I have been covering XR for many years, from both the PC and mobile perspective. One of the companies in the industry that has always been willing to take a risk is Lenovo—something I was saying about the company even before its launch of the Mirage Solo and Mirage Camera with Google. Lately, Lenovo has focused its AR efforts squarely on enterprise businesses—a sector that Lenovo knows and understands quite well. Clearly, the company believes enterprise AR products have the potential to deliver a great return on investment. The ThinkReality A6, launched by Lenovo last year, was the first of these enterprise-targeted AR offerings. I got a chance to try it out at CES 2020 and was quite impressed with the visual fidelity. I also discovered at the event that Lenovo has assembled quite the XR team–experts from some of the most innovative companies in the early XR days, such as ODG. Since then, Lenovo has continued to build out the ThinkReality ecosystem with the Lenovo Mirage VR S3, a workstation certification and a reseller partnership with Varjo. This month, at CES 2021, the company added another headset to the mix: the new ThinkReality A3.
The ThinkReality A3 is a first device of its kind that was designed from the ground up to leverage external compute to maximize the user experience on multiple platforms. While the ThinkReality A3 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon X1 processor, it does not use it for graphical processing. It’s only meant to simplify and streamline the headset’s design. While in theory the device could be considered a standalone headset, it does not have its own power source and is much lighter than other standalone headsets. This will earn it many comparisons to nReal’s light glasses, which require a smartphone to work properly.
The headset comes in two different options: the PC Edition and the Industrial Edition. The real big deal here is that the PC Edition, connected to a Lenovo PC, can enable up to five virtual monitors and a fully virtual desktop. The Industrial Edition, on the other hand, provides the same experience to Motorola smartphones. As someone who struggles with going from multiple monitors at home to a single monitor while traveling, this could be the perfect additive PC experience. I could see this being very popular with stockbrokers or any other kind of user that craves a multiple monitor experience but doesn’t have the space for one. This likely will also be used in conjunction with platforms such as Spatial for conducting meetings and design reviews. I am excited to see how this offering accelerates the growth of XR in the AEC (architecture engineering and construction) industry, where XR is already showing benefits.
The ThinkReality A3 features dual 1080P displays with bird bath optics. Additionally, it has an 8 MP RGB camera for 1080P video passthrough between the eyes which provides a first person view of what the wearer is seeing. The front facing RGB camera is important for remote expert training or any kind of technician needing a remote expert’s opinion. The ThinkReality A3 headset also has two fisheye cameras for tracking on the outside of the headset to improve the AR experience. Because the ThinkReality A3 is only 130g in weight, it can be worn for longer periods of time than standalone headsets. The light weight and lack of battery is partly why this headset attaches to a PC or a smartphone. It uses a USB Type-C cable to connect directly to the Lenovo PC or Motorola phone.
Lenovo has already done the groundwork with Microsoft, Intel and AMD to ensure the ThinkReality A3 PC Edition, which is expected to become available first, will be compatible with as many ThinkPad laptops and workstations as possible. The ThinkReality platform will support this across multiple chipsets and also power the Industrial Edition that will attach to select Motorola smartphones. In the long run, I hope this headset will become compatible with devices from companies other than Lenovo.
The ThinkReality A3 is expected to launch mid-year this year for an undisclosed price, and we will continue to follow this headset as more details emerge. Things are starting to heat up in the AR industry—Lenovo coming out with a comprehensive AR solution for its ThinkReality XR platform is a welcome development.