In brief: Microsoft's HoloLens, Google's Glass, and the Magic Leap One are decidedly prosumer and enterprise-oriented augmented reality headsets. Nreal also has the Nreal Light smart glasses, but the company is now introducing a distilled, lightweight version that is much more likely to see mainstream adoption.
Chinese company Nreal is taking another stab at making augmented reality glasses more popular among consumers. Its latest pair of smart glasses is called Nreal Air, and is supposed to be a cheaper and lighter alternative to the Nreal Light.
Nreal has kept the sunglasses aesthetic and is still using micro-OLED displays to produce an image overlay in front of your eyes. As the name suggests, the Nreal Air is 27 percent lighter than its predecessor at just 77 grams, but it achieves that at the cost of some functionality. With the Nreal Light, you get spatial awareness, hand tracking, and the ability to interact with what you see.
However, none of that is possible with the Nreal Air. It's almost as if Nreal has learned from the past—people around you will almost never be quite comfortable with you wearing smart glasses with outward-facing cameras, so the company chose not to include them this time around. In a sense, the Nreal Air is like an improved version of Intel's Vaunt project, which never made it to market as the latter company gave up on developing augmented reality hardware in 2018.
Since then, the hardware has evolved enough to allow for a more compact frame, but there's a catch. Nreal Light glasses need to be tethered to a smartphone, which was also the case for the Nreal Light. The company positions them as a way to project an enormous 201-inch TV in front of your eyes as if you were standing six meters away from it, or a 130-inch screen as viewed from four meters away. In other words, the Nreal Air is designed to mirror your phone screen inside a 46-degree field of view.
The 90 Hz micro-OLED displays have a resolution of 49 pixels per degree, which is slightly better than the 42 pixels per degree you get with the Nreal Light. You can also use the adjustable rake system to tweak the viewing angle in steps and watch content with your friends or family via a shared theater feature. In terms of compatibility, the Nreal Air will work with "most" Android phones, and you can also tether it to an iPhone or iPad—something you can't do with the Nreal Light.
As for when you'll be able to try one, the company will begin rolling out the Nreal Air in China, South Korea, and Japan in December. Nreal also plans to bring the new smart glasses to the US and the EU next year and is currently working out the final details of its partnerships with carriers. Pricing has yet to be announced, but the company has said the Nreal Air will be more affordable than the previous version, which currently sells for around $600.
Nreal doesn't have the scale of Facebook, Apple, or Amazon, but the tiny Chinese startup seems determined to leapfrog them in the same way Xiaomi has managed to conquer the smartphone crown. Whether or not it will succeed, only time will tell.