This article has been archived and is no longer being updated. It may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time.
The Leap Motion is a small iPod sized device which you place on the desktop in front of your computer which allows you to interact with the computer via hand movements. The device looks at a hemispherical area with around a metre’s radius and can detect individual fingers positions and movements and similar things like pens. It has a precision of about .01mm.
- Windows 7 or 8 or Mac OSX 10.7 or higher or or Linux (alpha) (Ubuntu)
- AMD Phenom II or Intel Core i3, i5, i7 processor
- 2GB Ram
- USB 2.0
- Internet connection – note this is not an always on connection but to load apps.
- Connectivity: USB 2.0 (3.0 supported)
- Dimensions: 2.8 x 8 x .5 cm
- Weight: 30g (unit only, not including cable)
Visually the Leap Motion is a small rectangular box with a black glass top, a matt metal band around the outside and with a velvet underside. Two grey USB cables are included with the box but they are not a standard shape on the Leap Motion end. After trying the Leap Motion on a i3 and a i7 I can confirm that the minimum spec required will let the Leap Motion work, but for a smooth experience or to use the Leap Motion in other programs you need a more powerful system.
When considering the Leap Motion you have to think of it as two separate parts. There is the hardware and the software. The hardware is impressive and works exactly as shown in the advertisement videos. It is extremely precise and I only ran into issues when I put my hands together. The unit is surprisingly forgiving as to where in front of your keyboard it is placed and even works in the dark.
That leaves the software and the Leap Motion starts to get frustrating it is just too precise. You have to hold your hand in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to get good use of it and as its so so precise that’s very difficult. Add to that the fact that apart from a few simple movements like swiping most gestures are not intuitive and there is a steep leaning curve to get anything more than extremely basic use out of it.
As a gaming option there are lots of different games in the airspace store but they’re all the mini-game variety – fun but too short or repetitive. Using the Leap as a controller in a ‘normal’ game is possible but the amount of setup is huge and there is some lag introduced I was never able to get the experience to be as good as a conventional controller. With that proviso there are clear uses for those who have difficulty using conventional controllers. The Leap does not disable other controllers and could make a good supplementary system, perhaps with voice control.
The hardware is extremely visually accessible. Once the Leap Motion is plugged in and running it has a couple of small red LEDs on the top and a green LED on the front. The lights are only to indicate that the device is operating and the correct orientation, but if you are unable to see them then the location that the USB cable is plugged in can give you the same information.
From a software perspective things are less good. Airspace, the Leap Motion’s app store, uses a starfield as its background with thin white on black text. It does provide large bright icons but they are not always intuitive as to their usage. Individual apps are of course variable depending on publisher but they seem more often than not to take their style from the Airspace store.
Overall the Leap Motion should not have any obstacles for anyone with photophobia, motion sickness, reduced vision or colour blindness, there may however be issues in individual apps – Dropcord from Doublefine would be a good example of this – the game is extremely flashy and should be avoided by anyone with visually induced problems.
The Leap Motion has no speakers built into it and does not make use of sound in the Airspace app store. Individual apps can and do make use of sounds and the some of the games have made good use but will need to be judged on an individual basis.
Hardware setup of the Leap Motion is straightforward – plugging in a specialised USB cable and placing the unit on the desk in front of your keyboard. It is very much designed for a traditional desk setup (although it can be made to work on a standing desk), but there will be significant problems if you are used to using any other setup, such as the lazy boy desk we covered here.
In use the device’s precision can count against it. To take Leap’s “Touchless” system control app as an example to select an item on the screen mimicking a left click mouse button you move your finger forward through the Y axis over the device. The distance that you need to move is tiny – on the range of millimetres – but it needs to be at an exact point and your finger needs to be still in other axis. In other words if you move left, right or up and down even a tiny amount you will either click in the wrong place, fail to click or trigger another response such as scrolling.
In theory these problems should be resolvable with better adapted apps and indeed third parties have been releasing more customisable applications (such as Gamewave for system control) that will allow you to decrease the sensitivity and customise gestures but it’s still early days. To use the Leap Motion you need good control of your fingers (or at least one or two fingers) and the ability to hold your hand in the air in a controlled, tremble free manner. The advantage is that you do not need to put any pressure on through your fingers at all.
Using the Leap Motion would seem to be very straightforward – hold your hands or hands over it and manipulate what is on the screen and to a large extent this is true. Unfortunately there are not yet a consistent set of protocols or accepted ways of doing things. In one app move three fingers to the right to complete an action, in another move forward with a single finger. If a consistent gesture language can be worked out then it has the potential to be extremely straightforward to use. In the month and a half or so I’ve had the device I have noticed that apps do seem to be converging on a set of protocols. If this carries on then getting basic use out of the device will be simple.
Manufacturer: Leap Motion Price: £69.99 Retailer: Amazon
Included In The Box
- Leap Motion Sensor
- 2 USB cables, one long, one short.
The Leap Motion is a promising device that so nearly delivers on its promise. Its hardware is very impressive but the software support is often inadequate. As things stand its a fun toy but not something that can add significantly to your productivity. Whilst initially seeming to be very useful from an an accessibility point of view the precision required is usually more than most with significant physical disabilities will be able to produce. With that it mind there is potential here. The problems are all software than hardware based and the drivers have updated multiple times since I have had the Leap Motion and the number of available apps has mushroomed. Overall very interesting but flawed and probably not going to be the new way we all interact with our computers.
The Leap Motion was released in July 2013 and is compatible with PC, Mac and Linux. The review is based on the PC version. This article was first published on September 2013 and is no longer being updated. Information may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time.