The Nreal Air AR glasses aren’t the first device in this category to be launched, but their usability and relatively budget-friendly price should allow them to gain more mainstream appeal than their predecessors and rivals.
Essentially, the Nreal Air is a pair of sunglasses that you can plug into your phone to make your screen appear in front of you — floating in front of you like your own portable TV. With it, you can enjoy Netflix, Xbox Cloud Gaming or a whole host of other entertainment apps as if you were sitting on your couch at home in front of your TV.
In the short time that we tested these glasses, we were impressed with the solid HD image and the comfortable fit, the latter due to the lightweight design. But these glasses are not perfect. A major annoyance is the incredibly short list of compatible smartphones.
Once we’ve spent a little more time with them, we’ll be sure to flesh out this review and include our final verdict on whether the Nreal Air is a must-have gadget. But for now, here are our first thoughts on these AR glasses.
Nreal Air AR Glasses: Price and Availability
The Nreal Air AR glasses are currently available in the US and UK, exclusively from Verizon and EE, respectively, for $600 / £400.
Those of you in the UK who are already EE customers can choose between paying a single prepayment or spreading it out using EE’s Add To Plan purchase option. The latter changes the cost to an upfront payment of £10 and then £35 per month for 11 months – for a total cost of £395.
Nreal Air AR Glasses: Design
Unlike previous versions of AR goggles, the Nreal Air is much more like a standard pair of specs. An eagle-eyed spectator might spot the few key differences, but there are no cameras, so the AR aspect isn’t quite as clear.
The decision to go cameraless immediately solves many of the privacy issues that plagued previous devices, such as the Ray-Ban Stories and Google Glass. You don’t have to worry about your sight being tracked, and those around you can rest easy knowing they won’t be recorded without their permission.
Still, there are some signs that these are no ordinary glasses. For the Nreal Air to work, they must be connected to your phone. Using the USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, you can easily connect your devices through a port hidden on the end of one of the glasses arms.
While it’s not as free as a completely wireless device – like Bluetooth headphones – we’ve never had a problem moving our head while it’s plugged in. It caused so little trouble while we were wearing the glasses that we basically forgot about the cable altogether – except when putting the glasses on and taking them off.
Reliance on your phone’s power means these goggles are quite light, only 90g (0.2lbs) – they don’t have an internal battery. But in return, they will drain your phone’s battery pretty quickly especially if you use them for a longer period of time.
The other dead giveaway that the Nreal Air isn’t regular goggles are the inner lenses. This is what gives the goggles its AR capabilities, reflecting an image of your phone’s screen in such a way that it appears as if it is floating in front of you.
There are also two small speakers on each arm of the goggles, as well as brightness controls and an on/off button on the right arm. We never had much reason to dim the screen, so we definitely would have preferred to see the brightness controls on the arm replaced with managed audio; to change the sound levels, you have to rely on the controls of your phone – or headphones.
In addition to the power cord, each Nreal Air goggle comes with a carrying case that can be used to store it; extra nose pieces that you can use to make the glasses fit better; and an optional mount that can be fitted with prescription lenses. You also get a plastic lens cap with it. This case gives your glasses some extra protection, privacy and clarity, and acts as a background to what you’re looking at to make the image clearer.
Nreal Air AR Glasses: Performance
The Nreal Air AR glasses are more like a portable personal projector than a TV that fits in your pocket.
By this we mean that the view through the glasses is best when you look at an opaque, solid background in a room that is not filled with bright light. If you are outside or facing a light source, you will need to attach the optional visor to have any chance of seeing what is displayed.
That said, the HD image of the goggles is quite impressive. The colors aren’t as vibrant as we’d like and the lack of 4K resolution is a bit disappointing, but the relative screen size of the device more than makes up for it. It’s about the same size as having a 130-inch TV 4 meters away – while it’s not completely full-view, it’s certainly more immersive than staring at your phone screen.
The audio performance is, in one word, excellent. It’s certainly less dynamic than a great pair of headphones, but it’s more than reasonable if you don’t mind the people around you eavesdropping on what you’re listening to. Fortunately, if you decide to use headphones, the AR glasses speakers will automatically mute themselves, just like your phone.
However, it is not only the specs of the glasses that you should think about, as the Nreal Air is only compatible with certain smartphones. This includes the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and Oppo Find X5, among several others that you can find on the full official list (opens in new tab)†
This list is disappointingly short. What makes it worse is that compatibility is determined by the hardware of the smartphone. If you’d like to try this one out for yourself, you’ll probably need a brand new phone unless you already own one of the serviceable handsets. We do not recommend waiting for your device to receive a software update.
Nreal Air AR Glasses: Early Verdict
The Nreal Air AR glasses have worked surprisingly well in our tests so far. Whether we’re sitting on the couch at home, taking a break at the office or trying to pass the time on our commute, the screen mirroring function has more than delivered what we were promised.
Of course, the HD image won’t blow you away with incredible visuals, but the near-full view image is more than good enough to immerse you in your favorite show or video game.
That said, the device certainly has its flaws, including clunky controls and limited AR functionality – it projects an image in front of you and that’s about it. The limited selection of compatible phones is also worrying.