Very initial thoughts on the Xreal companion ‘Beam’ device
I bought a pair of Xreal’s “wearable display” glasses a few weeks back, and I’ve been testing them out. Here are my initial thoughts, with more detailed thoughts to follow.
I also bought the “Beam” accessory.
I wasn’t sure if it was going to be useful and, frankly, I’m still on the fence.
What “Beam” does
Beam is a companion device to the Xreal glasses.
It opens up new display modes, enables one to connect Xreal glasses to devices which don’t have a USB-C port or which don’t allow display out of USB-C, and it can act as a standalone media player itself.
When I first turned it on, it required me to connect to Wi-Fi - I couldn’t find a way of using it without doing that.
It is pretty basic, in that I couldn’t find a way to connect it to a hidden SSID, nor can it connect to a Wi-Fi network using RADIUS for authentication. So that ruled out our IoT and Guest networks. I’ve put it on a visible, normal, but untrusted (by me) network for now, but I’m not really that happy with it.
It did a sizeable (almost 1Gb) software update on launch; it might have also updated the firmware on my Xreal glasses, but I am not sure.
The additional display modes
It offers three additional display modes:
body anchor. This fixes the virtual screen in a position in the air, so if you move your head away, you can’t see the screen any more (presumably to allow you to look more easily at something else), and if you move your head back to the original position, you see the screen again. Neat, but I don’t think I have use for that.
- Update: I’ve been playing with this a bit more, with the Xreal glasses set to allow as much light through as possible. with this, it’s possible - if not ideal - to look at the laptop screen, and then look to one side to see a massive monitor, as it is not constantly in your eye line. Again, I’m not sure when I will use this, but I readily concede that this might be more useful than I first thought.
- You can also adjust the image size, meaning you can increase from 120" to 139", or decrease to 105". I can’t see the full screen without moving my head from side to side, but if you wanted a virtual screen bigger than you can see in one go, then this offers it. A trade off of size versus utility, I think. But if you want zoom at all, you’ll need route your video feed via the Beam; you can’t do this using just the glasses themselves.
smooth follow. This is the normal mode, as far as I can tell, but with slightly smoother movement? Honestly, I’m not sure.
side view. This is what I’d call “Picture in Picture” view, in that it moves the visible area to the top left corner of the glasses. Again, if you have a use for it, great.
- Update: I still don’t think it is massively useful to me, but I can just about see a situation in which you want to work primarily off your laptop’s screen, but also be able to see something in the top corner of your vision.
I’m not sure that, for me, there’s any advantage to me over just connecting the Xreal glasses without the Beam, particularly when I’m using them as I intended, as a display for my laptop.
The Beam became marginally less of a white elephant when I realised that I could sideload fdroid, an app store for Android.
This was easy - just mount the Beam as a USB device to a host, and then copy the .apk for fdroid across to it. Within the Beam itself, go to Files, and then open the .apk file. And it installs fdroid.
From fdroid, I was able to install the Jellyfin (a FOSS media server) client. Excellent.
I can now stream my home library to my Xreal glasses, without involving my phone or laptop. This works rather well, and makes for quite a pleasant viewing experience. Is this worth the money? Not in itself, but now that I have it, I can see myself using it quite regularly.
For offline use, I guess I could download stuff from Jellyfin, and install vlc to play it back.
It says it has 3.5 hours of battery life. So not amazing, but not terrible either given that it would be powering the Xreal glasses too.
So far, I’ve just used it while connected to power.
The Beam is noisier than I had expected. It appears to have an active fan in it and, after a few minutes of streaming video playback, the fan is on.
It also gets hotter than I had expected - much hotter than my phone gets while streaming video, for example.
Controlling the Beam
The Beam seems to have two ways of controlling it.
The first is what it calls a “scroll wheel”. It is reminiscent of the iPod design but it is not a scroll wheel: it’s just a clickable pad. This works well.
It also has a virtual cursor, which one controls using an accelerometer (I’m guessing) so it can tell what way up it is, and how it is being moved.
The main UI uses the “scroll wheel”.
In Jellyfin, it uses the accelerometer system. It works pretty well, provided that I remember to press the red side button (for a “long” press) after I’ve moved position. That re-centres the cursor.
The “scroll wheel” is more convenient, IMHO.
It appears that this is user-controllable, so I’ll give this a try:
Use the Air Cursor or Directional Keys based on your preferences. Adjustable in Settings -> Application Management
Update: I gave it a try, changing Jellyfin to using the “scroll wheel”. It was such a pain that I switched back to Air Cursor pretty much immediately.
Connecting other devices
Aside from my phone (which did not work) I have not tried using it to connect other devices to the Xreal glasses. My laptop - the main use case - works fine just plugging the glasses in, since it has USB-C. Perhaps if I wanted to hook up a games console, the Beam might be more useful. I don’t.
It looks like it will scratch easily, but it doesn’t fit in the case that comes with the Xreal glasses. That’s a shame.
Will it be updated?
One of my concerns, being an Android device with Wi-Fi, is for how long it will continue to get software updates and, if it stops getting software updates, will I feel comfortable continuing to use it.
Unlike, say, my phone or computer, I won’t be storing any sensitive data on it, and I don’t have it connected to a Wi-Fi network which has any devices with sensitive data, so perhaps I’m worrying about nothing.