Nreal Light review: Hardware is only half the battle

Nreal Light review: Hardware is only half the battle

November 22, 2021 0 By administrator

Nreal has sold me on the appeal of watching TV with a pair of glasses, and I wish I could recommend buying the glasses that did it.

Nreal’s Light sunglasses, which Verizon will start selling later this month, are one of only a few consumer-focused augmented reality headsets. They’re an impressive technical feat: small for an AR or VR product, comparatively affordable at $599, and capable of full-fledged mixed reality that projects images into real space, not just a flat heads-up overlay like the North Focals.

Unfortunately, Nreal’s software doesn’t fulfill its hardware’s promise. The Light is hampered by a bare-bones control scheme, a patchy app ecosystem, and a general user experience that ranges from undercooked to barely functional. Nreal may well have shown us the future of AR, but it seems disinterested in making the experience very pleasant.

The Nreal Light is (sort of) a svelter version of the $3,500 Microsoft HoloLens or $2,295 Magic Leap One mixed reality headsets. The device looks like a pair of very large sunglasses with two cameras for spatial tracking embedded in the front. When you plug it into a supported Samsung or OnePlus phone’s USB-C port, it projects a slightly transparent image on top of the real world. That could include a flat screen that always stays in the center of your vision, a grid of icons pinned to a specific point in space, or a 3D game board resting on a physical desk. You can control apps by swiping a trackpad on your phone’s screen or aiming it like a remote control to point and click.

The Light is only “sort of” like those AR products for two reasons. The first is that Nreal isn’t using the same optics tech as Microsoft or Magic Leap. Those expensive, industrial-grade headsets use something called a waveguide: a thin multilayered lens that sits in front of your eyes, refracting light from a projector. The Nreal Light uses a system dubbed birdbath optics: micro OLED screens whose light is reflected off a mirror.

I didn’t have a HoloLens or Magic Leap device for comparison, although I’ve used both in the past. The Light’s 53-degree diagonal field of view is similar to the current-generation HoloLens, and its OLED projection system produces remarkably crisp images. The images fade against midday light or a bright laptop screen, and they almost never look totally opaque, but I could say the same about other headsets’ holograms.

Adi Robertson wearing the Nreal Light glasses while holding a carrying case under one arm

The glasses come with a compact black carrying case.

On the other…

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