By | December 29, 2023
from inside of AR glasses with inner screen lenses

When I first heard about the XREAL (formerly Nreal) Air AR glasses, I knew I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. They looked like the perfect mix of cool, futuristic and functional, but – while there were elements of the original Air glasses that I loved – I was disappointed that I couldn’t give them a glow review. They had potential, yes, but they had some major hiccups that needed to be addressed…which is why I was excited to hear that the new XREAL Air 2 glasses were on the way. And when I was asked to try them myself to see how they held up against the originals? Excited is an understatement. (XREAL also released the new Air 2 Pro glasses, but we haven’t tested them.)

It’s been almost a year since I tried the original Air glasses, so I’ve had some time to think about what I’d love to see next from XREAL. From cosmetics to software upgrades, the updated Air 2 glasses promised to solve quite a few of my issues with the device — so much so that it felt like the developers read (and listened to) my original review.

First impression of the XREAL Air 2 glasses

I actually remember opening the original Air glasses, and the experience didn’t disappoint then and it doesn’t now. The packaging is high quality and the XREAL Air 2 came with an updated hard case, cleaning cloth, a USB-C charging cable, a set of replacement nose pads and an improved light-blocking screen that clips onto the front of glasses when you want really immerse yourself in the experience. Also, the brand new matte red model was striking and fun, but if you’re a little more conservative with your gear, they still have the understated dark gray available.

Straight out of the box, the new Air 2 glasses look and feel fantastic. They’re fairly comparable to the original Air glasses in shape and weight, but a few noticeable upgrades stood out. They’re definitely lighter than the original Air, and XREAL gave the nose pad and temples much-needed upgrades, giving the Air 2 glasses a surprisingly significant increase in comfort.

I also ordered some custom prescription lenses to use with the original Air glasses, and was pleased to find that I was able to attach them to the Air 2 glasses without any problems.

In addition to a new color, the Air 2 glasses have a lighter construction.
Credit: RJ Andersen/Mashable

Compare XREAL Air vs Air 2 glasses

Obviously, comfort was an immediately noticeable improvement when it comes to the new XREAL Air 2 glasses compared to its predecessor. While I was never upset by the weight of the original Air glasses, I found them uncomfortable for longer periods of use, but the wearing experience of the Air 2 is significantly better. They are more comfortable and flexible, and I was happy to be able to wear the Air 2 glasses for long periods without any discomfort at all, whereas the original Airs would dig into my nose and behind my ear after a while. This was a huge improvement in my book, and I was glad that XREAL paid attention to the small details.

As for the screens themselves, they looked pretty much identical to me – which is good, because the original Air screen was amazing. The specs show that the Air 2 has a brighter screen overall, but it wasn’t noticeable to me, nor was it super important. From there, the difference between the original Air glasses and the Air 2 is a bit sharper – and more exciting. The color accuracy of these glasses is so much better than the first generation that it’s not even a fair comparison. It’s immediately apparent, especially in dark environments, that the Air 2 is a more accurate, better calibrated monitor. No more oversaturation or disappearing darkness; these wearable glasses have a balanced, full-spectrum experience very better than XREAL’s first attempt.

Plus, sometime between my original review and now, they finally fixed 3D videos, which was one of my big complaints with the original Air glasses. It took some elbow grease (and technical know-how), but instead of behaving like a 1920 x 1080 display sent to each lens, the Air 2 will present itself as a 3840 x 1080 display — with each lens as half the screen — which makes it possible to watch video files side by side in full 3D.

The built-in audio is incredible and rich, but the addition of “directional audio” to reduce audio leakage didn’t seem to make a difference. If you’re looking for a more private listening experience, I still recommend using headphones or earbuds, both of which can be used comfortably with the Air 2.

The best thing about the Air 2 glasses is unfortunately sold separately

If we’re going to talk about the biggest — and most important — upgrades that happen between the Air and Air 2 glasses, a big part of the improvement actually comes via a separate product: the XREAL Beam, which retails for $119.

The best way I can describe the Beam is a tiny little AR-in-a-box machine, and it’s the device that turns the Air 2 into a complete augmented reality experience. It has a tiny little directional pad that doubles as a pointer/remote control, which is a bit clunky, but the AR experience is worth it.

remote control with round control button

The Beam (sold separately) is the answer to our AR prayers.
Credit: RJ Andersen/Mashable

It’s hard to describe without experiencing it firsthand, but when you use Beam, any device that outputs video via USB-C turns into a virtual screen in a real space in your room. And – unlike the original Air glasses – it stays there. You can face away from the screen and back to it, or you can make it small and out of the way. Compare that to the original Air experience, where your screen follows you wherever you look, this is a much smoother, more robust and much more satisfying AR experience.

While I was disappointed that it was a separate unit, it honestly makes sense, and it solves a lot of the problems I had with the original Air glasses’ AR experience. I used it to keep a recipe up on my glasses while I cook (out of the way, of course), watch YouTube videos while doing laundry, or even watch movies or play video games on a massive virtual screen in front of my stationary bike while exercising.

Even better? The Beam can act as a wireless display for my smartphone, meaning I no longer have to choose between charging your phone and watching videos – another big upgrade from the original Air glasses.

But that’s not all the Beam can do, and this is where I get a little too excited. Beam is a class of smart devices all its own. You don’t even need a phone or other device. It runs Android, so you can install many Android apps directly on the Beam itself. Sure, the experience here is a bit clunky – and I hope XREAL improves it in the future – but since they’ve committed to a smart device, this opens up a whole world of possibilities for the AR market.

The 3D apps aren’t there yet, and I’d like to see them iterate on both hardware and software, but if XREAL can foster a community of excited developers, they’ll cement their foothold in the AR space before Meta or Samsung eventually moves in and sets up shop. Done right, they will essentially set the bar against which other AR products are compared.

What I would love to see from XREAL in the future

While this has less to do with the Air 2 glasses themselves, there is one thing I would love to see from XREAL that I think would make the overall experience with these glasses a million times better: a marketplace with useful 3D apps.

Yes, I can install 2D apps and run them in 3D, but XREAL is so close to a rich, functional 3D/AR experience that I can taste. Airs has been around long enough that there should be a marketplace of existing XREAL apps that really use the 3D space – but it just doesn’t exist.

Another item on my wish list? Ship a browser with Beam (or at least remove the one already installed). It’s wild that you have to plug it into a computer via USB and run some file transfer program to sideload Android apps. It would be nice for users to have access to an app store, but I understand that XREAL doesn’t want to go into all that, so just let users download apps to Beam directly.

As for the Air 2 glasses themselves, and indeed way at the bottom of my priority list? A wider field of view would be good.

Are the XREAL Air 2 glasses worth it?

I have to say I’m really happy with the improvements XREAL has made over their original outing. I offered a lot of criticism on the first iteration of the Air glasses, and they’ve addressed every single issue I pointed out – and then some – which is hugely impressive. The company has proven that this leads to challenges, which is rare when dealing with a relatively new technology in a market that doesn’t have much competition (yet).

That said, do I think the Air 2 is worth it? While these glasses are a bit pricey at $399, that’s a resounding yes from me. The Air 2 is a polished product in its own right, and – as a flat external monitor for watching movies, working on an airplane (one of my favorite use cases) or playing video games lying flat in bed – it performs even better than its precursor. Compared to the original Air glasses, the XREAL seems to have doubled down on what worked and what didn’t, resulting in a significantly better experience overall.

As far as the beam, it depends. If you’re an early adopter, a tech enthusiast, or just looking to enhance your Air experience, it’s a great little gadget. I don’t regret having one at all, and I’m excited to continue to see where it goes. That said, if you’re looking for a more polished experience, or if you don’t want to spend the extra $119 right away, maybe wait for the next iteration. Given the improvements XREAL made from the Air to the Air 2 glasses, I can’t wait to see what they do next.


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