Content consumption on mobile devices is at an all-time high. Whether it’s watching Netflix when flying or a quick session of Instagram Reels while commuting to work. The only downside to watching videos on your smartphone is the small screen. Firstly, it’s not comfortable to bend your neck down and view the screen for long hours. Moreover, squinting your eyes to view the small display may not be the best exercise for your eyes. Well, Augmented Reality is here to solve the problem.
The XREAL Air 2 is a pair of AR glasses that puts a large 130-inch screen in front of you — anytime, anywhere. Whether you want to watch your favorite shows or get some work done when traveling, the XREAL Air 2 behaves like a portable monitor you can carry in your pocket. The best part? It doesn’t take up any physical space. So, what can you actually do with the XREAL Air 2? Is it worth purchasing a pair of AR glasses? I used the XREAL Air 2 on two long-haul flights and have been using it with my Mac regularly to answer this question.
Sunglasses With a Display
As opposed to VR headsets that occupy more than half of your face, the XREAL Air 2 — or pretty much any pair of AR glasses — looks just like a standard pair of sunglasses. In fact, it’s only slightly thicker and larger than the Ray-Ban Meta glasses — yet another pair of smart glasses but with cameras and without any AR capabilities.
However, when you wear the glasses, they look significantly larger. Then again, AR glasses aren’t meant to be worn when you’re out and about. So you don’t have to worry about looking funny when you’re walking on the streets.
Despite being larger than usual, the XREAL Air 2 weighs just 72g so it’s rather comfortable to wear. The included nose pads too are soft and plush. Moreover, they can be angled and adjusted to different widths depending on the size of your nose.
For reference, I watched a two-hour-long movie on a flight using the XREAL Air 2 and had no issues with comfort. At the end of two hours though, I did feel like removing the glasses for a short while before putting them on again.
Doesn’t Work With Existing Glasses
Generally, the biggest issue I have with any sort of eye gear is the fact that I wear prescription glasses. So when I got my hands on the XREAL Air 2, I was worried whether or not I’d be able to see anything on the displays clearly. Now the fact is that you can’t use the XREAL Air 2 over an existing pair of spectacles. But thankfully, XREAL provides a frame in the box which you can use to get a pair of prescription lenses attached to the glasses.
I took the frame to a local optician here in India and got my prescription lenses fitted onto them for just $10. XREAL does offer this service via their own website if you’re in the US. The lens attachment slots into a groove between the nose pads.
So when you wear the glasses, the lenses are positioned exactly behind the screens. In my experience, the display is clearly visible with the lens attachment.
Connect Your Phone, Laptop, or Gaming Console
The XREAL Air 2 connects to the source device via a USB-C cable. It uses DisplayPort over USB-C to output the contents on the display. In the box, XREAL bundles a braided USB-C cable with an angled end. That end connects to the stem of the glasses while the other end plugs into a smartphone, computer, or console.
Technically, you can connect the XREAL Air 2 to pretty much any device that supports display out via the USB-C port. This includes most Android flagships, the latest iPhone 15 models, MacBooks, and even consoles like the Steam Deck. When you do this, the Air 2 behaves like any other external display. But, what if your device doesn’t support display out via USB-C?
XREAL has a solution to this problem. The brand sells an accessory called the XREAL Beam. This is essentially a bridge between your device and the glasses. If you have an unsupported device, you can connect it to the XREAL beam and then interface the Beam to the glasses. This way, you can even use something like an HDMI to USB-C cable
While a USB-C cable is both universal and convenient, I wish there was a way to connect the glasses wirelessly. But, that would mean adding a battery to the glasses which would increase the weight. So it seems like this is the best solution.
130 Inches of OLED Goodness
The experience of using AR glasses is hard to explain via text. But, I’ll try my best. When you put on the Air 2, what you see is a large display floating in front of you. Essentially, both sides of the glasses have individual displays that combine to form one large floating display. It’s like sitting in a theater with a large projected screen in front of you.
The screen resides at a comfortable distance from your eyes. Moreover, XREAL has obtained TUV Rheinland’s certification to ensure the Air 2 doesn’t cause any damage to your eyes. Coming back to the screen itself — it’s an OLED projection that ensures colors are saturated with high contrast levels. Watching movies and TV shows on Netflix is an absolute treat on the XREAL Air 2. The display is ample sharp so you find any pixelation either.
If you’re a gamer, you would be pleased to know that the display can refresh all the way up to 120Hz. So, if you hook up the Air 2 with a PS5 or a PC, you can enjoy smooth gaming. While the primary use case for the XREAL Air 2 is media consumption, you can even use it as a large monitor for work.
Thanks to the huge screen, you can open multiple windows and work with ease. This is highly beneficial if you have a laptop with a 13 or 14-inch screen.
Control the Immersion
By default, the AR display floats in front of your eyes with a see-through background. What this means is it appears as though the display is in your surroundings. This mode lets you use the display without being entirely cut off from the real world. You can still see around you and interact with people.
However, if you want complete immersion, XREAL bundles in a black attachment that goes on the front of the Air 2. This adds a dark tint so the display will have a black background. When you’re on a flight or just lying on your couch, being completely immersed in the content you’re watching makes sense. That’s where the attachment comes in handy. In fact, I leave the attachment on all the time since I want a black background for my screen.
Additionally, the stem also has brightness controls for the screen. If you’re in a dark environment, you can tone down the brightness to protect your eyes.
In fact, I found that the lowest brightness level was adequate most of the time if you use the black cover for full immersion.
A Virtual Triple Monitor Setup
More than watching content, there’s one aspect of the XREAL Air 2 that I absolutely enjoyed — using it with my Mac to get a portable triple-monitor setup. If you’re wondering how — it’s using XREAL’s companion app Nebula. When you connect the Air 2 to your Mac and fire up Nebula, it gives you the option to mirror your laptop’s screen. Along with that, you also get the option to project your screen by converting it into a dual or triple monitor setup. How cool is that!
When you look straight, you can see the main screen. And then when you look to the left and right, you will be able to see two additional screens. These screens behave like actual supplementary monitors so you can drag and drop windows across them or run multiple instances of the same app.
This feature alone improves your productivity while working by a big margin. It’s extremely difficult to capture the projection of the screens on camera, so I’m sorry about the blurry mess. These images are just to give you an idea of what you see when you wear the glasses.
Not only do you get additional screens but the fact that you no longer have to look down at your laptop on your lap also improves your posture. You can simply look straight ahead with the glasses on and continue to type or work on your laptop. This is especially helpful on a flight where you’re crammed for room.
Use Your Phone as a Trackpad
The Nebula app is available on Android as well and you can use it to view a customized AR interface when you connect to your smartphone. It’s like a launcher, using which you can access some AR features. Additionally, the app even allows you to use your smartphone as a pointing device or a trackpad when using apps like the browser.
It’s nice to see that XREAL has worked on these additional features to improve the experience of using the Air 2. However, I was disappointed to see no companion app for all the iPhone users out there. It’s surprising given how the Nebula app for computers to get the triple monitor setup is only available on macOS but not on Windows. So if you’re supporting one device from the brand, might as well extend it to iPhones too, right?
The XREAL Air 2 provides a complete multimedia experience. Along with the displays, the glasses also have a set of speakers. Surprisingly, the speakers are quite impressive.
They get decently loud which is also a bane since the people around you can also hear what you’re listening to. So if you’re on a flight or in a closed space, it’s advisable to use a pair of headphones for isolation.
Should You Buy the XREAL Air 2?
Let me try to answer a wider question — it worth buying a pair of AR glasses in 2023? Think of it like this. Do you need a secondary, portable monitor either for multimedia or work? Or do you want to enjoy a movie or show when you’re flying without straining your neck?
If the answer to any of the above questions is a yes, a pair of AR glasses like the XREAL Air 2 makes a lot of sense.
What We Like
What We Don’t Like
Instead of picking up a portable monitor that takes up space in your backpack and on a table, the XREAL Air 2 saves you space and gives you a much larger screen. However, the XREAL Air 2 doesn’t come cheap — starting at $399. So depending on your usage, you can decide if it’s a worthy investment. If you travel a lot, the XREAL Air 2 is surely a good addition to your backpack.
Last updated on 17 November, 2023
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