There’s much debate on the internet about AR (augmented reality) vs VR (virtual reality), so I won’t add more fuel to the fire, but one of the things we have noticed while using the Xreal Air is that the VR hype is seriously undercutting the advantages and the overall practicality of AR. Perhaps the main reason for the technology never taking off could be the lack of hardware. But now that we finally have our first look at AR tech that hopefully won’t be dying anytime soon (*cough cough Google Glasses), here’s a review of the Xreal Air, which makes us think AR might be the metaverse future we have been waiting for.
Xreal Air: Specifications
The folks over at Xreal sent us the Air glasses, the Xreal adapter, Apple’s lightning to HDMI digital AV adapter, and an OPPO Find X3 Pro to test out the glasses on both Apple and Android devices. That said, here are the key specifications of the Xreal Air.
Specification Details Display 3840 x 1080p with 108% sRGB coverage
400 nits brightness, 46 degree FoV, 49 PPD,
130-inch display while casting, 201-inch in MR space
Head tracking 3DoF head tracking only in AR Space Sensors Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Proximity sensor Audio Two open-ear speakers, dual microphone array, Echo cancellation, speech enhancement Price $379
Xreal Air: Build Quality
The Xreal Air looks like your regular sunglasses, although, given their bulky look, people won’t have a hard time finding out it’s a gadget. That said, it’s hefty and that’s immediately understood as you wear it. Although, wearing it for longer sessions shouldn’t be a problem for most because its weight is evenly distributed across the chassis.
The Air folds like regular sunglasses, and while the temples are significantly larger, they still feel like regular sunglasses. The end of the left temple houses a Type-C port, whereas, the bottom of the right temple has the power and brightness control buttons. The speakers are fitted on either side of the temples and are stereo.
The temples have three levels of adjustment to them and they can be adjusted using the hinge. There’s a proximity sensor on the front, and the nose pads are user replaceable; coming in three sizes — small, medium, and large.
The displays are well embedded into the glasses and the frame and don’t feel like they are budging out from below. The top portion of the glasses houses the electrical components of the displays. In the box, you also receive a plastic hood that latches on the outer portion of the glasses to essentially give you a black canvas and cut you off from your surroundings.
Overall, the build quality is quite impressive and premium. The hinges feel sturdy, the plastic used is excellent, and the overall placement of things is top-notch.
Xreal Air: Software
This is where things get a bit tricky. The glasses connect to your iPhone or Android phone via the Type-C port, but there’s a catch. Only the phones that support display out via Type-C work. Xreal has a list of supported phones on its website, and it mostly includes devices from manufacturers such as OnePlus, OPPO, LG, Sony, and Samsung. Similarly, iPhones support display out via lightning port, but you have to use Apple’s AV adapter for it. That said, support for Mac and Windows is still in Beta and should be arriving soon later this year.
Right as you plug in the glasses, the supported devices prompt and ask you if the connected device should be used as a display. All you need to do is allow the same, download the Xreal app (visit) and open it, let things update and settle down, and voila, you can now use AR Space or Air Casting. AR space is Xreal’s AR interface, whereas, Air Casting can cast the connected device’s display to the glasses.
AR Space is Xreal Air’s main software space. Pop on the hood of the glasses and you have a VR’ish experience. The AR space does come with a few apps like YouTube, a browser, and a few preloaded games and apps. However, there aren’t a lot of apps right now, which is fair considering the platform is fairly new and the developers would need time to figure out the SDK.
That said, the AR Space loads up 130 inches wide and you could enable head, and body tracking to navigate through the same. The overall interface is fairly basic, but it should improve over the next few months.
The 46-degree FoV isn’t much and you’ll find yourself adjusting the screen a bit much as per the kind of content you’re consuming. Navigating the UI using your phone is alright and the tracking is on point. The screen mirroring works well without any issues, so no problems there as well. Overall, the UI is lacking right now but it definitely has the potential to be much better.
Xreal Air Use Cases: Steam Deck & Phone
While AR Space and applications may not be its forte right now, it does work well as a secondary display. I’ve had the glasses for over two months now and one use case where they really excel is when used as a secondary display. I’ve been using them with the Steam Deck and my experience playing games on them has been nothing short of extraordinary.
For starters, the Xreal Air uses OLED displays from Sony, which refresh at 60Hz (72Hz peak: more on this later) and the 49 pixels per degree pixel density makes the display look really crisp at 1080p. OLED means the colors are vibrant and true to life, and when combined with the 400 nits of peak brightness, using the Xreal Air is an experience in itself.
Plug it in and the Steam Deck automatically turns its default display off, switches to the Xreal Air display and you can start playing games. My only gripe when playing games using the glasses is that it doesn’t support gyroscope yet with Steam Deck. Usually, while playing games, if you have to look at the HUD, most people when playing on larger monitors tend to move their heads rather than eyeballs.
Since the Air don’t support Gyro with the Deck, your natural instinct of trying to look at the edges of the screen by flicking your head might feel weird. And it’s not easy to get used to flicking your eyeballs rather than your head while wearing the glasses.
However, Xreal said that it’s working on an accessory or researching software solutions to solve this issue. We hope the company achieves the latter as people may not want to spend extra on the hardware and carry two adapters with them especially if they have an iPhone. As for the impact on the battery life of the Steam Deck, it’s not too much. Steam Deck is known to have a pretty average battery and in our testing, the impact of having the glasses connected vs playing on Steam Deck’s display resulted in 10-15 minutes lesser battery life, which is a fair tradeoff.
The stereo speakers aren’t that great and while they try to sound boomy, there’s noticeable distortion at higher volumes. The open design means a lot of sound is lost until it makes it to your ear, but it may suffice if you were watching a YouTube video or listening to podcasts. Bear in mind that at higher volumes, the party sitting beside you can hear what you’re listening to.
As for your phone, the AR Space feature caused our test device OPPO Find X3 Pro with Snapdragon 888 to significantly heat up. Now, we are unsure if this is a Qualcomm problem because Snapdragon 888 is arguably one of the worse modern flagship chipsets the chipmaker has released, but the temperatures climbed to concerning levels. Mirroring, on the other hand, doesn’t use much of the phone’s resources hence things stayed cool at the same.
As for how it affects the battery, it depends on the kind of device. On the Find X3 Pro with a 4500mAh battery, using AR space non-stop gave us around 4.5 hours of battery, which is pretty good. If you have a relatively modern phone with the latest Qualcomm processor that doesn’t heat up and a bigger battery, you should be able to surpass the 5-hour mark.
Xreal Air: Additional Features
- The display can refresh at 72Hz by enabling the option from Developer Settings.
- For folks with near-sightedness, the glasses come with a prescription lens frame that you can attach for vision correction. Or a more economical solution to this would be getting a pair of contact lenses, which I did.
- Support for Windows and Mac is coming soon. You could join the Xreal Discord server to get access to the Beta versions of the same.
- You can sideload a bunch of apps from Xreal’s AR Lab website.
Xreal Air: Is AR the Future or Not?
The answer is, it’s too soon to tell. While it will take a significant amount of time and developer support for AR to reach new heights, Xreal Air is not something that you’d want to wear every day, but use it as an accessory to your phone or Steam Deck whenever you feel like using it. AR has seen improvements over the years with games like Pokemon Go utilizing the tech to its fullest, but both the technology and Xreal have a long way to go.
One of the main tasks Xreal needs to sort out is the direction in which it wants to mold the user interface and app development to head on the Xreal glasses. While it sure feels like the future, it also feels half-baked, and incomplete at the same time. Similarly, the lack of ability to interact with your surroundings means that Xreal Air doesn’t offer a true AR experience.
On the other hand, it’s a great device if you want to have a secondary display. But would it be wise to spend $400 when you can buy a good monitor for half the price? Still, the Xreal Air could be a great travel companion for your Steam Deck or your phone for entertainment with privacy.
The huge and vivid display will enhance your experience; but you would still be aware of your surroundings since it’s an AR device. AR still has a long way to go but right now, it’s proving to be a far more efficient, futuristic, development-friendly, and more importantly, human-friendly tech that would help us build over the world we are accustomed to seeing all day. Although, for those who need a full-fledged AR experience, Xreal Light could be for you.
For an asking price of $379, the Xreal Air is on the expensive side, but if you are willing to be among the first to experience the capabilities of AR and familiarize yourself with the tech, it might be the best out there. It’s a great accessory for Steam Deck, works great as a secondary display, works on your phone, and overall, (almost) feels like your regular pair of sunglasses.
|Software (AR Space)|
|Price to Performance|
The Xreal Air uses tech that hasn't matured yet, and hence, the device has some drawbacks. However, unlike other devices in the similar niche, the Air does a much better job at representing and showing us what AR is truly capable of, while doubling as an impressive secondary display. For $380, it's not the best deal out there but if you're someone who wants to experience the latest and the greatest innovations in AR or technology in general, or if you're someone who owns a Steam Deck and needs a great accessory to compliment the same, you cannot go wrong with the Xreal Air glasses.