“Normal-looking glasses” are the holy grail of augmented reality. Big tech companies like Google and Intel are joining startups like North and social media giants like Snap in trying to design something people can wear without feeling totally weird and, most importantly, without bothering the people around them. After almost a decade of concerted effort, no one has been able to crack the code – but Chinese phone maker Oppo is at least having fun with the challenge.

Earlier this year, Oppo introduced Air Glass, a glasses-based head-up display for the company’s smartphones. Oppo doesn’t plan to make the Air Glass available outside of China, and it’s only sold in “limited quantities” where Oppo plans to replace it with the next-gen version. It’s quite expensive at 4,999 yuan (about $745), and like almost all consumer-oriented AR devices, it’s more of a demo than a product.

But while many AR experiences focus on pure technical possibilities, Air Glass acknowledges some clear hardware limitations in order to play with an interesting form factor. After getting a set of glasses and a matching phone to try out, I found the design idea so obvious I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more often, executed with a rawness that clearly shows how much work remains.

A pair of AR glasses with a holographic square in the middle.

Oppo’s waveguide projects any LED color you want as long as it’s green.
Photo: Adi Robertson / The Verge

AR is a spectrum, and Air Glass falls on the “simple notification machine” side of it, rather than the actual holograms you’d find in products like Microsoft HoloLens. The device is a single lens equipped with a monochrome Micro LED projector and a waveguide that projects its light, plus a plastic handle with a small speaker and a trackpad that accepts swipes, taps, and presses.

The air glass offers a two-piece design, rather than being permanently enclosed in a single goggle. The system pictured above has a shallow magnetic divot in the middle of the handle, reminiscent of Apple’s MagSafe port. To use it, you wear a pair of specially designed metal eyeglass frames with matching magnetic slots on the temple. The frames are regular glasses, but fit the lens system right side up and you have a monocular AR display It looks like Google Glass. When you’re done using the AR component, you use that magnetic divot to attach it to the curved charging case. shoe hornwhich in turn charges over USB-C.

When you pair the Air Glass over Bluetooth (again only in China) with an Oppo phone, you’ll get a green head-up display that covers a small but significant portion of your vision – for me, the size of my palm kept my foot away from my right eye. The virtual overlay looks like something a cyborg assassin would use in the dystopian future of 1995, but mostly in a good way: it’s high-contrast, looks reasonable in anything but bright sunlight, and avoids feeling like a washed-out phone screen. some full-color AR displays do. I kept the watch display on for about three hours without running out of battery, and the charging case is supposed to hold a charge for about 10 hours, though I never fully charged it and drained it all at once.

I love the theory behind Oppo’s design, as it’s a powerful tactic to offer multiple style options while reducing the perennial AR creep factor. Nine years ago, Google Glass put an expensive camera and projection system in front of the user at all times, which felt awkward at best and arrogantly invasive at worst—remember those. bars without glass In San Francisco? Wearing them made you not only a person with an electronic device, but also a person Google Glass usertake advantage of a more polite version of the duration. founded companies such as North more subtle glasses since then, but they’re still based on the idea of ​​having electronics on your face full-time.

A set of Oppo AR glasses broke from their frames

The lens detaches from the frame, as does the MagSafe charger.

Side view of Oppo AR glasses

A metal rod in the frames holds the lens in place.

Air Glass, on the other hand, is more like a headset for your eyes. The low-tech magnetic tips blend right into the frames, and they can easily be added to a variety of styles. The magnetic hold between the 30-gram lens mount and frame is pretty solid, but it’s a breeze to remove the AR part and stick it into the case, even if you wear full-time prescription glasses. hidden screen stuck in your face. It’s a solution that takes people’s privacy and distraction concerns seriously, rather than trying to hide what they’re worried about inside a smaller package. It also helps that this generation of Air Glass doesn’t have a camera, although Oppo says it hasn’t ruled out the option for future versions.

Oppo’s AR interface focuses on simple widget-like apps in the form of “cards” that you control from a companion smartphone app. “Unlocking” a card activates it in the glasses, and you can swipe between cards with the side trackpad or turn the glasses’ screen on and off by touching it. You can also long press the glasses for voice commands or use gestures with the Oppo smartwatch, which I don’t have.

At their simplest, cards display information such as time or weather. More sophisticated cards open turn-by-turn walking directions using Baidu Maps, display near-real-time language translation, or load text files to create an AR teleprompter. Because the teleprompter effectively displays any text you want, you can use it more creatively — I made dinner one night by typing a recipe into a Word document and using the glasses as a silent screen.

Oppo Air Glass trackpad side view

The trackpad switches between cards and changes the screen.

It’s a good feature set that’s highly intuitively executed, but the average experience is still very rough — and for anyone who doesn’t speak Chinese, it’s just barely usable. The turn-by-turn navigation tools and voice commands aren’t implemented in English, so I navigated through them with the help of Google Translate and my half-forgotten college language classes. (Both seemed functional, but cumbersome, to my very limited capabilities.)

Automatic translation is limited to English and Chinese and is not that flawless, e.g. those steamer glasses Google asked us to imagine May. You can have one person speak in one language on the paired phone and see it translated into text in the second language on the glasses, then have the person wearing the glasses speak and the results can be translated to text on the phone in the same way. There is also an option for two sets of glasses, but I didn’t get to try it.

When speaking to myself in both languages ​​using the translation system, the phone side tended to recognize what I was saying or time out after pressing a button. It took a few seconds to translate and then translate even short messages from my native English or very rusty Mandarin – not an issue unique to the Oppo, but a reminder that real-time translation still has real-world limitations.

Also, the fact that Oppo’s non-AR bezels are pretty normal (although glassless to me made me look like an insufferable hipster wearing them in public) doesn’t make the overall package any less ridiculous. The lens-on-lens design of the glasses looks uniquely silly, especially since the frame and waveguide are completely different shapes, even though Oppo designed them to work together. From special angles, the glasses will show everything on your screen bright and clear to the outside world, adding to their retro-fantasy vibe. The design is heavier than wearing a pair of large sunglasses, but it tilts to one side – not enough to bother me as a user, but just enough to be noticeable from the outside. It’s intuitive to imagine eyeglass designers building magnetic bars to fit different styles of frames, but it’s unclear whether the lens will perform equally well in different shapes and sizes.

And worst of all, I had persistent, albeit minor, comfort issues with the optics. During the first few hours of wearing the glasses, I felt a bit motionless and a few minutes after wearing them I got a headache. The discomfort has gotten better over time, but my eyes still strain after wearing them.

Oppo Air Glass on charger

The charging case connects via USB-C.

Inside view of Oppo glasses on charger

It is not clear why the case does not cover the lens.

I asked Oppo about the problem, and spokesperson Krithika Bollamma pointed out that monocular displays like Air Glass and Google Glass can cause headaches for some buyers. Over email, AR optics expert and KGonTech writer Carl Guttag agreed that a single lens with a focal length effectively focused to infinity could be the culprit. “There can be a conflict between one eye focused on infinity and the other focused on the real world,” Guttaq said, suggesting that I could confirm this by trying to focus my other eye into the distance.

This is consistent with my informal experience, where doing close range tasks like cooking or looking at a monitor causes motion sickness while walking in alternating directions. (On the other hand, I’ve used Google Glass in similar ways without any discomfort.) Guttag also suggested that the flickering of the Micro LED could cause sickness for some people, though he thought the problem with the HoloLens 2 was more likely. , said I would see. also something that has not been a problem in the past.

Front view of Oppo Air Glass

Frames look normal. The monocle in the frames…not quite.

I’m not sure how widespread my reaction is; my husband wore the Air Glass eye patch for about 15 minutes, long enough to give me a headache, without incident. I’m not sure what’s causing this as I’m fine with headphones of comparable design. But that’s just one example of the complications AR hardware adds to computing and what’s holding AR back — the risk of physical pain is a deal breaker for many tech consumers.

Oppo envisions Air Glass as one of the possible head-mounted devices that people can buy. does not repeat all the features of something like Nreal’s consumer smart glassesit allows you to watch streaming videos and even Play Steam games. Future versions are expected to get support for more colors, but the goal is not an all-in-one computing package. It’s more like the glasses equivalent of a smartwatch.

But even with all those caveats, including the fact that I’ll never see one for sale in America, using the Air Glass is a strangely beautiful experience.. It’s a form factor that top players like Apple and Meta haven’t really looked into, which are some of my biggest concerns about AR as a platform. While the entire field of consumer eyewear is a vast experience, there’s plenty of room to get weird.

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