At Lenovo's Tech World event, it demonstrated a full line of smart devices currently under development. One of the most interesting devices under production was the Lenovo Magic View Smartwatch, and after the show we got some time to go hands-on and see how the watch works.
When first looking at the smartwatch, it is not surprising to see that it looks a lot like the Motorola smartwatch already on the market (Lenovo owns Motorola, remember), but with a black rectangle beside the watch display. This rectangle is, more or less, the screen of the virtual display.
Though the "real" display can still be used for any task, using many applications on such a small display is usually difficult and not an altogether pleasant experience. The virtual display aims to overcome this issue by providing an image that appears larger than it really is when in use, but the virtual display falls short of achieving this goal.
The primary flaw behind the Magic View virtual display is the way it needs to be used. The screen or panel of the virtual display is only about 1 x 2 cm in size, but when in use it does indeed seem larger. When looking into the virtual display, it seems as though you are looking down a short tunnel and viewing an image outside of the tunnel. When pressed or held almost directly against the eye, the image appears to be around 6 inches in total size.
If you wear glasses and need to hold the watch a little further away from you, the image only looks like about 4 inches, and it's more difficult to line up the watch to view the image at all. The further away you hold the watch, the images quickly get smaller. At about 2 or 3 inches away, the image appears smaller than one inch in total size; and at about 6 inches away, the image stops being viewable at all.
The obvious problem is that most people don't want to hold their watch almost directly against their eye to watch a video. The idea of using an app or GPS on the virtual display is actually dreadful, as you will be trying to use the touchscreen interface on the watch face while it is above your eye and completely out of view.
If you have glasses, the watch becomes more problematic to use, and after just a few minutes using the watch I actually began to feel a little disoriented. I was standing at the time, so the virtual display might be practical to watch videos while sitting, but you still need to keep one eye closed the entire time you are using it, which for me also feels uncomfortable for long periods of time.
The watch has a feature that lets you view areas in a panoramic view. As you turn yourself, so turns the images on the screen. Although this is a neat feature, I can't help but feel using it this way will only make the disorientation worse.
To be fair, it should be noted that this is a prototype of a concept that Lenovo is working on, and it currently is not in production. In fact, it is possible that when a device with this feature comes to market, it will not look anything like the prototype.
Before leaving the watch behind, I asked the Lenovo reps if the virtual display could be made viewable from further away, which would overcome part of the difficulties I observed. Even getting the images to be viewable from about 3 inches away while still appearing large enough would allow you to view it with both eyes and have some visibility of the watch face and the system interface. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen, as Lenovo informed me that to view the image from further away would require a larger display.
Though I wasn't impressed with the virtual display on this prototype, it is nice to see a company attempting to innovate and overcome the difficulties inherent in a traditional tiny smartwatch display. Perhaps in time, Lenovo will find a way to make the virtual display more viable for general use, but for now the limitations may be a dealbreaker.