There’s a research laboratory hidden deep inside the bowels of Sony’s labyrinthine headquarters, where cackling scientists in crisp white coats mix vials of fizzing coloured liquids and bash misbehaving robots on the head with giant spanners, with the goal of inventing all manner of contraptions in total secrecy.
From this department of experimental ideas comes stuff that mostly never sees the light of day, like the Sony Xperia Agent (a helpful house robot who’ll make you coffee) and the Fes Watch (a minimalist watch made entirely, strap and all, of e-ink paper). Now comes the Sony Xperia Touch, a short throw projector that turns any surface into a touchscreen, and one of Sony’s few concept products to successfully make its way to market.
Unveiled in February, the blocky projector is pitched as a family hub rather than a home cinema solution. It can be positioned to display on a table or a wall, and by default acts as a virtual whiteboard on which pictures can be doodled, images pinned and passive aggressive notes about the washing up left for loved ones to read and slowly come to resent you for. It runs Android, so you can do everything you can do on a regular tablet, like watching films, playing games, installing apps from Google Play and scrolling through Instagram in the dark. It has a camera to allow video calls too.
An infrared sensor detects when your fingers have touched the projection. When it works it’s accurate and intuitive, and feels like the science-fiction future Minority Report had promised us. The doodling app feels especially magical, as your finger traces out a shining trail of coloured light like some otherworldly snail. You can project a musical keyboard and turn a side table into a piano, or (as the lifestyle photography suggests) beam a recipe onto an impossibly big and vacant piece of kitchen surface.
Of course, the Xperia Touch lacks the haptic feedback (that reassuring click or vibration) of a regular screen, and will sometimes flip out and not recognise a tap, which may be partly down to the ancient and clunky version of Android that powers it.
Under office lighting the display is legible, but the Touch is best used in dim conditions. It can also function as a fairly capable regular projector too, which suggests it might be a useful gadget to bring along on business trips.
Well it would be, if it didn’t cost precisely £1,399, an astronomical sum of money that (generously) reflects its niche as a concept piece and (less generously) could buy you a car, or two and a bit iPad Pros.
The Touch is a clever idea that can’t justify its prohibitive price, or prove that it’s any better than a tablet. It’s a device nobody is seriously expected to own, just to marvel that it exists at all.