Within the tech industry, there has been a lot of talk about the future of XR technologies as they apply to headsets, specifically AR and VR headsets. However, one thing many insiders fail to acknowledge in this vision of the XR future is that many users, at least initially, will not be using headsets 24/7 and there will be a subset of the population that doesn’t ever want to put on a headset, or that can’t use a headset for very long—or at all—for a host of reasons from vision problems to vertigo.
This gap leaves a huge hole in the future of XR, the metaverse, Web3D or whatever you decide to call it. That gap is where companies like Looking Glass, Lightfield Labs or Leia come in and enable users to view 3-D content in a glasses-free environment so multiple users can share the same display and experience the 3-D content together. Leia has now taken its proprietary DLB display technology, which I have previously used in the RED Hydrogen One phone, and scaled it up into a tablet, now in its second generation as the Lume Pad 2. While I have a few ideas about how it could be even better, Leia has created a device that is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
The Lume Pad 2
I have had the luxury of playing with the Lume Pad 2 since before MWC 2023, where XR and spatial computing were everywhere; the model I’ve been using is the ZTE Nubia Pad 3D, which is the version of the Lume Pad 2 sold outside the US. I also got to witness the excitement for the Nubia Pad 3D from the crowds at MWC in Barcelona. In fact, it was one of the most exciting things that I saw at the show, even though I had already used it beforehand.
The Lume Pad 2 features a 12.4-inch 2560x1600 120-hertz display complemented by a quad-speaker Dolby Atmos sound stage. The display has a maximum brightness of 450 nits in 2-D mode and a maximum of 300 nits in 3-D. It also comes with a camera module that Leia dubs the “3D Creator Tool,” which incorporates two stereoscopic cameras that can capture pictures in up to 5K resolution. It also is capable of capturing 1080P video at up to 30 fps. The tablet also uses front-facing cameras for AI-powered face tracking to improve the 3-D viewing experience. All of this runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset sporting Android 12 and has 8GB of LPDDR5 DRAM and 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage. And yes, it supports 33-watt-plus fast charging on a 9270 mAh battery.
I would’ve liked to see more storage capacity on a device like this where 3-D content (especially movies and videos) can take up a lot of space. However, I think the biggest improvement in experience and performance will likely come from an improvement in the Snapdragon chip inside of the Lume Pad 2. I don’t necessarily think that the experience suffers much from having a Snapdragon 888, but it would be capable of doing a lot more, much more quickly and at lower power consumption, if it had a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside.
When I first got my hands on the Leia Lume Pad 2, I was blown away by how premium it feels. This is easily one of the nicest Android tablets I have ever used, and the fact that it can create and play back 3-D content is almost secondary to its striking design. If I handed the tablet to someone without any markings, it would be easy to convince them that this was a next-gen 3-D iPad.
I love it that Leia went with pogo pins for charging through the stand, yet also enables fast charging through the USB Type-C port at 33 watts. The USB-C port is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port capable of DP (DisplayPort) over Type-C, which is the maximum that Qualcomm’s chipsets support today.
User Experience and Software
Setting up the Leia Lume Pad 2 was straightforward since it uses Android and Google Play Store. I logged into my Leia account and also set up LeiaPix for viewing and sharing 3-D photos. This is an account that you will need to create if you aren’t already in the Leia content ecosystem, but the signup is fairly straightforward, plus having the account is great for being able to view other people’s 3-D content or share your own. LeiaViewer also requires you to login to Sketchfab, which is one of the biggest 3-D marketplaces, but it’s worth the signup if you want to review all kinds of 3-D models.
LeiaPlayer is essentially the tablet’s 3-D gallery app, allowing you to play back locally stored content, whether it’s taken by the onboard camera or it’s content you’ve loaded onto the tablet yourself. I did this with a 3-D file of Thor: Love and Thunder, but I will say that one of the biggest shortcomings of this or any 3-D device is the lack of access to 3-D movies outside of what’s available on LeiaFlix, Leia’s 3-D movie rental service. That’s why Leia spent so much time on all kinds of 3-D applications that can help fill that gap with user-generated content or by playing back YouTube and Vimeo streamed content in 3-D. One of the most creative ways that Leia has done this is with the Leia Dream app. LeiaDream uses Stable Diffusion to create images in 3-D based on the text prompt that you type.
Leia has done an incredible job of building a software ecosystem around the Lume Pad 2 so that you can get a feel for what having a 3-D tablet will be like when there is a good amount of content available. Leia has its own app store for managing its 3-D apps, but there are other apps you can get that will work just as well, including Mozaik3D, an educational app that blew my mind for hours on end.
Leia also pre-loaded the tablet with a couple of games designed for the tablet, including CyberCop and Dungeon. These are more like single-level demos that full-fledged games, but they still give you a great understanding of how a 3-D display can elevate the gaming experience. I believe there will be developers that will use this tablet and want to go out and build interesting 3-D games with it and for it.
Leia has also built a 3-D video chat app called LeiaChat, which allows you to chat with other Leia Lume Pad users using the front-facing camera. This helps to increase immersion and create a sense of presence that is unmatched by 2-D video and feels like a half-step toward “holographic teleportation.”
Speaking of video, the tablet does a great job of recording video in 1080P at 30 fps and the content looks very lifelike, even though it would probably benefit from a higher-resolution capture. I recorded my dog playing at the dog park and was impressed that judder was nearly non-existent, although it didn’t feel that way while recording. This could be a limitation of the Snapdragon 888’s ISP compared to what is built into the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.
Areas for possible improvement
While I have been blown away by the Lume Pad 2 in nearly every imaginable way, there is still room for improvement for this device. One major area for improvement is the viewing angle and the fact that face tracking works for a single user. In my experience with this device, the optimal viewing angle for 3-D is somewhere in the ballpark of 30 to 45 degrees off-center, which isn’t ideal compared to many IPS and OLED displays that have almost 180-degree viewing angles. I would love to see this improve with the next generation.
Additionally, viewing the content in 3-D mode degrades image quality, but perhaps not to the degree it did on previous-generation 3-D displays. A lot of the 3-D display technology I have seen today, including Leia’s primarily focuses on a single user and tracks either the user’s eyes or face to maintain a solid 3D lock which has its challenges. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but it is a technological limitation; while it does provide an improved 3-D experience, it also limits that experience to a single user at a time.
One of my other gripes about the Lume Pad 2 is that the camera takes quite a while to fully wake up. If you open the camera before the (much appreciated and very cool) image depth preview shows up and take a picture, it simply won’t capture an image. Once the depth preview is up, you know that you’re good to capture. From a cold launch of the app, which can take up to a few seconds. That means that Leia needs to speed up this camera considerably if it wants users to be able to take photos that aren’t pre-planned. In my experience, this camera wake-up procedure took an average of 4 to5 seconds, making the camera useless in those first few seconds after being launched. This simply isn’t a good experience, especially when you consider how many smartphone and tablet users are used to instantaneously capturing images from their devices the moment the camera launches.
The Future of 3-D Content
We all saw 3-D TVs come and go as a fad, with the biggest barrier being the glasses. However, it is quite clear that Leia’s Lume Pad 2 overcomes many of the shortcomings of the 3-D TV era at the same time it fills a necessary gap within the metaverse or 3-D web or whatever you want to call the XR technology. There is absolutely going to be a need for 3-D displays that don’t require headsets or glasses, whether they end up on laptops, smartphones or tablets. Yes, we all remember Amazon’s Fire Phone 3-D failure. The difference this time is that the Lume Pad 2 is also just a very nice Android tablet that also has the ability to create and consume 3-D content in ways that its predecessors simply could not.
One of the big challenges in advancing the market for 3-D devices is the need to either convert large amounts of 2-D content to 3-D, or else to create 3-D content using generative AI like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney. With the Lume Pad 2, Leia has shown us a path forward—one in which AI serves as the catalyst for either approach. I believe that the next generation of the Lume Pad will need a lot more horsepower if it starts doing a lot of these AI tasks onboard and in real time. I’m sure developers would love some additional performance headroom in their apps.
The Leia Lume Pad 2 is a device that I would recommend only to people who want to explore the bleeding edge of XR technology. Yes, there are some limitations to what the tablet can do, but I do believe that, for developers who want to prepare for the 3-D web or the spatial internet, this is definitely one of the devices to have in one’s arsenal for creating and consuming 3-D content. Yes, the price of $1,099 is prohibitive for many, and the main reason I think this product is for technology enthusiasts and developers, but I also believe the price will come down as volume grows and more OEMs adopt the technology for their PCs or tablets.
In fact, I believe many professional applications could benefit from this tablet; one example is Campfire, which already supports the iPad for its holographic collaboration platform but could benefit from having its app support the Lume Pad 2 as well. As the number of spatial and 3-D apps grows, there will be more demand for devices like the Lume Pad 2, which is why I got so excited about the Lume Pad when I first laid hands on it a little over a month ago.
No, I don’t think the Lume Pad 2 is for everyone, but I do think it's for people who want to explore the edge of what’s possible. 3-D tablets and displays like the Lume Pad 2 will have an extraordinary place in the future; the Lume Pad 2 has helped me get my head around that future state unlike any device before it. Leia has clearly made a lot of investments in software and AI to make the Lume Pad 2 what it is today, and it shows. That said, it’s also necessary to realize that Leia can’t do it alone, and it would be great to see companies like Qualcomm and Google help them along the way.