Nreal Air review: new augmented reality specs bring a big screen to your display | Wearable technology

tThe first widely available augmented reality glasses have hit the high streets of the UK, bringing TV shows, movies and games right before your eyes on a large virtual screen. But while the Nreal Air are the first of their kind to hit the shelves, they are limited in what consumers can do with them.

Many companies have tried to be the first to make AR glasses next-generation technology, not least Google with its ill-fated Glass back in 2013. Snapchat and facebook have made attempts, both with sports cameras to include others, but so far there are no consumer glasses with displays for the wearer to view. Until now.

Still aimed at early adopters, the £400 Nreal Air sold by EE take a simplified approach. They forego cameras that could be seen as an invasion of other people’s privacy, and instead focus on giving the wearer virtual semi-transparent screens for video, apps and games in a light and compact frame.

The goggles must be constantly connected via a cable to a compatible high-end Android smartphone Operate. They won’t work with an iPhone, but they will work with other Apple devices such as some iPads and Mac and Windows computers.

A man with the Nreal Air goggles.
The Air are the most basic smart glasses to date, but they’re still clearly not ordinary sunglasses, sticking out much further from your face. Others will also be able to see what you are looking at right before your very eyes. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The glasses don’t have their own battery or processing power, making them comfortable and light at just 79g, but the USB-C cable hanging from the left arm puts pressure on your ear. They can take prescription lenses, although you’ll need to get them through your own optician, have adjustable arms and different sizes of nose bridge for a customizable fit.

OLED screens hidden in the top of the sturdy frame project images onto the transparent lenses in front of your eyes. The virtual screen they create is surprisingly bright and clear. However, the idea of ​​AR recognized by many — highlighting objects in your view, such as cultural landmarks — isn’t possible because the goggles don’t have the necessary cameras or sensors to “see” the real world.

The Nebula control app displayed on a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone connected to the Nreal Air goggles.
The Nebula app on an Android smartphone is required for the most advanced features, used here on a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Instead, the specs have two modes. First, “Air Casting” essentially uses the glasses as an external screen for your phone. Second, “MR Space” behaves more like a set of virtual reality goggles, such as: Meta’s Quest 2with screens you can interact with, floating in front of you in a virtual space.

MR room

Snapshots showing what is displayed on the goggles, including the home screen (top left), various browser windows (top right), repositioning of a browser window (bottom left), and the cycling experience (bottom right).
Snapshots showing what appears on the goggles in MR Space, including the home screen (top left), various browser windows (top right), browser window repositioning (bottom left), and the cycling experience (bottom right). Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Using the Nebula app on your phone as a pointer and clicker to interact with elements, the MR Space creates a virtual space with a floating home screen from which you launch and organize browser windows.

The system has three degrees of freedom (3DoF), meaning you can turn your head back and forth, move it up and down, or rotate it to different angles to see more of the virtual space, like the full-sized Guardian site in the middle but Twitter far away on your left. It’s new but limited. The built-in browser can only take you so far.

A look through the lens of the Nreal Air goggles with the Guardian website.
The view through the goggles is surprisingly bright and clear, especially in dim conditions or with the optional blackout hood clipped to the front of the goggles. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

An interesting virtual cycling experience is available. But it feels more like a demo, simply playing a fixed-paced video of a route through a city or landscape on a floating screen in front of you while riding a stationary bike. The field of view is narrow, causing you to turn your head and see an empty void, while there is no connection between what you are doing with your legs and the video.

I can run an app like the . see completely Zwift cycling and running training simulator on the glasses with a 360 degree virtual experience, but we are not there yet.

There are a handful of apps and games that work with the glasses available on the Play Store, but most are only compatible with Nreal’s more advanced and expensive light glasses which are not available in the UK. To make mixed reality mode more interesting than fast-paced games, many more apps and features are needed.

air casting

A Marvel Studios logo shown on a smartphone connected to the Nreal Air goggles.
Air Casting simply mirrors what’s on your phone’s screen on the goggles so you can use apps, watch movies or play games. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

More directly appealing is the use of the glasses as a surrogate TV that mirrors your phone screen. Fire up Netflix or the like for a movie, TV show or game and you have your own little private cinema. The glasses create a screen the size of a 24-inch monitor on a desk an arm’s length from you, which is definitely better than trying to watch something on the small screen of your phone.

Most media streaming apps and games will work, but the apps that limit the payback when you have a TV plugged in, like Sky Go, won’t. The goggles have small built-in speakers, which work fine, but transmit the sound to those around you. You’d better connect your own Bluetooth earbuds to your phone to provide the soundtrack.

It’s also fun to experiment with different apps on your phone, like seeing a live feed from your phone’s camera on the goggles or playing console-quality games through the Xbox Game Pass app with a Bluetooth joystick.

A photo of a fox viewed through the lens of the Nreal Air.
With your connected device, you can view photos, websites and videos or play games through the glasses. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Additionally, the “side cast” option moves content to the left of your view, allowing you to watch something without obstructing your view of the real world in front of you, although fewer apps support this mode.

A wrinkle of either mode is that what appears on the glasses will also appear on your phone’s screen. Turn off the phone screen and it will no longer show on the glasses.

Other things you can connect them to

The Nreal Air goggles connected to an iPad mini.
Most other devices see the Nreal glasses as a TV or monitor connected via USB-C. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Beyond what Nreal plans to do with its Nebula control app, the goggles can simply act as an external USB-C monitor. connected to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone i could use it DeX Android desktop-like interface, which was surprisingly good.

Connected to a iPad mini or another Apple tablet with a USB-C port, the glasses appeared as a TV, allowing me to watch videos on them with playback controls on the iPad’s screen.

The glasses can also be used as a monitor on a Mac or PC. Nreal recently announced that it was working on the system to play games from the PC Steam store on the goggles with beta software expected at the end of June, so it’s clear that its intended use with an Android smartphone is just around the corner. beginning.

Sustainability

The Nreal Air glasses come in an open pill-shaped storage case.
The goggles come with a pill-shaped hard case for travel and storage, as well as a plastic blackout hood that clips onto the front of the Air to block out ambient light. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The glasses are generally repairable by Nreal. The company has pledged to keep the device updated for the foreseeable future, with plans to introduce new experiences and expand compatibility.

EE offers trade-in and recycling programs, but the glasses are not made from recycled materials and Nreal does not publish environmental impact assessments.

Price

The cost of Nreal Air £399.99 in advance or £395 spread over 11 months exclusively at EE in the UK. You don’t need to have a phone contract with the company to buy one, nor is there a fee associated with the glasses.

verdict

The Nreal Air is the first set of mixed reality goggles available in the UK that don’t break the bank and actually work, although they are limited in function and compatibility.

They are clearly made for Android-using early adopters and offer a demo of what is possible through the Nebula app and the MR Space. But they lack immersive mixed reality experiences. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Without glasses in human hands, there is no incentive for developers to create apps, something Nreal hopes to change through its own work, developer programs and sale of the glasses.

For now, its most obvious use is as a virtual TV screen. They’re more comfortable than VR headsets and less than half the cost of previous AR glasses. I can see commuters or those without a big TV turning to them as a better way to watch the latest blockbuster or play games.

It’s fun to experiment with different apps on your phone to see how they look on the glasses, like Xbox Cloud Gaming† Using it with computers, tablets and other devices opens up even more interesting possibilities. Whether that is enough remains to be seen.

Advantages: light, comfortable, adjustable fit, good screen, optional clip-on light hood, compact design, built-in speakers, cheaper than rivals, MR and virtual VR modes, can be used unofficially with most USB-C devices.

cons: no cameras or sensors for real AR, little immersive mixed reality apps, limited smartphone compatibility, no iPhone support, expensive for the limited experience, must be tethered with a cable.

An image of the angled prisms on the back of the sunglass lenses that create the semi-transparent view of the Nreal Air.
The angled prisms on the back of the sunglasses create the semi-transparent display, but make the front of the glasses thick. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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