sessions and had to reboot it. Some users reported slow scrolling and window loading, while videos on YouTube would freeze. Sightful representatives say that the first batch of 1,000 devices will be intended only for people whose workload is related to web applications. In other words, gamers and video editors should refrain from purchasing this laptop.
Spacetop with the Snapdragon 865 chip definitely cannot compete with regular laptops in terms of speed and performance. Spacetop is also not suitable for multitasking. The laptop is not designed for handling intensive graphic work or resource-intensive programs. At best, you can use it for basic tasks like web browsing, sending emails, video chatting, and messaging simultaneously. However, even in this scenario, Spacetop in its current iteration is not ready to fulfill its own mission. Developers market it as a laptop that can display multiple web pages on a wide screen, but its processor is simply not intended for that. Its chip is optimized to handle only a few tabs simultaneously. Opening more than ten tabs will strain the hardware. Despite some reservations about how promising this initial version will be, the laptop will not fly off the shelves at a $2000 price point, and the gadget will not become the next iPad.
The Evolution of Computers
Is this the future’s new evolutionary milestone for computers? Not yet. However, if refined versions are released, the gadget could become a truly useful everyday tool for users who prefer a large personal workspace. Spacetop could be efficient during flights or train journeys. The debut of Spacetop laid the foundation for the next step in computing, but its successor will require a wider field of view and more power to become an everyday gadget for everyone.
Currently, the pros have not outweighed the cons. It is unlikely that Spacetop (or any virtual desktop application, for that matter) will gain popularity until it can substantially replicate the experience of a basic laptop display with 1080p resolution, let alone an unlimited virtual desktop with multiple application windows.
At present, developments in AR and VR raise doubts, especially when it comes to the workplace. We still don’t use Meta Horizon Workrooms for our workspaces. It turns out that the only thing worse than a work meeting through AR/VR headsets is a work meeting where you teleport into a cartoonish conference room, sitting next to your colleagues’ shrunken avatars.
In addition to tech giants, Spacetop is not the only startup working on bringing augmented reality to the masses. Another example is the Nimo smart augmented reality glasses, which are still somewhere in the gadget purgatory. These examples can teach us to appreciate “boring” laptops, monitors, and webcams.
Perhaps the current laptop market is indeed boring and outdated, and Spacetop brings the much-needed dose of innovation. However, there is a reason why modern computers look the way they do. A device that aims to shake up the market must first address the reasons why this market functions the way it does.
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