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Xreal Air 2 and Beam review

 Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.

There's always going to be something special about tech that makes me feel like I'm in the future. Sure, lightweight mice and ultra-thin monitors can be pretty mind blowing, but they don't splatter my brains quite as far as some of the wilder gizmos out there. Like Xreal's wearable Air 2 glasses and Beam device, which  gives you a private screen right in front of your face. Yet the long term inconsistencies in the product can turn this from exciting explosions to frustrating ones pretty quickly.

It's important to note one thing very quickly, and that is these don't really look like glasses on your face. Xreal's marketing has chosen some pretty choice angles for their promo photos which hides the reality of these specs. They sit fairly far off your face, and look bulky in a way that immediately makes it very obvious you aren't just wearing normal glasses. Plus, there's the cable going from the left glasses leg to your Beam or device. If you're looking for an incognito experience, these are far from it.

They are however, still a fairly big step up from VR headsets. You can see around them easily, and you can wear them without the lens caps to get a somewhat transparent screen. I was far more comfortable wearing these in public environments like on planes and public transport because I didn't feel closed off from the outside world and could still have excellent awareness of my surroundings. And, given theses aren't super common, while no one in their right mind thought I was just wearing normal glasses they still didn't know exactly what I was doing, which was kinda fun in itself.

In more pleasant surprises, the image in these things is great. You can get a nice clear picture once you're comfortable, and the eye fatigue is fairly limited. I had a few friends try, all with differing degrees of vision, and most found them surprisingly comfortable and effective. You get less latency and higher frame rates just going through the glasses if your device is suitable, but the proximity and 72 Hz refresh rate through the Beam means it's not going to be the same as an A grade monitor for your twitchy FPS needs.  It's comfortable and enjoyable for both gaming and video, anyways.

Xreal Air 2 specs

Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.

Connection: USB Type-C (DisplayPort)
Field of view: 46-degree
Size: 148 × 51.4 × 161mm
Price: $399/£399

For those of us with prescription glasses, you may need to buy add-on lenses which clip onto the nose piece. My script is quite high so I couldn't make out much through the glasses without them, but it was crystal clear once I had some in place. This set up took me a bit of getting used to with some mild irritation in early uses, but the more I wore the Xreal Air 2s, the longer I could wear them in comfort until they basically didn't bother me anymore.

With just the glasses stand alone you're a bit limited in your applications, they work with some phones and devices but not all. If you're wanting to use them with something like your PC or Switch, that's where the Beam device comes in. It's a palm sized device with 32GB of storage to download TV shows, and runs Android for some basic apps like Netflix. On the bottom are two USB ports, one to connect to the glasses and the other to charge or connect your output device. It also acts as a controller, and has a large vent to expel heat on one side—which is important because it can get quite warm.

I used this to happily play my PC games at home until the Beam ran out of battery. It was a solid amount of play, but I couldn't get it to charge back up. I emailed Xreal regarding the problem and they said it has been known to happen and they'd send me a new charger that should fix it. This still hasn't happened despite a chase up, but I found a laptop style USB C charger that managed to get the Beam back to life again. Though the experience does make me worry for customers potentially seeking help with their paid for products.

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Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.

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Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a glass table.

Part of the reason I decided to try my own resolution here was because I had a long flight planned and knew it would be the perfect real world test for the Xreal Air 2 glasses and Beam. In my incredibly economy seats I felt smug getting my glasses and switch ready to see how much of the 15 hours they might get me through. It took a while to get them set up, even though I'd previously used the Switch with the Xreals before, they just weren't recognising each other. Many plugs and unplugs later and I was happily playing Pokemon in the most comfortable position I ever have on a plane thanks to the Beam's additional screen positioning options. I remember thinking to myself that these were a no brainer purchase for folks who fly a lot. After a two and a bit hours they promptly shut off with no warning and I continued to play my switch for an extra hour or so in pleb mode with a sore neck.

I gave everything a full charge before my next flight, and on turning my Beam back on it had factory reset. It demanded Wi-fi to move through setup with no options if I couldn't or didn't want to connect. I connected to the plane's Wi-fi and even though it had no internet this appeared to appease my Beam. It then factory reset itself a few more times just going through the same process until remained stable long enough to actually use. It took some more fiddling to get it set up once more but the resets appeared to have eaten much of the battery so I didn't get much playtime at all.

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Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.

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Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.
Xreal Air 2 glasses on a desk.

In theory I could still use the glasses with a compatible device while on the plane but even that has been hit and miss. For Android phones you have to download the Nebula app which tells me my phone isn't compatible despite being in the list of accepted devices. I can see it being very cool with something like the supposedly compatible ROG Ally, but I wouldn't bank on it working, especially not every time.

Buy if...

✅ You're a frequent flyer: For an hour, at least, you'll be able to get away into your own world with the Air 2.

Don't buy if...

❌ You don't want to mess around: The Air 2 can be a fiddly device to get operating as intended, even once it's been set-up once.

❌ You don't want anything more than glasses on your head: These may look like glasses but they are very clearly a lot more. They're not entirely subtle.

In my over 40 hours of flight time I think I managed to get maybe three or four hours of actual use out of the Xreal Air 2 glasses and Beam device. While it was really cool when it was working getting it there was an exercise in patience that many may not have in long haul economy. Plus nothing looks lamer than taking out these sci-fi glasses on a plane and then proceeding to hopelessly fiddle with them for the majority of the flight.

The Xreal Air 2 glasses and Beam kit do feel very cool when they're working correctly, and are a super neat gizmo to take out and wow friends and relatives with. Unfortunately they feel a lot like first generation tech with plenty of bugs and hiccups to be worked out. There's a good chance these will let you down when you're most looking forward to using them, or just be too frustrating to be worth working with in the first place. A few steps away from where they'd need to be to recommend as a worthwhile purchase.

While the Xreal Air 2 glasses have already been superseded by the Pro, which I've yet to try, they don't feel like the real problem here. The Beam feels like it's desperately waiting for a version 2 or one helluva software update before it's worth dropping the extra $100 over the glasses, which cost $399/£399 on their own. When it comes to these AR glasses, the vision is clear but the execution is still a little off.