Xreal Air With Beam shows me the future of space computing | Digital Trends

AR glasses are still a pipe dream. Early smart glasses like Amazons Echo Frames, Ray-Ban Facebook Stories glasses, and Snap Spectacles hardly whet my appetite for experiencing the future of AR.

The most interesting models, such as Xreal Air, Lenovo Glasses T1 and TCL NxtWear Air, simulate a large-screen television to show a feed from a cable connected to a laptop or smartphone. There are even experiments like the Viture One XR that have tried to sell the concept of cloud gaming.

But none of these are true AR glasses. I recently tested the Xreal Air goggles with the new Beam accessory, which adds dimensional awareness and makes it easier to use. They bring us one step closer to the AR glasses of the future, even if there are many snags that remind me that there is still a long way to go.

What is Xreal Beam?

Xreal Beam makes it easy to connect Air goggles to an iPhone.

At its most basic level, Xreal Beam is an accessory that provides Wi-Fi connectivity and acts as an external battery for Xreal Air glasses. Wi-Fi makes a big difference, freeing my smartphone from the Lightning cable and USB-C adapter otherwise required to connect an iPhone to the Xreal Air.

Without Beam, an all-day smartphone could last less than five hours. Xreal Beam can power the Air goggles for three to four hours, depending on the brightness level, while your iPhone or Android phone streams screen or streams video with normal battery life.

Beam eliminates the need to plug in and, for iPhone users, a pair of bulky adapters. However, you are not completely cordless. I still needed a short USB-C cable that connected the Beam goggles to the Airs at all times as the Xreal Air contains no power source itself. Still, it’s a huge improvement in convenience, comfort, and longevity when using Xreal Air goggles.

Xreal Air is bright enough for outdoors until I look up at the bright sky.

Xreal Beam is more than As soon as a Wi-Fi accessory and battery though. It also includes spatial docking, an important way to expand your virtual display space. The combination of Xreal Air with Beam makes it easier to access augmented reality-like features, greatly improving the intuitiveness of use.

Instead of having a 130-inch screen pinned in the center of my view, I can centrally scale the virtual display, place it in any quadrant, or pin it anywhere around me. In Body Anchor mode, meanwhile, the Xreal Air’s three-degrees-of-freedom (3DoF) sensors track head movement to simulate a physical monitor. When I look at the virtual screen, it’s there; when I look away, it’s gone.

Finally, in Smooth Follow mode, the virtual display continuously adjusts to any turn with a gentle swipe to stay in place before your eyes. This is an important feature when traveling by car or plane.

These features are what many smart glasses lack, bringing the Xreal Air closer to what’s offered in mixed reality headsets like the Quest Pro or Apple Reality Pro but without the clunky headset.

Xreal Air is still great without Beam

My MacBook Air has three virtual screens when connected to Xreal Air.

Xreal Air is a nice pair of smart glasses with some AR capabilities, depending on the connected device. The new Beam accessory adds a lot of value, but it’s not a necessity. I still enjoyed using Xreal Air without the Beam, but it’s great to have that expansion option.

The glasses are surprisingly light, weighing less than three ounces. Since they have no batteries, recharging is never a problem. Instead, your computer, smartphone or Beam battery supplies the power.

When connected to my MacBook Air, I can wear them all day if I want. My iPad also has a large enough battery to power Xreal Air for many hours without worry.

While my iPhone has a Lightning port, the Mac and iPad can use a direct USB-C connection to the Xreal Air. The Mac, in particular, really shines with the Xreals Nebula software.

Virtual screens for Mac and Windows

With two vertical monitors, I don’t really need Xreal Air for my Windows PC, but it works.

There is a compelling case for using Xreal Air with a computer. Xreal’s clever Nebula app can display up to three virtual screens that can be placed in a row anywhere around you. You can resize these floating monitors, scaling them down to the equivalent of three giant screens side by side.

As you can imagine, the display space is large enough that you have to turn your head to see all three screens. It’s not as convenient as having a multi-monitor workstation since you can’t just look around with your eyes.

While a macOS version has been available for months, the Windows version is currently in beta testing. My Windows PC doesn’t have a compatible USB-C port, so I used an HDMI to USB-C adapter to connect. The experience is similar to the Mac version, providing three resizable virtual displays that I can place anywhere.

Xreal Air/Beam compatibility

Xreal Air also works with my Chromebook Pixel Slate.

Xreal Air, without Beam, has limited compatibility, especially with the iPhone. To connect to my iPhone, I’d need two adapters, an Xreal adapter ($59) and an Apple Lightning Digital AV adapter ($49). This is an inconvenient and expensive solution, so I opted for Xreal Beam in this case.

I can use the iPhone’s built-in screen mirroring to cast to the Xreal Beam, which connects via a short USB cable to the Xreal Air goggles. My iPhone can sit in my pocket or sit on a table while I watch videos or play games.

A serious sticking point is the direct connection requirement of a device that supports DisplayPort over USB-C (DP Alt Mode). Modern Macs and iPads with USB-C ports are compatible with DP Alt Mode. Many Windows laptops and Chromebooks also have this feature.

Some Android devices, mostly flagship phones from Samsung, LG, OnePlus and Sony work directly with Xreal Air. I don’t own a Steam Deck, but everyone agrees it’s a great solution for portable gaming. It also works with PlayStation 5 and Xbox.

Xreal Beam opens up another way to connect. It recognizes AirPlay, Miracast and DLNA, so if your PC supports these protocols, Beam makes it easy to connect and provides spatial docking option.

How I use Xreal Air and Beam

I can take my MacBook Air and Xreal Air and travel with the productivity of three screens, that’s the whole promise of spatial computing. I can even minimize the brightness of my MacBook screen, extending battery life as I use smart glasses for three virtual monitors.

I already have two monitors connected to my windows tower, but Xreal works there too. The Xreal Air can even connect directly to my Chromebook, giving my older Google Pixel Slate a 130-inch display.

When it’s time to relax, Xreal Beam makes it easy to switch to my iPhone to watch a movie or play games anywhere. The only device I own that isn’t compatible is my Google Pixel. It can’t stream to Xreal Beam, and it lacks DP Alt Mode, preventing a wired connection unless using a powered USB dock.

The Xreal Air display is bright and sharp, but I can focus through it and see my surroundings. Dark areas are more translucent. If I want true blacks, I can move to a dark room or wear the included snap-on light blocker. Because in the end, these aren’t just fun gadgets. The Xreal Air and Beam are also meant to be productivity devices, not unlike how the Apple Vision Pro will be sold.

Xreal Air continues to gain features

Xreals AR Lab has several apps for Android and is expected to expand to other platforms.

Xreal continues to add features and accessories to its Air eyewear. The stereo 3D video playback feature arrived in late 2022. The latest addition is the 120Hz refresh rate for the Xreal Air. This is a big upgrade from the 60Hz the device launched with.

Ongoing support is key to innovative products as there is a sense of urgency to introduce new technologies. Xreal is pushing the potential of its smart glasses, and other AR features are coming from third-party developers via ARLab.

Extensive features and accessories make the nearly $400 price point seem more reasonable to me, even though on the surface it seems expensive.

It’ll be interesting to see what Xreal Air and Beam will be capable of in the coming months, but even with what’s available today, it’s made me want to experience the future of space computing with AR glasses.

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