July 27, 2013, 6:07 AM — Anyone who's ever stood in front of a Kinect-equipped Xbox knows the fun of virtual control, of using your hands to manipulate what you see on the screen without touching anything but air.
The Leap Motion Controller endows your PC with that same air-powered interactivity, allowing you to bypass mouse and keyboard in favor of hand-waving control of apps, games and even various PC operations.
The Leap Motion Controller sits between keyboard and monitor.
It's a cool concept, and Leap Motion pulls off the execution reasonably well -- for the surprisingly low price of $80. But it definitely raises a few questions, starting with: What would you actually use this thing for? And does it have any practical business value?
Plug and playtime
Not much larger than an average flash drive, the Leap Motion Controller has a glossy black top with a silver band wrapped around the sides. It's attractive and surprisingly compact, which is good considering it's designed to sit below your monitor (or, if you're using a laptop, in front of the keyboard). A USB 2.0 cable provides both power and connectivity. Leap Motion supplies both short (two feet) and long (five feet) cables to accommodate various computing configurations.
I tested the Leap Motion Controller with a Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Touch laptop and Samsung Series 9 ultrabook. Although the controller itself didn't get in the way, I disliked the look of the USB cable snaking around the side. This thing really begs for a rechargeable battery and wireless connection, which would emulate the somewhat disingenuous promo video where you see only the sensor, not the cable.
But installation couldn't have been much simpler. After loading the Windows client (it's also available for OS X) and plugging in the controller, I raised my hands and instantly saw their movement reflected in the introductory visualizer app. As a regular Kinect user, however, for me the effect was less "Wow!" and more, "Okay, it works."
Even so, when I tried the calibration process, during which you point the top of the controller at a reflective surface (a glossy screen is recommended) and move it around, I found it nearly impossible to achieve the required "pass" score of 80. Eventually I managed it with the IdeaPad, which has a glossy display, but I never hit 80 on the matte-finished display of the Series 9. The sensor still worked as expected, but I couldn't shake the feeling it wasn't operating optimally.