TCL’s $349 Nxtwear S AR smart glasses are a big step up from the company’s $200 G model. The S projects what appears to be a 130-inch high-definition TV in your field of view, and with its companion app, it does some basic 3DOF games and 360 videos.
At 89 grams, the Nxtwear S is quite light and comfortable. With the clip-on flip-down sun shades, recommended for outdoor use, the Nxtwear S is perhaps the most attractive of similar devices from Rokid, Nreal, Oppo, and others.
The ergonomics are well thought out. There’s a roller button on the left wing for sound and a switch on the right for dimming, a nice change from the soft controls we’re used to on smartphones. The 130-inch screen is smaller than some of its competitors, but in this case, size is not everything. The smaller screen allows you to move around safely while using it. You can even wear the S while exercising.
To unlock the full potential of TCL Nxtwear S, you must download the TCL AR app from its website. Why the website and not the app stores, where there is indeed an app for TCL video monitors? The app enables spatial experiences; we demoed a game and a few 360 videos. Also, while the Nxtwear S is delightfully plug-and-play with Android devices, Apple users must buy a $99 thirteen-ounce iOs adaptor. The phone and adaptor together make quite a brick.
In AR mode, Nxtwear S does feel like a 3DOF headset, but the image still moves with your head, always in the middle of your view. You can’t anchor it and look away, or use it as a second screen. The games and 360 videos made me a little green around the gills, too, but that is likely due to the latency in my connection. The real use case here is entertainment and games, and at this the Nxtwear S excels.
We were surprised at how much heat the Nxtwear S headset generated over an hour of use. They fit well, but glasses wearers need to order custom optics from the official partner, Lensology. This will cost more than the AR glasses. Also, instead of using USB-C to connect the glasses to a device like your smartphone, the Nxtwear S cable has a custom magnetic connection. It’s more secure than most USB-C connections, but if you lose the cable, you will need to get a replacement from the company.
Bottom line: TCL’s line of products is clearly improving, but the Nxtwear S still feels like an early effort. Despite low cost, lightweight, pleasing looks, and comfort, you’d have to be a real first adopter to take these for a spin.
Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.