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The Nreal Air glasses. | Image: Nreal

Augmented reality company Nreal is launching its stripped-down Air glasses in the United States. The Nreal Air glasses, unveiled for Asian markets last year, are available on Amazon starting today for $379. The initially Android-exclusive glasses are also getting iPhone compatibility — but only with a $59 dongle. It’s the Chinese startup’s latest move into the global AR market as it races Apple, Meta, and other tech giants for the growing niche.

The Nreal Air glasses are a cheaper alternative to the Nreal Light, which launched for $599 in the US last year. They’re smaller and lighter than the Nreal Light — which look like a bulky pair of sunglasses — but come with significantly pared-back capabilities. Most notably, where the Light use outward-facing cameras to track movement in physical space, the Air glasses scrap the cameras and only track a user’s rotation. Their field of view is also a little narrower, at 46 degrees instead of 52, and Nreal promises they will consume 50 percent less power than their fuller-featured counterpart.

The Nreal Air with a MacBook.

The Air is intended to be a personal theater for streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. When you plug them into a phone or computer, Nreal says they offer the equivalent of watching a 130-inch screen from three meters away or a 201-inch screen from a distance of six meters. You can also stream games on Android from services like Xbox Cloud Gaming and Steam. And unlike a VR headset, Nreal’s glasses project images in front of you without blocking the rest of your vision, letting you maintain some situational awareness while you’re watching TV.

Nreal has focused mainly on 5G Android phone compatibility, but the Light already allow users to mirror the screens of laptops and officially unsupported Android phones, and the new adapter officially offers mirroring for iPhones. iOS devices still aren’t getting access to Nebula, a launcher that enables additional features, but they can stream Netflix, Hulu, and other apps onto the glasses through mirroring. Conversely, Nreal is launching a macOS version of Nebula for MacBook Pro and Air computers that use Apple chips, offering a more full-featured experience that lets you project multiple displays around your laptop.

We had a mixed experience with the Nreal Light: they featured a weak US app ecosystem and its screen mirroring mode could be frustrating, but they worked surprisingly well as a private big-screen TV. The Air offer most of the features we liked at a much lower price, and although losing sophisticated tracking is a real downside, they also remove some of the privacy concerns around AR glasses.

Especially on iOS with no Nebula support, however, the new Air glasses might be saddled with the same problems as the Light. Android is in a slightly better position — Nebula doesn’t officially support most popular streaming apps, but you can bookmark them in its AR browser, which means you’ll get some of the improved interface options. Nreal spokesperson Angela Lin also says the company hopes to announce new details about streaming app support next year.

Either way, the Nreal Air glasses are one of very few cheap-ish headsets on the market — so it’s a good opportunity to test their consumer appeal.

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