The Nreal Air goggles. | Image: Nreal

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

The Nreal Air goggles are a cheaper alternative to the Nreal Light, which launched in the US for $599 last year. They are smaller and lighter than the Nreal Light – which look like bulky sunglasses – but have significantly reduced capabilities. Most notably, where the Light uses outward-facing cameras to track movement in physical space, the Air goggles do away with the cameras and only track a user’s rotation. Their field of view is also slightly narrower, at 46 degrees instead of 52, and Nreal promises they will use 50 percent less power than their feature-rich counterpart.

A woman using the Nreal Air with a MacBook on an airplane.
The Nreal Air with a MacBook.

The Air is intended as a personal theater for streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube. When you plug them into a phone or computer, Nreal says they offer the equivalent of looking at a 130-inch screen from three feet away or a 201-inch screen from six feet away. 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 view, so you can maintain a bit of situational awareness while watching TV.

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

We had a mixed experience with the Nreal Light: they had a weak US app ecosystem and the screen mirroring mode could be frustrating, but they worked surprisingly well as a private big screen TV. The Air offers most of the features we liked for a much lower price, and while losing advanced tracking is a real drawback, they also do away with some of the privacy concerns surrounding AR goggles.

However, especially on iOS without Nebula support, the new Air goggles can be saddled with the same problems as the Light. Android is in a slightly better position – Nebula doesn’t officially support the most popular streaming apps, but you can bookmark them in the AR browser, meaning you 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.

Anyway, the Nreal Air goggles are one of the few cheap headsets on the market – so it’s a good opportunity to test consumer appeal.

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