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Nreal Airs

Nreal Airs

Written by John Yan on 10/31/2022 for MOB   PC   PS4   PS5   SWI   XONE   XSX  
More On: Airs

I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. Having the ability to have a large screen that’s bright, clear, and readable that is easily transportable is a dream for travelers and we’re a lot closer now than ever before. I’ve passed by the Nreal booth many times at CES and the few times I was able to try out their tech, I found myself impressed by their AR capabilities. Nreal has finally made available one of their AR glasses in the United States via Amazon and I was able to order one a few weeks ago. Today, we’re gonna take a look at the Nreal Airs, a set of AR glasses that have the potential to be a game changer for mobile content consumption.

Taking them out of the box, the Nreal Airs don’t look too far from normal oversized Ray-Ban sunglasses. The shape of the frame and lenses aren’t going to look out of place if you wear them out in public except for the wire hanging from one of the temples and the small mirrored image that can be seen if you look at it from the front. The fact that they don’t look like out of place sci-fi visors like some I've seen or with external pieces that are positioned over one of your lenses like the Google Glasses helps with usage outside of the home without having people give you weird looks.

Along with the glasses, the package includes two different size nose pad supports, a prescription lens frame, USB-C cable, microfiber cloth, and a carrying case. You can pop out the nose pad support with an included plastic tool and change them to one that accommodates you better. The USB-C cable is angled at one end where it inserts into the left temple to make it less of a bend going down to your device. I think the USB-C cable’s length is just OK, but I would have liked maybe another few more inches just to have a little more slack. At least it's a cable you can replace should it get worn out. While others have proprietary cables with magnetic connectors, the Nreal Air USB-C cable can be purchased from any other company so long as they meet the requirements of being able to transfer 10 Gbps.

For those that wear glasses, the included prescription lens frame can be given to a place to have those made so you can wear the Nreal Airs without having to wear glasses underneath. One thing I wished Nreal did for the prescription lens frame was make it magnetic. In order to use them, you have to remove the nose pad supports, attach the frame to them, and reinsert the nose pad supports. For those who want to share the Nreal Airs with others, this can be pretty inconvenient. I’ve seen other AR glasses use a magnetic design for prescription lenses and I think this would have been a better way to go on these.

The Nreal Airs sport two micro-OLED displays with a 1920x1080 resolution that produce crisp, clear images with great color due to the OLED technology. If you’ve seen OLED screens on phones or TV, you know they can deliver outstanding picture quality and blacks that are truly deep. The colors are a little bit too warm for my taste though and you can get things like skin tones being a bit unnatural. Another thing I’ve seen are halo effects around high contrast areas at the edges. You can especially see them with white text on black areas. It’s almost a double image, but it could be distracting for some people. I’ve gotten accustomed to it and it’s certainly not there when watching video or playing games, which are most of what I use them for.

The displays are located in the area at the top of the glasses and there are lenses that reflect the image back to you. For me, depending on the lighting in the room and what I’m wearing, I can sometimes see a reflection of my upper body in the viewing area outside of the OLED image. It can be a little distracting at times, but you do get used to it. And like I said, it’s dependent on the environment, but be aware it can be a little jarring at first. Also, the placement of the lenses is important because in certain locations, you’ll have a hard time seeing the corners or the corners will be blurry. I had to make a few adjustments and tinkering with the nose pad placements to get it to sit on my face just right where I could see all of the screen in a pretty clear view.

In the center of the glasses lies a proximity sensor. When you have the glasses on, it turns on the displays and it senses when you remove it and will turn off the displays accordingly. Unfortunately, the sensor seems overly sensitive in that it’s not set to sense too far from the frame in order for it to detect if the glasses are on your face reliably. My displays would black out randomly while I was playing the Steam Deck and I finally attributed it to the proximity sensor. And if you decide to use the prescription lens attachment, it’ll make the glasses sit even further from your face and then I had moments when the Nreal Airs just wouldn’t turn on because the proximity sensor wasn’t registering that it was on my face. I just decided to attach some tape the proximity sensor so it always thinks it’s on my face and that fixed the problem of it randomly turning off.

PPD, or pixel density, is at a very impressive 49 and to give you some comparison, the Oculus Quest 2’s PPD, which has a pretty good display for its time, is at 20.5. The Reverb G2, one of best image quality in consumer VR HMDs right now and the one I use for sims because it’s the best at reading small text, comes in around 23.5 PPD. We’re talking zero screen door effect here. None. The image quality on the Nreal Airs is legit and you won’t ever see anything but a smooth image through the lenses.

Depending on the application you are running, Nreal states that the display mimics either a 201” or a 130” display. When used in conjunction with Nreal’s Nebula application, it’s a bigger image. Now, virtual display size can get a little confusing because you can say you have a certain size display, but your view of it depends on how far you sit from it. For me, it’s close to holding my Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 phone unfolded in front of my face about 7 to 9 inches away. Another comparison is if you hold a Steam Deck about 6 inches from your face. It might not seem that big, but take some time if you have a large TV and use your phone to see how far away you have to be in order to match the size of the picture you’re seeing from where you sit. The image might not be in your face, but I think the distance and size in screen mirroring mode works well.

Nreal Airs have a 46 degree FOV, which compared to all the VR headsets out there, is pretty small. In AR mode, you’ll definitely notice a box where the image appears and have to move your head around to see the rest. In screen mirroring mode, you’ll see the entire screen at a distance, which makes the small FOV less of an issue. Depending on how you spend your time with the Nreal Airs will determine if the smaller FOV factors in as much as it does. You won’t be fully immersed like say with VR headsets, but that’s not the use case for the Nreal Airs. It’s to supply an augmented reality like experience or mirror a screen at a larger virtual display that can benefit media consumption and gaming.

For motion, the Nreal Airs support 3DoF meaning you can look around and have the glasses translate your movement. You can’t physically move around like you can in a VR setup, but it’s fine for say placing windows in various virtual spaces and you can move your head rotationally to see them. There are no external cameras like the Nreal Light to track anything else so while the degree of motion is limited, it’s fine I think for this type of product.

Each arm of the Nreal Air sports a speaker to let you listen to what you’re watching should you not have headphones to use. The speakers are fine and do its job well enough that I sometimes go without using headphones with it. Of course, they will be audible to anyone near you so if you are wanting to keep what you are watching and listening to private, headphones will be the way to go.

On the right temple are brightness controls and a display blanking button. If you want to turn off the display, you can just press the button to do so, which is convenient if you want to stop what you’re watching and see what’s going on around you. The three buttons can also double as a volume control, but only if you are using the Nreal adapter. Holding down the display on/off button for a few seconds will change the other two buttons to adjust the volume of your device. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work when plugged straight into say a Steam Deck as the buttons are limited to brightness control and display visibility. Also, the locations of the buttons make it really easy to accidentally press so if you have to move the glasses around a little bit on your face, it’s not too hard to accidentally hit the off button.There’s also a mic on the right template, but I didn’t have a chance to test that out with anything.

Each temple can be adjusted to one of three different angles so you can position how it sits on your face more. Also, they have spring hinges so they can expand out a little bit, which is one thing I consider essential for glasses. I would hate to have the temples break because they were rigid and having spring hinges helps alleviate the pressure of opening them as well as sitting on wider faces.

Comfort wise for me, I had no problems wearing them for a few hours. The pressure from the temples was fine and very sturdy, but I’ve read that some people have felt some discomfort wearing them longer than 20 minutes or so. Of course, everything depends on your head size and shape, but I had no issues wearing them for an extended period of time.

Plugging the Nreal Air into the Steam Deck, I was greeted with a nice-sized screen and the screen on the Deck turned off, saving battery power. This was the main thing I wanted the Nreal Airs for, to provide a much larger display for me when gaming on the go and in a much smaller form factor so that it doesn’t hinder me bringing it onto a plane or bus. The setup, when working, is fabulous. I am able to game at a much bigger and arguably, a better display than on the Steam Deck itself. You do have to train yourself to look with your eyes rather than turning your head to look since the view is locked to where you are facing, which can be jarring if you’re not used to it.

I say when working because up until a recent beta firmware update, the Steam Deck would run at a very low refresh rate on a lot of my games causing it to stutter and be practically unplayable. But, with the recent beta firmware, I am able to run everything at the speed the Steam Deck is supposed to run at producing smooth gameplay for most of my titles and especially when running retro games. To be able to just sit back in a chair and have my head in any position while flying around in No Man’s Sky or swinging around the city in Marvel’s Spider-Man really made the purchase of the Airs worth it. I’m not hunched over having my head look down at my screen or tiring my arms out by raising the Steam Deck higher so my neck isn’t bending down. This also extends to using the Steam Deck streaming games from services like Xcloud, my PlayStation 5, GeForce Now, and even from my PC. The view window does stick right to your eye line no matter where you look and for me, this works out quite well. Playing games on the Steam Deck using the Nreal Airs was truly a joy and helps me enjoy the portable in more comfortable situations.

If you own a Samsung compatible phone, running Dex mode with the Nreal Airs is really awesome and can, in some situations, let you be productive with just the phone, Nreal Airs, and a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Having a mobile desktop with the ability to use Google Spreadsheets, browse the web, or remote desktop into computers is pretty fantastic. I’ve seen some people use this mode to have multiple videos open at once for things like keeping track of various football games.

The other way the Nreal Airs work besides being a screen mirroring device is what they dub as AR mode. Now, this isn’t really true AR as there are no cameras to analyze the world around you to place things on surfaces for you to interact with. The way the glasses are designed is you can see through them without the light shield on and it mimics things floating in space. This mode does allow for windows to be “stuck” in different places around you so you can look around without it following you. It worked with my Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 phone allowing me to open up various apps in a virtual space around me. Unfortunately, there’s not much here other than some little mini games, media consumption apps, and some proof of concept applications. I do like the ability to resize and move the windows in AR mode and I hope software continues to improve for this part to include things such as a much needed 3D SBS movie player that I think these glasses would be great for.

For those thinking of connecting to their console, the Nreal adapter will allow you to connect to most HDMI sources such as a Switch, PlayStation 5, or and Xbox Series X|S. Again, you’ll need the beta firmware as of this writing for it to work on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles, but they do indeed work.

Same can also be said for Raspberry Pis and desktop computers. The adapter will be needed to connect the Nreal Air to these devices. I was able to plug in one of my desktops with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 and play games from my PC on the Nreal Airs, but you’ll most likely need some headphones in order to hear from these devices. I’ve read that some people were able to get sound to come through to the Nreal Airs using the adapter, but I haven’t had much luck in that department.

As with many of these types of peripherals, you need a good steady supply of software improvements to go along with the hardware. So far, Nreal has done a good job at stating a timeline of updates as well as what’s involved and keeping to that timeline for the most part. We won’t know for sure if their long term support will be good and there are still some things missing from the software side of things to really make the Nreal Airs a compelling purchase such as color adjustments, ability to stick a window in space for mirror mode, and 3D video playback support to name a few. I’m hopeful that they continue to provide timely updates that keep continuing to improve the customer experience.

For media consumption and game playing either privately or on the go, the Nreal Air provides a great display in a very small form factor. The picture quality is excellent and I really do like that the shape of the glasses aren’t too exotic, although I do know some prefer a smaller frame size and outer lenses. Perhaps in the next version we can have some magnetic attachments to change the shape and look of the lenses as they aren’t doing too much other than hide the reflective micro-OLED parts. Compatibility with phones is small but growing, and the Nreal adapter that lets you plug in any HDMI source to use with the Nreal Airs doesn’t have pass-through charging which limits the amount of time one can use it with its internal battery. All told, I really enjoy using the Nreal Airs and will definitely be taking them along with me on my various trips as well as when I need to just lay down and watch TV or game comfortably in my home.

A quality display in a small package, the Nreal Airs are a really good set of wearable micro-OLED displays that let you game on the go with a bigger screen or watch video without having to hold your phone in your hand. Limited phone compatibility and some software issues keep it from being a must buy.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. As one of the original writers, I was tapped to do action games and hardware. Nowadays, I work with a great group of folks on here to bring to you news and reviews on all things PC and consoles.

As for what I enjoy, I love action and survival games. I'm more of a PC gamer now than I used to be, but still enjoy the occasional console fair. Lately, I've been really playing a ton of retro games after building an arcade cabinet for myself and the kids. There's some old games I love to revisit and the cabinet really does a great job at bringing back that nostalgic feeling of going to the arcade.

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