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Lenovo dreams of dual-screen smartwatches and wacky projector phones

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Smart Cast smartphone and Magic View smartwatch go all-in on gimmicks

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Lenovo is the biggest PC seller in the world, but it apparently isn't content just hawking laptops. At today's Lenovo Tech World event — the Chinese company's own Beijing-based conference — it showed off concepts for a dual-screen smartwatch and a laser projector smartphone, signalling its intent to move into new consumer tech markets currently occupied by competitors such as Apple.

The Magic View smartwatch is perhaps the weirder of the two prototypes. The wearable, detailed on stage at the show, features a small second screen that pokes down over the strap from below the watchface. Lenovo says the screen lets wearers see images blown up to 20 times the size possible on a regular watch face, solving the problem of the smartwatch's small screen and allowing for greater privacy in the process. It's a novel solution for limited screen size, but at this early stage in development the watch looks functional rather than beautiful, and the concept is not perfectly practical — as demonstrated by Lenovo's on-stage presenter, users have to press the second screen close to their eye in order to see the expanded images.

Lenovo touts its second new concept, the Smart Cast, as the world's first laser projector smartphone. The model uses the technology to project video, images, and touchscreen keyboards onto walls, floors, and surfaces, a feature that the company says will make smartphones more usable and "more PC-like." Users will be able to view two different videos at the same time with the Smart Cast — one projected, and one on the phone's screen itself — and play games with hand gestures drawn on a table.

The Smart Cast isn't the first time Lenovo has put projectors in its consumer tech. The Yoga 2 Tablet Pro — created with input from noted Lenovo product engineer Ashton Kutcher — came with an in-built pico projector. But where the pico projectors of yesteryear were bulky, battery-draining, and almost invisible in anything but total darkness, Lenovo's laser projector-equipped Smart Cast looks as slim and sleek as a regular smartphone. It even appears to work in bright surroundings — Lenovo borrowed a classical musician to showcase the Smart Cast's capabilities on stage, flipping the phone-projected sheet music for Chinese pianist Lang Lang with flicks of a finger.

Speaking in an interview, Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo's CEO, said that he wanted Lenovo to become "a well-accepted consumer brand worldwide," that was "viewed as a technology and innovation leader." The introduction of high-concept smartwatches and smartphones for a company that rose to power as a PC maker shows a clear intent to compete with consumer tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, but in order to do so, Lenovo will need more than just gimmicks.