Hands on: Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is fun, easy, affordable augmented reality

For $199 you get a lightsaber, a positioning beacon, and a headset to use with your smartphone.

Credit: Martyn Williams/IDG

We played Lenovo’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, and based on our experiences it's augmented reality done right. It’s affordable at $199, it’s easy to set up and use, and the games are fun, albeit limited to the Star Wars movie franchise.

The kit includes an authentic-looking Jedi lightsaber, a single tracking beacon that you use to establish your location in a room; and an augmented reality headset that you pair with a compatible smartphone. The list of smartphones currently includes iPhones 6 and up, Samsung Galaxy 7-series and up, and Google Pixel phones, with more being added (most recently, iPhone 8).

(Note: Because the headset comes with interchangeable micro-USB, USB-C, and Lightning connectors, it could theoretically be used with any phone that can download the app. However, some phones may lack the display or processing power needed for the game to work right.)

Downloading and starting the app will initiate the process for setting up the hardware and the tracking beacon, and pairing your lightsaber. Your smartphone slides into a sleeve on top of the headset and projects an image downward that's reflected back to your eyes. The reflection also allows people to watch what you're seeing in your headset by looking into the front.

To play, you select a planet from Star Wars lore, then a character or group of characters to fight. The goal is to achieve Jedi Mastery levels by winning various games. You can move around a lot in a lightsaber battle, or chill out playing a game of Holochess on the Millennium Falcon, just like in Episode IV: A New Hope. 

The projections look like holograms even though they aren't: detailed, and slightly translucent. The characters talk as if they were interacting with you, another nice touch. When in combat, the game can show helpful guidelines for positioning your lightsaber to fend off attackers. 

Augmented reality and its cousin, virtual reality, come with a lot of caveats around equipment costs and ease of use. Lenovo's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges cuts through most of that with its simple, well-documented setup and fun gameplay, all for a very good price. 

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Melissa Riofrio

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