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The Spacetop is a laptop that really wants to swap your screen for AR glasses

After seeing this portable 100-inch virtual screen at CES 2024, it seems it doesn't quite deliver on its promise.

Photos by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Right now there are a bunch of companies trying to figure out new and better ways to work on the go. Lenovo made a laptop with two displays and a detachable keyboard to help give owners additional screen space without too much added bulk. And there are headsets from Meta, Apple and others that offer a way to create a completely virtual workspace without the need for a tethered PC. But with the Spacetop, startup Sightful has come up with an in-between solution that uses the bottom of a laptop, but instead of a traditional display, it’s attached to a pair of AR glasses.

In theory, the glasses provide a 100-inch virtual display that can hold more windows than you could ever fit on a traditional laptop screen. And with the Spacetop being powered by Android, you get a familiar working environment too. Instead of controllers or hand gestures, there’s a typical keyboard and touchpad for writing, browsing the web or anything else you might need to do. But after trying one out at CES 2024 in Las Vegas, while I like the idea, I’m not so sure about Sightful’s execution.

The system is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chip (the same processor Meta used in the Quest 2 from 2020), just 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It feels smooth, though I wouldn't necessarily call it fast. I didn’t notice much lag when dragging windows around or typing, but I didn’t get to see how it handles a ton of open apps or anything more demanding than a web browser. Sightful has also come up with some simple shortcuts for doing things like re-centering the screen (just press the left and right Shift keys at the same time).

The issue I ran into is that, while Sightful developed the base of the laptop itself and put its logo on the side of the glasses, the bundled AR eyewear attached to the PC is actually off-the-shelf specs from Xreal (in this case the Xreal Lights). So while Xreal glasses are somewhat sharp, their narrow field of view (especially vertically) and somewhat small sweet spot left a lot to be desired when it came to actually using that 100-inch virtual display.

The bottom half of the Spacetop will be immediately familiar, though for a system that costs $2,000, components like the keyboard and touchpad don't feel as premium as similarly priced traditional notebooks.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Additionally, the Spacetop’s keys felt spongy and its touchpad was lackluster too. It’s a far cry from the more precise haptic surfaces you’d get on a premium Mac or Windows PC. And when you combine all this with a starting price of $2,000, I just don’t see the appeal. For people who already have a laptop, I’d argue you’d be much better off getting a Meta Quest 3, which costs $500, sports a much newer chip and can sync with your laptop to create its own version of a virtual desktop. Plus, then you’d have a headset that’s way better at playing games, watching movies and more.

While Sightful developed the bottom half of the Spacetop in-house, the system relies on off-the-shelf AR glasses from Xreal.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

There’s a reason why Meta, Apple and others have sunk billions of dollars into making headsets and glasses with finely tuned optics. And I’m sure someday (maybe even sometime in the next few years), off-the-shelf AR glasses will make some pretty big advancements. But between its high price, dated specs and a big but not great-looking virtual display powered by two-year old AR glasses, the Spacetop doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of revolutionizing the common laptop.

We're reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.