Digital nomads just got huge screens and fast internet

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The digital nomad lifestyle — traveling while working via a laptop and the internet — has always come with downsides. 

When you have a home office, you can control your tools and gear. When you’re a digital nomad, you have to compromise. Specifically, you can’t carry a giant display — and you can’t always find fast internet. 

Suddenly, both of these pain points are being erased.

Virtual screens get real

A great many of us need or prefer a very large screen, or several screens; we crave screen real estate for multitasking. (Software developers, who are more prone to digital nomad living than most, tend to favor acres and acres of screen real estate.)

Big screens just weren’t an option for digital nomads — until now. We suddenly have a variety of much-needed new or improved options for giant virtual desktop screens. 

Apple Vision Pro

Apple — which is rumored to have stopped working on its Apple Vision Pro headset in favor of a cheaper, smaller future spatial computing device next year, according to a report from The Information — recently improved its virtual Mac desktop screen feature for existing Apple Vision Pro users. 

At WWDC 2024 earlier this month, Apple unveiled its new visionOS 2.0, which upgrades the virtual Mac display feature. The original version showed a Mac desktop at a resolution of 2560×1440 — less than one 4k monitor. The new version enables the equivalent of two 4k screens connected into a single display that wraps around the user in a holographic semicircle. 

The new feature is nice for existing Apple Vision Pro users, but the platform is still generally too expensive ($3,499), bulky, uncomfortable and Apple-centric for many digital nomads who just want a bigger screen. 

The good news is that other more affordable and lighter-weight options have also emerged. 

Xreal Beam Pro

Xreal last week announced the Beam Pro — a gadget the size and shape of a smartphone that delivers a spatial computing experience to the company’s Xreal AR glasses: Air, Air 2, Air 2 Pro, Air 2 Ultra. 

The device runs on Android 14, uses Xreal’s NebulaOS, and  features a 6.5-in. 2K touchscreen display that allows users to control and interact with augmented reality (AR) content displayed through the glasses. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon platform and offers access to apps in the Google Play Store, as well as streaming services and cloud gaming platforms.

The Beam Pro has two 50-megapixel rear cameras, which capture spatial and 3D videos and images. It also has two USB-C ports, allowing the glasses and Beam Pro to be powered simultaneously. The device supports Nvidia CloudXR tech, which uses Nvidia RTX GPUs for rendering.

Best of all, the Beam Pro can be used to connect to laptops or desktops for screen mirroring through its two USB-C ports. 

Xreal Beam Pro costs $200 and there’s a bundle deal with the Beam Pro, plus the glasses, that’s 10% of the price of Apple Vision Pro. Better Xreal glasses raise that price, but even the most expensive bundle costs a fraction of the Apple Vision Pro. 

Rokid AR Lite

The Rokid AR Lite is a new spatial computing platform that combines the Rokid Max 2 AR glasses and the Rokid Station 2 host unit. The Rokid Max 2 glasses weigh just 75 grams and offer a 50-degree field of view with 1080-by-1200-pixel resolution and up to 600 nits of brightness. You can adjust the lenses to match your vision, so you can see clearly despite the particulars of your eyesight.

The Rokd Station 2 runs on the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 mobile platform and Rokid’s YodaOS. It enables system-level 3DoF (3 degrees of freedom) tracking and enables you to run up to three apps simultaneously across holographic floating screens. The “Giant Screen Mode” can enlarge a single app up to a 300-in. virtual display.

Sightful Spacetop G1

The Sightful Spacetop G1, which I wrote about more than a year ago, is a Chromebook-like cloud computing laptop with AR glasses instead of a screen. The device gives you the equivalent of a 100-in. display, which appears to float in space in front of you.

The Spacetop G1 is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon QCS8550 platform, which includes a KRYO CPU, Adreno 740 GPU, and AI processing capabilities. It comes with 16GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and runs on the company’s proprietary Chromium-based operating system, Space OS. 

The AR glasses have two OLED display panels that provide 1920×1080 pixels per eye at a 90Hz refresh rate. The glasses offer a 50-degree diagonal field of view and support custom prescription lenses. 

Connectivity options include Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.3, and 5G/LTE support. The base unit features two USB-C ports for peripherals and includes a 5-megapixel webcam, and two open-ear speakers in the glasses to provide the audio. 

The entire system, including the glasses, weighs just 3.08 lbs — great for carrying around in a backpack. The Spacetop G1 is expected to ship in October. 

Big bandwidth gets small

For digital nomads like me who travel from place to place, internet connectivity ranges from great to non-existent. As a write this, I’m staying in a 300-year-old house in Provence. The house is beautiful, but the Wi-Fi is only so-so — until it stops completely, which happens every 20 minutes or so. (The Airbnb listing promised fast fiber.) 

In fact, on Thursday I guest-hosted on Computerworld’s Today in Tech podcast, and had to book a private booth at a great co-working place and maker space here in Provence called The FabLab of Pernes. Without the co-working space, I wouldn’t have been able to do the podcast.)

Suddenly, the days of having to rely on local resources for internet connectivity are numbered. 

SpaceX Vice President of Starlink Engineering Michael Nicolls  last week unveiled a new portable version of its Starlink satellite internet terminal called the Starlink Mini — a small, portable satellite dish with a built-in Wi-Fi router. 

Later, Vice President of Starlink Business Operations at SpaceX Chad Gibbs demonstrated the device from the back of a Cybertruck, going from a brand new Starlink Mini in the box to achieving 180 Mbps in roughly two minutes. 

The Starlink Mini costs $599, $100 more than the regular dish. Current Starlink customers can add Mini Roam to their existing residential service for an extra $30 per month; it provides 50GB of mobile data, with extra data beyond that limit costing more. 

The Starlink Mini is more power efficient than other devices, and it can be powered by a power bank battery — no wall plug needed.The month of June 2024 has radically changed the digital nomad proposition. Suddenly, we can carry gigantic displays and fiber-equivalent internet connectivity in our backpacks. For digital nomads it’s a big-screen, better-connected new world.

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