The future of technology is personal. It’s clear. Watches were the first step in wrapping digital bits around our body, but glasses are aimed at a second act as well. Bose makes glasses with speakers. Snap makes glasses with cameras. Google and Magic Leap have tested the augmented reality glasses. But now TCL is on the verge of releasing personal cinema frames designed primarily for watching videos.
I had some hands-on time with these brand new TCL Nxtwear G smart glasses to see what it was like to put a big screen right in your face. The need that this product meets? To remove the screen from the wall or bracket and place it directly in front of your eyes. It’s also a way to have a touch of privacy to make your screen more personal. There are many uses around home theater to imagine, but the most obvious is to make your mobile phone screen 20 times bigger.
The look and fit of video glasses
The Nxtwear G looks a bit like overperforming sporty shades. While the outward appearance isn’t exactly stylish, the allure is inside the frames, and these aren’t worn for fashion. The glossy black plastic that covers the bezels is a fingerprint magnet, but, again, the look is more than fit for its intended use. In fact, despite their slight Matrix vibe, I tend to think these fade out and don’t get as much attention as different colors or styles.
While the look is mostly superfluous compared to the functionality, the fit isn’t. The comfort of these types of glasses intended to be worn for long periods of time is crucial. On the one hand, Nxtwear G glasses are quite comfortable once you put them on your head; on the other hand, the rods don’t have resistance like traditional sunglasses, so putting them on your head can be tight and a bit painful. I learned right away that the best way to put them on was to pull them off the top of my head and rest them on the tops of my ears, instead of trying to pull them straight towards my eyes like traditional glasses.
The box contains three different sized bridges to rest on your nose and range from narrow to wide. I needed to slide the bridge down my nose more than with glasses to find the right angle of view. But once I did, the glasses were comfortable and felt safe.
Neither the short viewing times nor the longer times presented for me a problem of comfort around the material. My biggest concern was eye strain. I don’t wear eyeglasses and don’t tend to have any problems with my vision, but have noticed fatigue a few times while watching a show or browsing web pages. But I also didn’t have enough time with the Nxtwear G to draw any conclusions about it. It hasn’t happened every time, so maybe it’s just getting used to a new gadget with a new screen design.
Use of TCL Nxtwear G
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Nxtwear G is to grip. The glasses themselves do not have batteries and are powered by the cable that connects them to a device. The 20 Pro 5G TCL phone that I connected to the glasses already had a necessary app installed, and the time between the box and the inner pixels turning on was only a matter of minutes. It was very fast.
More than that, these glasses can function as an external display. I hooked them up to a MacBook Air M1 and they instantly popped up as a secondary display. With the computer, no configuration or application was necessary. So I dragged out a Google Doc window and started typing this story. There are two micro OLED displays inside the bezels which are supposed to be equivalent to a 140 inch screen. I never felt like I was looking at a screen this size, but the screen overshadowed my entire field of vision.
These smart glasses are compatible with Asus, Oppo, Microsoft, LG, OnePlus, Samsung phones and more. They are compatible with laptops from Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo and more. Compatibility covers many modern devices. You can plug them into an iPad Pro and they’ll work, but there’s no point as it just mirrors what’s in front of you.
Connecting the Nxtwear G glasses to a computer was, for me, the most convincing use. If you ever were worried about people glancing at your screen, this solution would solve that problem. But, more interesting and less secret than that, just having a pocket-sized secondary display could be amazing for productivity.
The way the glasses sit on your nose means you should still be able to tilt your head slightly to see your keyboard and main screen. I never felt cut off from the world around me even though my eyes were technically covered.
The most common use for a lot of people, I guess, will be to hook them up to a phone. It makes a lot of sense as a portable display that can expand a small mobile phone into a much larger screen. It’s just a little difficult to use that way.
When you connect the Nxtwear G to a 20 series phone and use the screen in computer mode, it turns into a touchpad. Using this touchpad to manipulate a keyboard is painful. This was by far the worst part of the experience, as typing on a keyboard this way takes so long. A workaround might be to mirror the phone and use the phone keypad, then switch to computer mode after the apps are downloaded, passwords entered, and content is ready to be viewed. But this remains a back door solution.
In terms of visual clarity, the micro-OLED displays in the bezels were crisp. The display was dynamic and looked good overall. The edges of the screen were slightly rounded, but the vast majority of the visual area was beautiful. I’m trying not to rate the display of the screen on a curve, but it’s difficult. Most, if not all, small-screen headsets in this category look underwhelming. I don’t think this one does. But, I don’t know if it’s really great or just way better than the rest in this space. Or, maybe it doesn’t matter as long as it’s good enough to watch a 2 hour movie, which it does.
The future of smart glasses
The general idea here is similar to a VR headset. Netflix, MLB, and many others, for example, have video apps on Oculus that project a larger-than-life screen right in front of your eyes.
Unlike a VR headset, the Nxtwear G is not a fully enclosed design. They cover your eyes, but they don’t make you feel cut off from the real world like a VR headset does. There is a lot to love about this style of personal cinema viewing. TCL has done the best job of this type of product to date, so there is hope that products like this will only get better from here.
Having said that, would I buy this first version of Nxtwear G if it released in the US today? No. The drawstring is a bit inconvenient and the comfort could still be adjusted further. But more than anything else, having a solid way to manipulate things onscreen is essential. It’s not exactly the same as a touchscreen on your phone, and it’s not exactly the same as an external monitor. And this is where the catch lies.
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