The new Nreal Air glasses have turned my iPhone into a productivity and entertainment behemoth by adding a giant screen that fits my face. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but that’s the reality we’re living in in 2022.
At first glance, the $379 Air looks like typical virtual reality (VR) hardware. The glasses are worn like a VR headset and have a cable that attaches to your mobile device. But the Air doesn’t offer a true VR experience and instead focuses on mirroring content from your phone, tablet or laptop. Indeed, the Air offers a giant monitor in the form of a pair of sunglasses.
VR can’t be a good thing
I wasn’t expecting a full VR experience with the Air, which turned out to be a good thing. Unlike the Meta Quest 2 helmet, which is difficult to wear, the Air looks and feels like a pair of Raybans. In fact, they’re so little silly that I started wearing them at my local coffee shop and only got a few weird looks.
I found the Air to be a significant productivity boost when used with my iPhone or another mobile phone. Instead of lugging around a big laptop, I can slip the Air into my pocket while working on the go. They connect with a special dongle to my iPhone, and I can view and edit documents with the large screen provided by the glasses.
Sleek design makes all the difference
I love the look of the Air with its cyberpunk design. The glasses are light enough at 76 grams to feel more like heavy sunglasses than a full-fledged gadget that you wear. One problem is that they are slightly too narrow for my wide face. After a few hours of use, the Air tends to pinch and become uncomfortable. On the other hand, the Air is much more comfortable to wear than my Quest 2 helmet, which is much heavier.
I’ve tried working with VR headsets like the Meta Quest 2 when using apps like Spatial, which mirror your computer screens. The problem I’ve always found is that clunky VR headsets get uncomfortable after about an hour of use. Thanks to its lightweight design, I didn’t have the same issue with the Nreal Air.
The Air works with MacBook M1s and select iPhone and Android phones. To use the Air with an iPhone, you need to purchase a separate adapter, which I found effective, although it’s annoying to lug around another piece.
The tiny displays inside the lenses are the only sign that the Airs aren’t real sunglasses. It’s handy for seeing through the semi-transparent lenses, but when it’s too bright outside I prefer to use the included shield, which blocks out all light.
The Air offers virtual reality capabilities through its software. This app lets you do things like open multiple windows and use a built-in web browser. Ultimately, I found the Air to be most useful simply as an external monitor.
Small package, big display
On paper, at least, the Air can’t match the screen specs of my iPhone 14 Pro Max. Nreal claims the Air has a 3840 x 1080 resolution and 60Hz refresh rate with its Micro OLED display. This compares to the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch OLED display with 1290 x 2796 pixels and a 120Hz refresh rate.
The difference in refresh rate between the two devices is noticeable and is a considerable disadvantage for the Air. Videos and web page scrolling are less fluid on Air, largely due to the lower refresh rate. The Air’s 60Hz refresh rate may also have contributed to the nausea I felt after using the glasses for a few hours.
Ideal for work and play
I used the Nreal Air to type this review using only my iPhone and Google Docs. Normally, I would never consider using the iPhone for word processing because the screen is too small, even on the Pro Max variant.
The screen inside the glasses appears to be the size of a large monitor when you have them adjusted correctly. I used a Bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPhone to get a laptop-like experience.
The Air screen size is large enough to see text clearly when using Google Docs if you increase the font size. However, typing isn’t always easy when you can’t see where your fingers are hitting the keyboard.
I also like to use the Air to watch videos in bed before going to sleep. The screen quality can’t match my iPad Pro, but not having to prop up a tablet is a killer feature that I didn’t realize I was missing before. The Air is also fun for casual web browsing.
After using the Air for several weeks, I found the Air’s not insignificant price to be money well spent as the glasses help me do my job. I would put the Air in my carry-on for my next trip if I needed to write on the go. On the other hand, I still don’t trust the Air enough for them to replace my laptop. For that, I have to hope that the next version will offer a higher refresh rate and more robust capabilities for working with a mouse and keyboard.