Leap Motion Controller review

Price when reviewed

Few products have generated as much hype as the Leap Motion gesture controller over the past couple of years; none have so miserably failed to live up to their billing. Although it’s posited as a device that allows you to control your PC with the waft of a hand, we found the Leap Motion actually delivered a fist-gnawingly frustrating experience.

In theory, the Leap Motion Controller allows you to navigate your desktop via natural pointing gestures, and to select items on the screen by poking towards them. In our tests, on a variety of laptop and desktop PCs, we did indeed find it just about possible to scroll through the Windows 8 Start menu by waving a hand in front of the screen.

Even with a steady hand, however, we found the onscreen pointer often wobbled uncontrollably, while at other times it was impossible to target items at the edges of the screen, or to locate the pointer at all. And while the Leap Motion Controller theoretically offers multiple screen support, we had the devil’s own job trying to shift the pointer from our main desktop monitor on to a secondary laptop screen. No degree of fiddling with the software’s numerous accuracy and calibration settings resulted in a satisfactory experience.

Another big problem was selecting items. The Leap Motion sensing area is divided into two zones: the “hover zone”, away from the monitor, where the device recognises gestures, and the “touch zone”, which detects the equivalent of left mouse-button clicks. The invisible dividing line between these two zones is directly above the sensor, but we found we had to dangle a finger in the touch zone for a good couple of seconds for a “click” to be recognised. It’s a slow process, and trying to accurately select a small item – such as a link on a web page, for example – borders on the impossible.

The problem in part is that the Leap Motion Controller is quite a rudimentary device. Whereas Microsoft’s Kinect uses a combination of RGB camera, depth sensor and motorised pivot to accurately track the motion of the user’s entire body, Leap Motion relies purely on two cameras and three infrared LEDs mounted inside a static 3in box.

Leap Motion Controller

Even if the hardware worked perfectly, though, the sheer arm-aching awkwardness of navigating your PC by gesture would still kill the idea. We’ve just about grown accustomed to swiping laptop screens, but dangling your arm in mid-air to select items and scroll through menus is tiring (at least, for unfit desk jockeys like us). We can imagine personal injury lawyers are licking their lips in anticipation of these things taking off in the workplace. And, with no Kinect-like option to switch off tracking with a voice command, we found ourselves often accidentally activating the gesture controls when we went to pick up the phone on our desk, for instance.

The controller isn’t solely intended for navigating Windows: it arrives with its own app store, offering a smallish selection of paid-for and free titles. Here too, though, we failed to find a single compelling demonstration of the usefulness of the device. The thin selection of games offers nothing remotely as satisfying as an Xbox Kinect title, proving more akin to the free games that used to ship with webcams. We couldn’t make the Corel Painting app work on our test PC, and a selection of music samplers proved an entertaining distraction for five minutes or so, but nothing more.

In short, we could find nothing to do with the Leap Motion that we couldn’t do more accurately, more conveniently and more comfortably with a mouse and keyboard. The best thing we can say about the Leap Motion Controller is that it isn’t big enough to break the pane when the moment inevitably arrives to throw it out of the window.

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