Recently I was sent over a package with the Nreal Air, so I've spent a fair bit of time testing out these AR glasses with the Steam Deck to see what all the fuss is about.
To say they've blown my mind would be quite the understatement. It's really a case of seeing is believing, and no amount of photos or videos can really do such a thing enough justice. But before all that, what exactly are they? Well, they're glasses that have screens built into them, to give you a truly personal full cinema experience. You can hook them up to many things like the Steam Deck, and various consoles (with an adapter).
When it comes to using them with the Steam Deck, it's quite literally plug and play. You plug a cable into the end of one of the temples that goes behind your ear, then the other end into the Steam Deck and away you go. There's simply no fussing involved. After that, put them on and you'll get a huge screen right in front of your eyes.
Originally I didn't think I would ever get to test these. I saw a few others across Twitter had them, so I posted about it and eventually some PR / marketing team emailed me about it. Problem is this first team wanted a paid review, asking for my "rates". After clearly telling them I don't do that, they never replied again. A short moan on Twitter later, and a completely different team that works with Nreal reached out and straight-up offered a pair with no strings attached. Exactly the way I like to cover anything, and the only way I like doing it, so there’s nothing holding me back or really influencing my thoughts.
- 148mm x 52mm x 159mm (opened).
- 148mm x 52mm x 60mm (folded).
- 3-Position adjustment for optimal gaze angle.
- Head width from 120-186mm.
I'm no stranger to having something strapped to my face. I have a Valve Index, and I love it. Playing Half-Life: Alyx is an experience I'll never forget and absolutely one of my favourite gaming experiences — ever. However, this is quite a different beast. You're not inside the games like with VR, as with AR glasses it's more about giving you a massive flat screen that follows you around as you move your head so it's always in focus and following you.
Nreal have managed something quite extraordinary here. Not only are they reasonably stylish with quite a low profile, as they're actually quite small, they're surprisingly light too. Someone looking at you across a table probably can't even tell there's anything special about them. Which is good, I was worried they might look a bit ridiculous on, but to my surprise they look pretty nice actually.
A bit heavier than any normal glasses or sunglasses though. After a few minutes of wearing them, the feeling of them sort-of fades away as you get engrossed into your game. It certainly helps that the speaker quality is actually very good and impressively clear too.
Fitting different face and nose shapes is simple enough. The glasses come with three sets of nose rests, each of them being able to squish down onto your nose nicely. The ear rests also have a certain amount of outwards flexibility too, so if you've got a bit of a bigger face, they should still place nicely. The ear rests can also be vertically angled across three points too, to hopefully sit properly depending on where you ears are positioned. Lots of little touches that add up.
Since they're AR glasses, you can see through them and see your surroundings. At times it can be a little disorientating perhaps, but they also give you a cover to stick on the front for when you want a truly fully immersive experience with no pass-through to get 100% from it. As long as you're not constantly moving your head around it's fine, and you do get used to the feeling of it quite quickly. I can't tell you the immense joy I got from laying in bed, staring up at the ceiling with the Nreal Air on playing Brotato and various other games on the Steam Deck. I probably looked pretty ridiculous, smiling and laughing away at just how completely nerdy it was but it really sold me on it.
Below you can see a shot (click it to enlarge) of the lense, which is very tricky to get a good capture of. On the left is with the cover on, on the right has no cover for pass-through to see your surroundings.
For a clearer idea of the level of pass through to expect, the shot below is without the cover on with the device on max brightness with plenty of stuff in the background. This is in a very brightly lit office room too, with multiple light sources, and even there without the cover the picture quality is indeed very impressive. Click below to enlarge it, warning: big file.
For me, being able to rest my wrists a little more while playing with the Steam Deck has been great, as using the Nreal Air meant I could sit in pretty much any position I wanted, as long as I had a good grip on the controls on the Deck nothing else mattered. It enabled maximum comfort.
Much like my time with the Valve Index, the Nreal Air has made me rethink what gaming can be, where and how you can do it. There's just something a little bit more special about having your games so up close and intense like this, it really brings a different level of immersion. I found myself getting lost with it, spending far too much time with it when I absolutely should have been productive doing other things. It's bad for your free time.
There are some issues with it though. It's not perfection but close.
Firstly, if you wear glasses, you'll need to arrange for special lenses. Nreal do provide a tiny (and flimsy) example frame, that you can take somewhere to get your actual required lenses fitted on. Then you can just insert them into the frame as they attach to the nose rest. So they have at least though of people without great vision, but it's an extra expense and a fair bit of hassle to arrange. There's no hardware adjustments for vision at all.
Pictured left to right - carrying case, lens cover, optional glasses frame insert, Nreal Air device.
Although there's no hardware adjustments you can make to the screen, at least with the Steam Deck you can tweak the scaling of the actual display thanks to the Steam Deck's own built-in options. So, if for example you have trouble reading the edges of the screen, you could scale it just a bit smaller and it can make all the difference to comfort:
Part of why the Nreal Air is so light is that it draws power from what it's connected with, it has no batteries itself. So you'll need to keep an eye on battery level of the Deck directly. Charging the Steam Deck while using the Nreal Air something of an issue and it seems they don't support it directly, and there's no official extra dongle of sorts to attach to enable it. This means you have to go third-party to do it. I've asked their team to direct me towards what you can get to help with this, but they haven't actually replied to clear this up for me. I'll update this note if I do hear back on that. However, quite a few people on their Reddit have come up with their own solutions. But if you can't arrange anything yourself, sounds like it's time to take a break and charge your Deck.
Updating firmware also seems like it's not possible on Linux yet, which is again another question their team has yet to reply on to properly clarify. I had to resort to Windows to do this, and even there it took a few attempts before it actually succeeded.
How about using them with a desktop or a laptop? That's simple enough to do! Nreal have a dedicated adapter for that. The same one you would use from them to connect up to other consoles. You plug the glasses to the adapter via the included USB-C wire, then adapter HDMI out to your PC.
With the above, you can then use it as a traditional PC screen too and with my testing on KDE Plasma on Fedora 38, even that worked out of the box without an issue. You can just tell your display settings how to use it, here's an example as an extended display with GamingOnLinux in Chrome moved over to it:
For how they actually look worn, you can check out my YouTube Short.
As my first try for anything like this, I'm sold on the idea. Overall, the Nreal Air is a thoroughly impressive device that I have genuinely had a lot of fun with. It's a very unique experience that I'm glad to have had the chance to test out. Priced at $379 / £399.99, it's not cheap though, but as long as you don't mind dealing with the issue with glasses (or you don't wear glasses), I would say it's well worth it. If you can get it that is, availability is quite limited on where to buy it and what countries you can get it in right now.
My current favourite accessory to pair up with the Steam Deck? Absolutely.