TCL NxtWear S
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They had been presented at CES 2022 and tried out at IFA the same year, but we had to wait until the beginning of 2023 to be able to put our hands (and our eyes) on TCL’s NxtWear outside of a living room. At CES 2023, the Chinese company finally announced that its pair of glasses would go on sale on the market in a less exclusive way than the previous models. The opportunity for us to ask the brand to send us a test model for a grip.
Neither AR (augmented reality) glasses, nor VR (virtual reality) glasses, nor connected glasses, TCL’s NxtWear S are a bit apart on the “future” glasses market. Indeed, this is a product that replaces a screen, promising a display equivalent to a 130-inch slab when one is 4 m away. On the program, a Full HD definition (1920 x 1080 pixels) with a 16: 9 ratio, all carried by two micro-Oled screens. At TCL, we call it XR glasses, for “extended reality“, or extended reality.
Aesthetically, they are very similar to real glasses, at least in appearance. But once on the nose, it’s a whole different matter. They weigh 82 g, which is not that heavy, fortunately. In the branches are housed four speakers as well as two control wheels. One is used to adjust the volume, the other to manage the brightness of the screen.
For operation, nothing could be simpler. Only a proprietary cable (USB-C to magnetic connectors) is required. The glasses do not include a battery, it is the device to which they are connected that is responsible for powering them. The constraint constituted by the integration of an accumulator is therefore avoided, while losing autonomous operation. The connection is plug & play if the NxtWear is connected to a device with a USB-C DisplayPort port. The vast majority of high-end Android smartphones have one, as do some tablets, MacBooks, PCs or even the Steam Deck. For the others, such as the PS5, the Nintendo Switch or the iPhone, you will have to go through a dedicated adapter. A list of compatible devices is provided by TCL here.
Glasses owners will be delighted to know that TCL has thought of them. With the pair of NxtWear S are provided lenses that are positioned using a magnet, and that it is possible to barter against glasses adapted to your sight at an optician. For our test, we weren’t able to go that far in customization. Which means that your blurred-sighted servant had to override this constraint. But we must recognize that despite this, the experience was more than pleasant, if not completely clear.
An overall enjoyable viewing experience
Honestly, it’s quite difficult to transcribe the experience provided by the NxtWear S, just as it can be with a virtual reality headset. This is typically the kind of product you have to try to get an idea. The choice of micro-Oled technology for the screens ensures that the content is correctly transcribed. In game, nothing to complain about, as long as you don’t play a too narrative title.
Unfortunately (and this is one of the main flaws of the glasses), the text is not sufficiently legible when the contents come from the Steam Deck or from a computer. Only the smartphone experience proved to be more pleasant at this level, because the fonts are natively larger. For watching videos, the glasses are more than pleasant. At times, you could even imagine yourself in front of a television, provided you are in the dark. The colors stand out well and that’s ultimately the most important thing. So much so that you could almost forget that the peripheral vision is not as good as expected.
However, there are a few setbacks due to the design of the device. The glasses being concave on their lower part, the screen often does not appear entirely and is found slightly cut. A “quirk” which is more or less noticeable depending on the support on which the glasses are connected. A more noticeable problem on a computer than on a portable console; and once noticed, hard to ignore. Again, this is a peripheral vision issue. The NxtWear S not being completely glued to the face, the eye and the gaze are often directed downwards. A little visual gymnastics is in order to get used to the feeling. Wearers of virtual reality headsets should do a little better at this level, accustomed to having a screen in their field of vision.
Exactly, let’s talk about this screen. As mentioned above, TCL announces the equivalent of 130 inches at 4 m. If the diagonal is good, the distance is a little less so: it may seem a little too far in the field of vision. At the first launch, we were quickly confused by the display distance, which could be confirmed by all the other editorial staff who tested the product. Without having tried it, it is impossible to realize what this display distance can represent. Again, it will take a bit of time to get fully up to speed, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a feast for the eyes, especially when viewing content. It should be noted that the glasses can handle 2D as well as 3D. The few demo videos we watched in 3D gave us a real sense of depth. It remains to be seen what this gives concretely over time, with a film for example.
A product far from perfect
But behind this experience hides a product that is not yet perfect. The NxtWear S are TCL’s third try in the world of glasses of this kind, and it shows. Some points can still be improved to provide the best possible experience. We can start with the one and only cable needed to connect to the devices. If the latter is practical, it is however much too short. For a handheld phone or console, that’ll do the trick, but if you want to connect the glasses to a console, it’s a bit trickier. Even on a computer, it can sometimes miss a few centimeters for optimal comfort.
Note also something that might put off some, beyond its futuristic design. By design, TCL’s pair of glasses touch the face at the forehead, just above the eyebrows. It is in this space that the projectors are housed which allow you to send the image and, inevitably, it heats up a little. Nothing serious, don’t worry, but it deserves to be mentioned since over a long period of use, this heat could end up annoying. We wore the NxtWear non-stop for 1h 30min, and the heating was not a problem. But it could be different after a long movie, several episodes of a series or a long gaming session, for example.
The pads (those pieces of plastic that rest on your nose) are quite firm and rather tight. This was the case on our test model and, unfortunately, it was impossible to adjust them. After a while, you feel the weight of the NxtWear and it’s a little painful. So remember to adjust this part if you ever acquire the glasses. TCL has foreseen this and is offering some kind of card for these purposes.
Another regret, we said above, 4 m is a significant display distance and we would have liked to be able to modify it, while reducing (or not) the “size” of the screen. A setting that would allow you to see the periphery better, especially when it comes to text.
A compelling experience
Unlike other connected glasses that we have had on our noses, TCL’s NxtWear S are convincing for regular use. Despite the few flaws inherent in this kind of technology, still young, the experience was very pleasant. The “wow” factor they generate can also be taken into account. The glasses catch the eye and the curious want to try it. It’s a good thing, because it’s really the kind of product you have to wear to understand the uses it allows. Paradoxically, the glasses offer the closest experience to a nomadic VR headset, and that is perhaps why we let ourselves be convinced. The opportunities for use are already there and others are just waiting to be developed. There is no doubt that 2023 and the years to come will be able to further showcase this type of device. For our part, we hope that over time, this type of device will look even more like real glasses, with the finesse that suits them.
To the most curious who would like to test TCL glasses: know that the NxtWear S should be available very soon, since the company announces a release in the first quarter of this year. For the price, you will have to pay 499 €. The price to pay for having a screen within sight.