In case you haven't been watching, the smart glasses market is shaking up this summer. Google already bought North Focals, giving way to the potential for greater distribution and investment in augmented reality (AR) smart glasses. Today, we’re seeing more tangible proof of smart glasses getting another shot at mainstream audiences, as Nreal Light has hit retail availability.
But there a bunch of catches, so don’t go stomping out your stupid prescription specs yet. Nreal Light, which are mixed reality glasses (you can manipulate the AR features by tethering a smartphone, which becomes a 3-degrees of freedom controller) leveraging Nreal’s Nebula UI, are being sold through a partnership with LG UPlus. That limits them to the South Korean market. An Nreal spokesperson told Tom’s Hardware that the glasses will hit the U.S. “before the end of the year in partnerships with carriers.”
On top of that, you need to have a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 with a 5G connection. That’s going to limit the audience significantly. Although, those who’d spend $1,000 on a 5G phone may include the types of people interested in MR glasses.
In a statement, Song Dae-won, EVP of LG Uplus's Future Device Unit, offered reasoning for the pairing:
“We wanted to lower the barrier to the AR glass market with a realistic price and lightweight design. If 5G services were focused on entertainment, this U+ Real Glass (Nreal Light) will provide a rich experience that will change your daily life. Through this, we hope that the popularization of AR will be in full swing and will be further activated in the 5G industry.”
Of course, price is also another obstacle. The Nreal Light will cost enthusiasts 349,000 KRW (USD $295) on top of the cost of the smartphone and an LG Uplus 5G data plan.
However, as of August 21 the AR glasses will also be available in retail stores. But the specs will still only be compatible with Note 20 and LG Velvet smartphones. The glasses don’t need 5G to function; however, Nreal plans on announcing more compatible 5G smartphones in South Korea, as well as other markets.
Nreal Light promises compatibility with mainstream apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Google Chrome and WeChat. The glasses vendor says there are hundreds of apps available and native Android apps don’t need to be redeveloped. Nreal’s Nebula technology turns these 2D apps into 3D experiences.
According to Nreal’s announcement today, you can bring “dozens'' of screens into your field of view (FOV). That means you could watch Netflix while browsing the web, for example. And with the clarity I’ve experienced when testing the glasses over the past two years, partially due to their 1,000 nits brightness, that doesn’t sound too far-fetched.
Additionally, LGPlus plans on bringing additional apps that are exclusive to the glasses, namely U+AR and U+VR.
Nreal Light Specs
Nreal Light has been in development for two years. We first spotted them at CES 2019. The next year, we saw them with a new UI -- one so advanced, in fact, that it made that of North’s Focals look like child’s play. With 3D tracking via two SLAM tracking cameras on the outer edge of each lens, I enjoyed games, shopping, videos and photos that filled my view. I could also rearrange windows, using a connected phone as a trackpad, and share screenshots of my MR world, with help from an RGB camera.
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|Resolution||1080p per eye|
|Brightness||Up to 1,000 nits|
|Operating System||Android OS|
|Field of View||52 degrees|
|Degrees of Freedom (DoF)||6DoF|
|Weight||3.1 ounces (88g)|
Nreal compares using the MR glasses to viewing a 100-inch micro-OLED screen. We wouldn’t go so far to call out the pristine contrast and image quality of anything OLED-related. However, in my demos with the Nreal Light, image quality had a crispness that knocked the Focals out of the park and even rivaled the impressive image quality of the 480 x 853 resolution Vuzix Blade.
Nreal Light Accessories
The smart glasses are also being bundled with “several” accessories, according to Nreal’s announcements. That includes a “corrective lens frame that accommodates near-sighted users.”
However, the ability to offer subscription lenses, like the Vuzix Blade has and North Focals had, isn’t yet ready.
“Currently we recommend all of our customers to take the prescription lens frames to their local optometrist for fitting the Nreal Light frame, but whether it is offered by Nreal will depend on the markets,” an Nreal spokesperson said. “In South Korea due to the local regulations, customers are required to have them fitted by an optometrist. However in other markets we're looking to potentially fit the glasses for our customers.
They’re also throwing in dark lenses (above) that’ll block your view of everything except for the Nreal Light’s UI.
A Real Future for Nreal?
Light’s UI is one of the most consumer-friendly I’ve seen in XR.
But the glasses’ polarizing looks and current dependence on 5G smartphones are clear obstacles.
And with early adopters of Focals now owning just regular glasses, we couldn't blame consumers for being cautious about investing in expensive AR goggles.