There are certain brands in the technology field that you depend on. Whether it's a long track record of decades or innovations that blow you away, some technology addresses have a rare kind of brand value for users who are hard to earn.
That's why I'm not pleased to say that Lenovo's new augmented reality headset, ThinkReality A6, delivers a very bad experience in almost every sense, despite the company's history of high-performance technology offerings.
During the recent AWE conference, I had the opportunity to test the device first-hand, and it's no understatement to say that I was shocked at how bad it was. Historically, I was a fan of Lenovo products. I was especially pleased with the company's Mirage AR headset, which offers a low-cost mobile AR experience that gives Star Wars fans a taste of Jedi training.
The release of the large franchise partnership has shown that the company has understood AR and really how to approach it from a mainstream perspective and invest in space as the future of computing. That may be true, but the ThinkReality A6 headset is not a good look into the future.
To demonstrate the device's features, Lenovo set up a demo that allowed the wearer to interact with a real-world circuit board paired with an AR overlay on the same board. In general, the demonstration was on rails, so my ability to manipulate and experiment with the experience was limited.
Therefore, I will not go into the interaction in more detail ̵
Given the nature of the demo software, the device may appear as a corporate solution, possibly as a training device, or even as a way to provide remote on-site help to staff. Today, much of the high-end AR hardware and software is focused in the enterprise environment, which makes sense.
But the relatively simple experience of displaying and selecting menus and interacting with the virtual circuit board made itself felt like a journey back in time from 2015 to 2016 when other similar devices were still working on it optimize. If I had to make a comparison, I would compare him when I tried the Meta Company headset for the first time years ago. But honestly that's not fair for Meta, because Meta was better then.
Hardware, Comfort, and Fit
When I saw the ThinkReality A6 for the first time, it looked like a hybrid hybrid of the HoloLens 1 and the Meta 2 headset. Despite its lack of performance, it is at first glance an attractive device. The black and red device is not bulky, its waveguides weigh under a modern looking transparent visor, and the headband "looks" as if much attention has been paid to wearability.
And maybe the team did this. spent a lot of time designing and looking, but the feeling was awful. Even after making sure to adjust the headset to my noggin, I could not wait to turn off the ill-fitting device.
The company claims that the headset weighs less than 380 grams. That may be true, but it somehow felt harder. By comparison, the Meta 2 headset weighs 420 grams (and feels pretty light on the head), and the HoloLens 1 weighs 579 grams (and I feel every gram of device is hard to carry for a long time). The weighty feel of the ThinkReality A6 is puzzling as the VR-type back-end headgear seems to provide more support and balance. This was not the case for me.
Lenovo also added a noise canceling microphone and embedded surround sound speakers. During my demo, I got over-the-ear headphones, which was smart because the demo area was loud. Nonetheless, the audio feedback did not do much to improve the overall experience.
I Also, note that the device does establish a Wi-Fi connection, however not compatible with 4G or 5G. This is not a major shortcoming compared to other current AR devices, but in 2019 it seems shortsighted to offer a brand new AR headset that is not 5G-friendly.
In addition to the headset, the system comes with a Bluetooth-connected 3DoF controller (three degrees of freedom) included, with which I have shown on virtual menus, this selected and clicked on it. Both the headset and the controller felt "okay" in terms of build quality. After testing all sorts of mobile devices for many years, I did not feel that this system worked well over a long period of time in rigorous, repeated storage or field use in business situations.
Field of View, Optics, & Tracking
According to Lenovo, the ThinkReality A6 headset has a 40-degree (FoV) image field (aspect ratio 16: 9 aspect ratio) and provides 1080p per eye resolution via Lumus waveguides. Well, despite these technical specifications, the software demonstration did not do a great job of displaying high-resolution graphics because I found the images soft and spooky. There is nothing wrong with the translucency in AR, but it felt like a step back in time.
As far as FoV is concerned, when I first experienced the experience with HoloLens 1 and its 34 years ago -Degree of field of view diagonal, the limitations of the visual framing of the devices feel similar. But HoloLens 1 has managed to overcome its FoV limits by providing better visual quality and impressive tracking. I can not say that for the ThinkReality A6. Thus, the FoV feels not only claustrophobic, but with poor image quality also laborious than it pays.
In addition to the previously mentioned controller, the ThinkReality A6 headset features 3DoF inside-out tracking, head tracking, eye tracking, voice commands, and gesture control. Unfortunately, I just had to use the hardware controller to manipulate the interfaces, so I'm not ready to comment on the non-controller-based interface controls until I can retest the device.
The device also offers SLAM (simultaneous) localization and mapping capabilities with a depth sensor, a 13 megapixel camera, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), two fisheye cameras, and a battery life of about four hours. Internally, the device runs on Android Oreo, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and an Intel Movidius VPU (image processing unit).
You will find that I did not mention the ] HoloLens 2 in my comparisons. That's because the ThinkReality A6 is not in the same class as the HoloLens 2 – the company's efforts still have much to do before comparing it to the glitz and power of Microsoft's latest AR system. I'm not sure why Lenovo launched the product at this stage of development. Assuming that the company's researchers have tried the alternative AR devices available on the market, it seems more reasonable to wait until you find something more competitive in terms of performance.
Of course, I'm always ready to entertain the hope that I've experienced a confluence of unfortunate circumstances for Lenovo which led to a demonstration that does not work to the true capabilities of the device. That's always possible (actually, I would like that to be the case.)
The area that offers the ThinkReality device potential benefits for the future is the fact that the company is embracing the increasingly popular tethered hip Computer model follows This is a dynamic that significantly relieves the headset and may allow for a better version of the Lenovo device in the future.
As it stands, the ThinkReality A6 behaves like a product better suited for the headset AR Space a few years ago. Today, conditions are much more competitive and a corporate offer from a name as well-known as Lenovo needs to deliver more. Lenovo has not yet announced the price or release date of the device, but it is more beneficial if the company attempts to persuade enterprise users to transfer it to other current and upcoming portable AR devices.