A year or so ago, I saw a post on The Register about glasses - Samsung, I think - which functioned as an external monitor. I thought that they looked really cool… and then forgot about them.
When I saw the Xreal “wearable display” glasses a few weeks ago, again, I thought that they looked rather good. And they were available to buy. And, while not exactly cheap, they’re not crazy money either, so I decided to take a punt.
I might only use them when I am travelling / in someone else’s office (I can’t see them replacing my normal dual 28" 4K external screens), but worth a try.
This is a very initial set of notes
They arrived earlier today. I am writing this using the glasses, as I experiment a bit with them. So this is not a long term review, but rather my initial impressions based over use for 1.5ish hours.
So far, so good. They “just worked”, plug-and-play, with my ThinkPad, running Debian 12, with GNOME.
Are they useful? I’ll need to test them over a much longer period of time.
Linux (Debian / GNOME) was plug-and-play
I took the glasses out of the box, plugged them into a USB-C port on my ThinkPad (running Debian 12, with GNOME), and they immediately worked as an external monitor.
No configuration or set-up at all. It just appeared in GNOME’s settings as “Nreal 5"”.
Of course, this is exactly how they should behave, being a USB-C monitor in a fancy case, but theory and practice are not always the same.
(As an aside, I plugged them into my phone, a Pixel 6 running GrapheneOS, and nothing happened.)
How they look
Well, you judge:
They’re not quite normal glasses, and you’ve got a cable coming out of the back of your left ear but… they’re not dreadful?
I can cope with that - I’m not a fashion icon at the best of times - but if you are at all conscious about how you look, I doubt that these are for you (outside your home, at least).
There are no LEDs, and no camera, but I wouldn’t rule out someone taking exception to them, as some did to Google Glass.
How they feel on my face
I don’t wear glasses normally, but I do wear sunglasses, and these don’t feel massively different to that.
They certainly don’t feel uncomfortable.
I’ve stuck with the default - medium - nose pad for now, but I expect I’ll need to change them (or at least try) for the larger ones. My initial attempt to change them failed; I couldn’t work out how to remove them, and I didn’t want to break anything within minutes of opening the box.
The cable coming out of the left arm hasn’t been a nuisance so far.
How they feel more generally
In a more how-do-they-feel-to-me sense, well… wow. I am blown away. Here I am, typing this, on a virtual display in my eye line, wearing a pair of glasses.
This is as close to SciFi nerd as I suspect I am ever going to get, unless someone builds a hover board which actually hovers.
I am really rather impressed with these, although I stress that this is very early days when it comes to testing them.
It is worth noting that thank goodness that I can touch type. If I had to look at the keyboard, these would be unusable from a text entry point of view, or at least far less convenient.
Wearing them for a prolonged period of time
This will need more testing than I’ve given them so far.
But, so far - 1.5 hours - no headache or feeling of eye strain.
When I plugged them in, GNOME was using 200% zoom.
In combination with the low (1920x1080) resolution, this didn’t work well for me - just too little text on the screen.
But with zoom set to 100%, they are much more usable.
I am used to working with two large-ish 4K monitors and, obviously, they are a definite step down.
If the glasses were 4K? Now that would be interesting… I’d definitely give it a try.
Working with text
Text is slightly blurred at the edges of the screen / my eyeline, but in the middle, it is fine: clear and crisp.
It’s still a small virtual display - you don’t get much of a LibreOffice Writer document, or Thunderbird’s main screen on the screen at one time - but it is usable.
Text is my main - sole - use case for these, so I’ll be giving them a proper work-out in due course.
I can’t see a reason why I’d use these over my bigger, higher resolution, external displays when I’m in my office, but for when I am on a train, or travelling, and possibly just when in someone else’s office, I can see myself using them.
The glasses have variable brightness for the internal monitors, controlled by a button on the right arm.
So far, I’ve been using them on the lowest or second lowest brightness. More than that, and they are just too bright for my eyes.
But then I prefer “dark mode” anyway.
Variable “see through” / tint levels
The distinguishing feature of the “Pro” model - an extra £50 - is the ability to control how see-through the glasses are. This is, apparently, the “tint” level.
There are three levels, toggled by a button on the right arm.
The darkest of these modes is pretty dark, but not absolutely dark. If you want that, it would be better just to put on the cover which comes with the glasses.
I will need to experiment with this but, so far, I quite like the lightest setting, so I can see what is going on around me. In this mode, I can just about use the virtual screen and also the screen on my laptop, by looking down. It’s not ideal, but it does work.
I can just about see through the virtual screen, but not enough to read (a book or a monitor) or watch TV. But turning off the display is just a double click of the button on the right arm. (Note that this turns off the display, but it does not disconnect it - to the laptop, it seems like the display is still connected, so windows stay on that screen.)
I reckon that this is worth the extra £50, but not a deal breaker if that was a stretch too far.
Impact on laptop battery life
More testing needed, but obviously it does take power from the laptop, and the battery life is dropping more rapidly than when I don’t have the glasses plugged in.
I’ve also been experimenting a bit with turning off the internal laptop display, and just using the glasses. This makes sense for my intended use case - using them when I want more privacy than even a privacy shield on my laptop screen provides - and should help with any battery life issue too.
Audio isn’t something that interests me too much, beyond “does it work”. And it does work: the glasses appeared as an output in GNOME, without me needing to do anything.
It seems fine.
On a low volume, it seemed audible only to me (in quiet surroundings); more than that, and it would be audible to others. On a train or the like, I suspect I’d be fine to turn it up a bit louder.
I tried a bit of Internet radio (seemed fine, perhaps less bass heavy than my normal headphones) and a video call with Sandra (her voice was fine).
I have not found a way of adjusting the volume through the glasses themselves.
But I’m not an audiophile, and beyond “it works fine”, I can’t really offer anything.
The optional “Beam” accessory
I bought the optional “Beam” accessory.
I am not 100% sure if I need it or not, and I have not yet tested it.
They could have been packaged better
The only minor gripe I have, so far, is around the packaging.
It arrived in one piece. In a Jiffy (padded) envelope, which had split. I’d have preferred that a £550 electrical device had been better packed but, as I say, I did arrive in one piece.