Leap Motion review

An experiment in interactivity that isn't quite there yet

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Touchless for Windows/Mac (Win/Mac, free)

Touchless is the quintessential app that many Leap Motion users will be looking for. It's the one that most obviously fulfills the device's promise, by letting you control your computer - pointing, clicking, scrolling, etc. - with finger movements.

As in several other Leap Motion apps, the device's detection area is divided into two zones: the "hover zone" and the "touch zone." As the names suggest, the hover zone is further back from the screen and allows you to move the cursor. As your finger moves further into the touch zone, your reticle gets smaller and eventually "clicks," so to speak.

In addition, circular movements can scroll around the screen, and various combinations of one, two or three fingers can perform multiple functions, depending on whether you're using the app in basic or advanced mode. And the experience is largely the same whether you're using Windows or OS X.

This type of system-wide interaction may be the promise on which the Leap Motion was built, but unfortunately it seems the controller is simply incapable of detecting minute finger movements to the degree it would be necessary to be anything more than a gimmick. Likewise, no desktop OS (with the possible exception of Windows 8) was designed for such an imprecise input method.

Plus, for whatever reason it's extremely difficult to move your finger toward the screen without skewing up or down, and thanks to the device's obsessive accuracy you'll frequently miss your target. With some practice and patience, it can work passably well for simple tasks like browsing the web, but a mouse will always be easier and more accurate - so beyond that initial wow factor, what's the point?

BetterTouchTool (Mac, free)

For power users, BetterTouchTool allows you to construct specific and elaborate shortcuts for whatever functions you see fit. Dozens of different gestures can be assigned to translate into keyboard shortcuts or specific functions, and they can even be configured to apply only to certain applications.

If you want an upward three finger swipe to show your desktop, but only while you're in Chrome, then so be it. The program is a bit rough around the edges, though, and in our testing the controller had trouble registering our motions.

Unlock (Win, free)

Unlock allows you to use the Leap Motion to unlock your computer from a locked state. There's definitely an allure to this type of functionality, though this particular execution leaves much to be desired.

There's a lengthy set-up process that's meant to create a custom hand profile for each user (but barely works - why would it tell you to close your fist if it can't recognize what a fist looks like?). However, we couldn't figure out how to actually implement the function once the app was closed.

Photo Explorer for Facebook (Win, free)

Photo Explorer for Facebook prompted us to log in to Facebook in a browser window, which it was kind enough to open for us. But when we entered our credentials we were given an error message, and then the app stopped working.

PhotoScape (Win/Mac, $1.99)

PhotoScape lets you browse pictures from a number of sources, including 500px, Instagram, flickr, and tumblr. Swiping around with your fingers splayed out navigates between services, while an aggressive poke selects one.

The photos themselves are scattered across the screen like someone threw them there, and navigating through them is a haphazard pain. There's significant lag on OS X, as well. Like many of the other apps in Airspace, it's unclear what exactly the point is.


Gorogoa Puzzle (Win, free)

Gorogoa is a somewhat abstract puzzle game (though not as abstract as some of the other apps in Airspace) that uses four spaces to portray a beautifully drawn game world. It's gorgeous and interesting, but rather obtuse.

There's definitely an interesting game here, and for the price of free it's worth checking out, but prepared to get stuck. You can also switch to mouse controls for an easier time.

Rock Paper Scissors (Win/Mac, $1.99)

It's not exactly what you're thinking - though it would make even less sense if it were. Bubbles containing rocks, paper, and pairs of scissors float across the screen, and you've got to make the right gesture to combat them.

Hover over each bubble with the right hand formation and the bubbles explode - literally, for some reason. There's some challenge in building combos, but overall it's just a distraction. On the other hand, the Leap Motion controller excels at differentiating between a clenched fist, two extended fingers, and a splayed-out palm.

Jungle Jumper (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Jungle Jumper proved to be a lot more fun. Using one hand, you grasp a plunger, pull it back and release to launch a little guy into the air. Then you tilt your hand to steer him back and forth, nabbing collectibles and avoiding obstacles as he bounces from platform to platform.

It's good, clean fun, and it uses the type of big, broad gestures that the Leap Motion controller excels at detecting. Too bad, then, that it caused our Macbook Pro to freeze, requiring a hard reset.

Boom Ball (Win/Mac, $4.99)

Essentially a 3D version of Brick Breaker, Boom Ball has you moving a virtual paddle up and down and side to side as you direct a bouncing ball toward towers of combustible blocks. If you've ever played Boom Blox on Nintendo Wii it's something like that.

Boom Ball is fun and easy to control, and in particular it does a great job of demonstrating just how precise the Leap Motion controller's finger-tracking can be. It's goof at detecting the exact angle of your finger and positioning the paddle accordingly.

Sugar Rush (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Disney's Sugar Rush is a tie-in to "Wreck-it Ralph," a version of the fictional game that Vanellope von Schweetz wants so desperately to play. In other words, it's a "tribute" to Mario Kart, complete with multiple racers and tracks and even power-ups like rockets.

Unlike Mario Kart, though, Sugar Rush is controlled with just your hands, held in the air as if they're gripping a steering wheel. The game is cute and the controls are passable, though highly imperfect. Mileage may vary.

Licht little adventure (Win, $1.99)

In Licht, you control a floating orb with one finger while other orbs follow it drunkenly around. You're meant to guide them around obstacles and through gaps, but the game makes it maddeningly difficult to do so.

It's not the controls - the Leap Motion controller can certainly detect one finger with relatively little error - but instead the physics of the orbs, which float as if being pulled through molasses.

Puddle (Win/Mac, $4.99)

Physics games seem to work particularly well on motion control devices, and the Leap Motion controller is no exception. Puddle lets you use one hand or two fingers to tilt the world left and right and attempt to get various liquids to the goal.

There are obstacles (like fire that makes your water evaporate) along the way, and you get more points the more liquid survives to the end. The controls are easy and the game is challenging.

Cut the Rope (Win/Mac, free)

Cut the Rope is basically a classic at this point, and it works surprisingly well with the Leap Motion controller. You point at the screen to aim, then swipe quickly to cut the ropes and guide the candies to the dinosaur's mouth.

If you own a touchscreen device and haven't played Cut the Rope yet then you've been missing out. Unfortunately the Airspace version has just a fraction of the levels that the original version does. At least it's free.

Clay Jam (Win/Mac $1.99)

Like many others, Clay Jam hits what appears to be the sweet spot for the Airspace app store at $1.99. It takes place in a clay world filled with "bully beasts" in which you're tasked with rebuilding the clay mountains to revive the happy monsters.

You guide a clay ball by gouging grooves in the malleable landscape, causing the ball to pick up more clay objects and snowball until the end of each level. Silly stuff, but the clay aesthetic - even the menus are made of the stuff - is adorable, and the controls are only a little finicky.

Shimsham: The Legend of Jazz Hands (Win/Mac, free)

One of the only multiplayer games on Airspace currently, Shimsham features the exact type of Leap Motion interaction that the device is good at. It requires no specific gestures or minute adjustments; two players simply use one finger each to tilt the level on their side of the screen, attempting to guide falling blocks into the path of their opponent while staying out of harm's way themselves.

It's got a whimsical jazz-inspired soundtrack and its levels are named after jazz greats like Armstrong, Ellington and Parker. It's the perfect Leap Motion game, and luckily it's free.

Qbism (Win/Mac, $4.99)

Qbism is another great little game for Leap Motion, and surprisingly it uses some pretty complex gestures as well. It involves placing cubes inside the outline of a shape until the shape is complete. The twist is that the shapes exist in three dimensions, but you can only see a single side at a time.

Pieces may look like they're aligned, but when you turn the shape to see it from a different side you'll see that the cubes are only aligned along a single axis. You'll pinch them one by one to move them into position, then swipe with a broad, open hand to change perspectives.

At $4.99 it's on the steep end of the Airspace store, but this one's worth it. It's got just the right amount of challenge, and for the most part the controls work great.

Spiders Escape 3D (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Spiders Escape tasks you with aiming and launching spiders toward stars embedded in webs. Unfortunately aiming is nearly impossible - you can choose to gain a crosshair for two out of every three shots, but if you don't get all three stars you can't progress to the next level. Not recommended.

I am Vegend: Zombiegeddon (Win/Mac, $2.99)

I Am Vegend is something of a Plants vs. Zombies clone with less tower defense and more actual aiming and shooting. You show the Leap controller one finger to aim, two to shoot, and five to switch between plants, which fire different types of projectiles.

There's some variety to mix it up but overall the controls aren't reliable enough for the fast-paced gameplay.

Digit Duel (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Digit Duel is a shooting gallery that you control by actually turning your hand into the shape of a gun, then flicking it to shoot. When it works it's fun, but the lag on our Macbook Pro made it all but impossible to play.

It worked better on Windows 7 and we got to try out the duel mode, but aiming is just too erratic for Digit Duel to be fun. It's a shame, because it's got a great look.

Out of the Blocks (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Out of the Blocks would not work on our Macbook Pro - it started up but froze as soon as the menu loaded. It worked fine on Windows 7, though, and it actually proved quite charming. It's a voxel world (like Minecraft) in which you navigate through a strange city using a single hand. As you progress you'll learn to shoot (jerk your hand awkwardly) and grow larger and larger. We won't spoil the rest, because it's just odd enough to recommend. The whole thing should last about three minutes, but if you've got a couple bucks to spare it's worth it.

Beat Bash (Mac, $1.99)

Beat Bash is a mediocre rhythm game in the style of Guitar Hero and Amplitude. It pulls tracks from your iTunes library and attempts to analyze their beats to send notes flying toward you in time with the music.

In practice it doesn't work very well, and aiming your baton to intercept the notes is imprecise at best and impossible much of the time.

Super Punch Bowl (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Super Punch Bowl would not load on our Macbook Pro; the menu lagged significantly and the disembodied hand that was no doubt meant to represent the cursor refused to move. The start button wouldn't activate.

It worked on Windows, where we found out that it's mediocre neon space bowling. The controls are awful, and there's multiplayer if you want it.

Froggle (Win/Mac, $2.99)

It's not as Frogger as it sounds, but Froggle is fun nonetheless. If there's one thing the Leap Motion controller is really good at it's detecting the direction in which a single finger is pointing. That means that steering the frog as it leaps from lily pad to lily pad is easy. It's probably not worth $2.99, but at least it works.

Solar Warfare (Win/Mac, $4.99)

Solar Warfare looks like it was designed with the graphical equivalent of clip art, but you'll be surprised how well it controls. It's a space shooter in the vein of Star Fox 64, but you use your hand to control the ship - tilt to steer, pull back to slow down, push forward to speed up, clench your fingers to shoot, and swipe to fire a missile. There are a good amount of courses and upgrades to purchase using coins collected in-game.

Qubic (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Tilt your hand to move a block around and avoid obstacles. There are power-ups that get you a score multiplier or make your cube smaller. That's it. The controls are responsive - the Leap controller has no trouble detecting a single hand - but whether it's worth $1.99 depends on how easily distracted you are.

Escape Velocity (Win/Mac, $1.99)

Like Solar Warfare, Escape Velocity has you controlling a ship with a tilting hand. But the designers of Escape Velocity appear to have forgotten what platform they were designing for, and the game is much too fast to be controlled accurately using the Leap controller. It's frenetic, and hit detection is finicky besides - you'll run right through power-ups without picking them up and clip obstacles that you're nowhere near. The experience is salvaged somewhat by a functional two-player mode.

Derigo (Win/Mac, $.99)

If you can get past the controls Derigo is a creative little game. With some multiplayer tic tac toe and puzzle variations it might prove worth it, but using your hand and finger to move and point a flying droid around the game's three-dimensional spaces proves frustratingly difficult. It kept losing track of our hands, forcing us into some awkward positions.

Vitrun Air (Win/Mac, $2.99)

We're suckers for marble rolling games, but Vitrun Air takes too long to pick up, and the controls are alternately too sensitive or virtually unresponsive.

Sortee (Win/Mac, $2.99)

Sortee is undoubtedly one of the best and most satisfying apps available in Airspace right now. The mechanics are blessedly simple: objects fly toward the screen and you fling them to the left or right, categorizing them on the fly. Are they paper or glass? For adults or children? Red or blue? Sometimes it throws in a wrench, like two objects at the same time or switching what objects go on which side, but for the most part it's just good, simple fun.

It gets harder the further you get, adding more than two categories per level, and there's a mode for kids and extra fast levels for skilled players. Plus the controls work great.

Dropchord (Win/Mac, free)

Dropchord is one of the few games in Airspace right now that comes from a developer you might know - Tim Schafer's Double Fine - and it shows in subtle ways. The menu, for example, uses an input method that also serves as the tutorial. It makes you line up a finger from each hand to start, and when the game begins you know intuitively how to play. A line forms between your fingers and you drag it around a circle, hitting good orbs and avoiding red ones.

It's simple, but it's got great psychedelic visuals and music, and the controls work well. With all the chaos on screen it can be hard to keep track of where your hands are, though, and that causes intermittent issues. iOS, Android and Ouya versions are coming soon, but the Leap Motion version works surprisingly well.


Geco MIDI (Win/Mac, $9.99)

Games are games, and we love them, but the creative software is where things really start to get interesting.

Geco MIDI is a MIDI manipulation interface that uses the Leap controller to allow users to interact with apps like Reason, Logic Pro, and Mainstage. If you have no idea what that means then Geco is not for you, but it seems to work well and do exactly what it claims.

Deco Sketch (Win/Mac, $4.99)

Deco Sketch is described as "creative photo editing with graphic geometry," and while we're not sure we agree with its assertion that "math is cool again," it does provide some unique tools. Given some practice a geometry expert or real artist might be able to make something interesting here.

AirHarp (Win/Mac, $.99)

AirHarp is exactly what it sounds like: a harp that you control with your fingers floating in the air. Thanks to the Leap Motion controller's ability to detect ten fingers at once you can utilize all your digits while you're air-plucking, and the app features some extra tools for musicians to take advantage of, like the ability to strike entire chords at once or design your own custom scales. Don't expect to be able to play with any degree of accuracy right away, but with practice you could make beautiful music.

Painter Freestyle (Win, free)

Don't let the name fool you - Painter Freestyle is more advanced than your stock Windows Paint app. The real beauty is in the brushes and the degree to which the controller can recognize the exact movements and angles of your finger (or stylus - we found a pen worked better for this). A spraycan stylus, for example, can be adjusted by angle and intensity just by moving your finger. It's quite intuitive and responsive, and with a little time artists should get a lot out of Painter Freestyle.

Swoosh (Mac, $1.99)

Swoosh is an "iTunes companion" app that allows you to quote-unquote DJ your iTunes tracks by adding reverb, screwing with the pitch, "scratching," and more. You can even make some basic custom loops, though beyond being a fun party trick the app is fairly limited. It's more a novelty than anything else.

Fingertapps Piano (Win/Mac, $2.99)

Piano apps work better on actual touchscreens than they do on the Leap Motion controller's virtual one, and your ability to actually play the Fingertapps Piano will coincide directly with your mastery over use of the device. That said, after using the Leap Motion for two days straight we still couldn't play Jingle Bells.


Frog Dissection (Win/Mac, $3.99)

It must be a testament to Frog Dissection's realism that we felt like we were back in high school. We didn't enjoy dissecting a frog in Biology, and we didn't enjoying doing it with Leap Motion, either, but that's not the frog's fault - or the app's. And this way certainly smelled better. It's not just a mere dissection, either, as there's plenty of general frog knowledge and even extra tools like 3D views of the organs. If that's what you're into.

Molecules (Mac, free)

The whole point of Molecules seems to be proving that there are certain things that just work better with Leap Motion - namely, rotating an object in virtual 3D space is easier when you can just move your hand than if you were using a mouse. Unless you're literally a scientist, you're not going to get much use out of it, but it's a capable tech demo.

Exoplanet (Mac, $4.99)

Exoplanet provides an interactive 3D view of the entire Milky Way, with a specific knowledge base detailing the physical properties of all known exoplanets - and it's updated daily, according to the app's Airspace page. The controls work well enough, and once again show that some things really are better when your hand is floating in space.

The New York Times (Mac, free)

It doesn't get much more simple than this. The day's articles are loaded in a horizontal row. You twirl a finger to scroll through them, or swipe a hand to scroll quickly. Hover over an article to read it, shake your hand to go back to the list. Inarguably this is easier with a mouse and a web browser, but it's very much functional on Leap Motion. One does wonder why it's Mac only, though, and why it exists at all.

Cyber Science 3D Motion (Win/Mac, free)

Another simple one, Cyber Science 3D Motion supposedly allows users to dissect and examine a human skull. Would-be brain surgeons we may be, but we couldn't get into the app - try as we might, and using our own accounts as well as the press account provided to us, we were told repeatedly that our credentials were wrong.

Other software

VIZ.it (Mac, free)

Another glorified tech demo, VIZ.it lets you create patterns by moving your fingers around. You can adjust some settings and save presets, but overall it's really just an interactive iTunes visualizer. Can't argue with free, at least.

Flocking (Win/Mac, free)

Where VIZ.it is an interactive iTunes visualizer, Flocking is an interactive screen saver. Use your hands to manipulate a school of fish. Like the other free, abstract Leap Motion apps, it does a great job of showing how the device can track all your fingers at once, and not much else.

Lotus (Win/Mac, free)

Lotus is like the PS Vita and PS3 game Sound Shapes, only more abstract and less like an actual game. It's more of an interactive music tool; there are four "levels," each with its own gimmick, like ribbons that follow your finger movements and make charming little sounds.

OscilloScoop (Mac, $2.99)

OscilloScoop allows you to "sculpt musical grooves out of thin air." The "crowns" spin as you sculpt them, like musical clay made of yellow and pink geometry, and various hand motions cause different effects, like jagged or smooth oscillations in the sound. It's actually quite fun, though there aren't really enough features to warrant spending $2.99.

Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for Playboy.com, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.