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The idea of augmented reality sunglasses that instantly project a cinema-sized screen in front of you may sound like a concept from the latest science fiction blockbuster.
But they’re set to become a reality next week, with EE’s launch of the Nreal Air glasses in the UK.
The futuristic glasses look like a normal pair of sunglasses from the front, but have two OLED displays hidden behind the lenses.
When connected to a smartphone, these can project an ‘Imax-sized’ 201-inch virtual screen 20ft in front of your eyes, allowing you to stream films and and play games over 5G on the go.
Ahead of their UK launch through EE on May 20, MailOnline’s Shivali Best got hands-on with the £399.99 smart glasses.
Ahead of their UK launch through EE on May 20, MailOnline’s Shivali Best got hands-on with the £399.99 smart glasses
The futuristic glasses look like a normal pair of sunglasses from the front, but have two OLED displays hidden behind the lenses
Nreal Air glasses: Key specifications
Open form factor: 148mm x 52mm x 159mm
Closed form factor: 148mm x 52mm x 60mm
Power: Up to 5 hours in Air Casting mode
Weight: 79 grams
Virtual screen size: 130 inches in Air Casting mode, 201 inches in MR Space Mode
Audio: 2 open-ear speakers
Availability: May 20
When I first heard about the Nreal Air glasses, I struggled to envisage how they would work, or why anyone would want to use them instead of a standard screen.
However, trying them out for myself I was pleasantly surprised at how effective they were, and can definitely see the appeal.
The sunglasses have a classic Wayfarer-like design and, despite sporting two OLED screens, they are surprisingly light, weighing just 79g.
They connect to your smartphone via a basic USB-C cable, and instantly project a huge screen right before your eyes, with small speakers in the arms playing audio directly into your ears.
While in Mixed Reality mode, you can watch YouTube videos or surf the web, with the option to open multiple screens at the same time in both vertical or horizontal orientations.
To navigate in this mode, your smartphone serves as a virtual pointer.
As you aim your smartphone at the virtual screen in front of you, a white laser line appears, and you can tap the smartphone to ‘click’ on an app or object you want to interact with.
This took some getting used to, but is likely to be a function that becomes second nature after a few sessions – much like using the trackpad on a laptop.
My favourite feature in the Mixed Reality mode was a cycling tool, in which you could choose different courses around the world and see them appear before you.
I chose a course along the Malibu coast, which appeared before me as I pedalled on a static bike – something that would definitely make a session at the gym more appealing!
The other mode is Air Casting, in which your smartphone is mirrored onto the virtual screen before you.
When connected to a smartphone, these can project an ‘Imax-sized’ 201-inch virtual screen 20ft in front of your eyes, allowing you to stream films and and play games over 5G on the go
Connecting a Bluetooth gaming controller can also turn your smartphone into a portable console when coupled with a game-streaming platform
This opens the viewing options up to any apps you have installed on your smartphone – including games, streaming apps or social media.
For example, tapping into the BT Sports app, I could enjoy a rugby match on the 130-inch virtual screen, while tapping on the MailOnline app allowed me to browse through the top stories for the day.
Connecting a Bluetooth gaming controller can also turn your smartphone into a portable console when coupled with a game-streaming platform.
I tested out a game on a connected Xbox, which I was admittedly terrible at, but can definitely see the glasses becoming go-to options for more skilled gamers who don’t have access to a big screen.
In Mixed Reality mode, users can stretch the virtual screen out in front of them to 201-inches – almost like being in an IMAX cinema
To navigate in this mode, your smartphone serves as a virtual pointer. As you aim your smartphone at the virtual screen in front of you, a white laser line appears, and you can tap the smartphone to ‘click’ on an app or object you want to interact with
I was pleasantly surprised by how lifelike the virtual screen was before my eyes, and can see myself using them in the gym or on holiday, when I can’t easily access a large screen TV
One set back with the glasses is the battery life – the frames themselves do not have a battery, and instead your smartphone powers the glasses.
While EE boasts of up to five hours video streaming in Air Casting mode, this would likely drain your smartphone of all its power.
And with the glasses connected to your smartphone via USB-C, the only option for charging while using them would be to buy a wireless charger.
The glasses also come with a fairly hefty £399.99 price tag that’s likely to put some buyers off.
It’s important to note that the Nreal Air glasses are available for 39,799 yen (£254) in Japan – almost £150 cheaper than in the UK.
However, EE is offering existing customers the option to spread the cost of the glasses over 11 months for £35/month plus a £10 upfront cost, which could be more appealing.
As with all smart glasses, seeing is believing.
I was pleasantly surprised by how lifelike the virtual screen was before my eyes, and can see myself using them in the gym or on holiday, when I can’t easily access a large screen TV.
If you’re interested in seeing them yourself, I would recommend visiting one of EE’s flagship stores from May 20.
WHICH COMPANIES ARE WORKING ON AUGMENTED REALITY GLASSES?
Last year, Snap unveiled its next generation of Spectacles, which are its first to feature augmented reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) glasses have seen a resurgence in desirability, with a host of firms working to develop their own technology.
Bose recently joined a quickly growing list of tech companies that are building augmented reality eyeglasses.
The first company to enter the race was Google, which released the Google Glass in 2011.
Google Glass, now referred to as Glass, has been changed from a consumer-facing product to an enterprise product, used by companies like Boeing.
Since then, several companies have come out with their own products.
Secretive startup Magic Leap began working on a prototype several years ago, but finally debuted its ‘mixed reality’ smart glasses in 2018.
Tech company Vuzix, based in Rochester, New York, launched its Vuzix Blade glasses in 2019 for about $1,300.
They use a tiny projector to show a virtual image in the top right hand corner of their lenses.
Wearers can connect to WiFi and read emails and other messages via the display, as well as use Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, to issue voice commands.
Amazon is also rumored to be working on its own AR glasses to be released sometime in the future.
Additionally, Intel released its prototype smart glasses, the Vaunt, earlier this year.
The glasses use retinal projection to put a tiny display on the wearer’s eyeball.
Snap has launched its Spectacles and there are rumours of Facebook and Apple working on AR glasses.
Niantic, the American firm being Pokemon Go, has also revealed it is partnering with Qualcomm to create its own AR headset technology.