Motion in the Ocean
Easy setup; small footprint; looks nice.
Lacks precision; third-party apps required; app store needs work.
Considering how rapidly technology advances, the longevity of the humble computer mouse gets more fascinating every day. Sure, we’ve added a scroll wheel, switched to digital tracking, and sometimes go wireless, but its basic shape and behavior remains unchanged. The Leap Motion is not necessarily designed to replace it—but after our time with it, we’re not sure where it would fit in on the desktop.
The top of the Leap Motion contains a motion-sensing camera, which probably won’t capture your disappointment.
We know that it’s a dual-lens, IR-sensitive motion controller similar to the Xbox Kinect, and Leap Motion’s creator (a company helpfully named “Leap Motion”) claims its own device is more accurate. It has partnerships with Asus and HP, and millions in venture capital funding. This is a serious product that you can get at Amazon or your local Best Buy, with an MSRP of $80. It’s the size of a small candy bar, and it attaches quickly with a bundled USB cable.
However, it doesn’t replace your mouse. It can, but that requires a third-party app called Touchless. It’s free from Leap Motion’s Airspace app store, but it doesn’t work that well, and it doesn’t function in games. That requires another third-party app called GameWave, which costs $3.99. The Leap Motion seems to behave better with GameWave, but only by degrees; it consistently demonstrated a lack of precision required to interact with onscreen buttons sized for a mouse. The pointer drifted too much and lagged slightly behind our movement.
We played Civilization V, which was officially confirmed to work with GameWave, but we had to constantly re-center the screen with our mouse; pulling a hand away from the screen caused the pointer to move to its edge, which caused the map to scroll. We also tested it on a 27-inch 2560x1440 monitor, and our hand frequently moved too far away from the Leap Motion, because of the sheer area that needed to be tracked. If you increase acceleration, though, your tracking gets less accurate. This is definitely not an “it just works” experience.
But getting back to the Airspace store: That’s the intended ecosystem, apparently. Not your current desktop software or games. This frustrates for a few reasons. Mainly, store navigation is oddly poor. You can’t sort by popularity, rating, price, or release date. Only by category. When you do, the results are not alphabetical, or otherwise auto-sorted by any clear mechanism. The other problem is the small inventory. The “Top Picks” section seems to showcase relatively highly rated apps, but there were only 27 to choose from, one of which appeared to be a placeholder. As this issue went to press, there was a grand total of 70 Leap Motion apps that were compatible with Windows (some are Mac-only). Many are just converted Android or iOS apps, like Dropchord or Fruit Ninja.
The store also explicitly forbids app refunds, unless the app is “defective” according to Leap Motion’s sole discretion. And we couldn’t find any demo versions of the paid apps, which form the bulk of the store’s contents. Most cost only a few dollars, but after forking over $80 for the device, discovering that you can’t use it as a mouse out-of-the-box, fiddling extensively with the third-party apps that give it mouse functions and still not getting the precision that you want, the platform doesn’t exactly invite you to gamble more money on something that might justify the purchase of the device.