TCL NXTWEAR S XR glasses review: A smart wearable with an emphasis on wearability

These smart goggles put a screen right in front of your face, but they're not without their shortcomings.
A look down at the lenses and screen of the TCL smart glasses
Here's a look at the backside of the lenses and screen. Eric Alt

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Part of the reason augmented reality has had difficulty gaining a foothold comes down to the whole “augmented” part of the equation. Is there a way to create unobtrusive devices that are easy to use while still delivering solid performance? Apart from holding your smartphone awkwardly in front of your face or strapping a headset the approximate size and comfort level of a microwave to your face, the options are limited. 

TCL, however, is doing its best to bring AR to more people with their NXTWEAR S XR glasses. Lightweight and designed to look more like cool (if slightly bulkier) Ray-Bans than VR headsets, the NXTWEAR S smart glasses are meant to bring the “personal screen” experience out into the real world in a more comfortable and potentially useful way.

TCL NXTWEAR S smart glasses

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Overview

  • The NXTWEAR S XR glasses feature a pair of micro-OLED FHD displays that project a 201-inch 16:9 60Hz image at 6-meter distance. With up to 400 nits of brightness, you can see clearly even outdoors. Their resolution is 1920 x 1080 in 2D mode and also 3D compatible, offering 3840 x 1080 resolution in that mode.
  • They come with three pairs of lenses, including “sunglasses” that can help improve the viewing experience in sunlight and myopia glass frames for nearsighted people. 
  • The NXTWEAR S also features fully immersive audio and adjustable volume and brightness settings. 
  • The glasses connect to smartphones, laptops, and gaming consoles via magnetic USB-C DisplayPort cable. However, most devices, such as older iPhones and Nintendo Switches, need a separate adapter. 

Pros

  • Intuitive to connect and use right out of the box
  • Lightweight (85g) and stylish design—it actually looks like something you wouldn’t mind wearing in public
  • Image and sound quality are excellent, with its 1080p projection particularly impressive

Cons

  • Although the glasses themselves are lightweight and generally pretty stylish, the device is still cumbersome, especially with the 30g cord and additional adapters required for specific devices
  • The NXTWEAR S can connect to, say, a laptop right out of the box but requires one kind of adapter for iPhones and yet another for the Nintendo Switch. The adapters, in turn, also often need to be charged, so you can run into a problem with your device and your adapter running out of steam at opposing times
  • The image quality is generally excellent, but the transparency of the image is a little distracting (especially when watching movies) and takes getting used to—it feels like a hybrid of a second screen and an AR headset but with the weaknesses of both  
  • There is a noticeable lag when playing mobile games

Verdict: There’s no doubt this is a great (if incremental) step forward for wearable second-screen/AR devices, but it’s not quite there yet. Technically impressive and “only” $349 (honestly, there are far more expensive fashion sunglasses), the NXTWEAR S XR glasses further cement TCL’s reputation for making affordable devices that don’t skimp on quality (just like their TVs). However, it’s hard to see the NXTWEAR S being a go-to device for people except in very specific cases. 

On a plane and don’t want to risk tech-neck staring at your smartphone? This is a great alternative (just be prepared for a flight attendant to casually walk through a car chase in the middle of Fast X). Are you in bed and want to watch Better Call Saul, but your partner is asleep? Again, this is great for that. But when doing, say, laptop work, it’s nice not to have the option to look up and see your desktop floating in space above your latte. And, unless you’re a supremely gifted typist, you’ll still need to look down and occasionally lift the glasses to type or move your cursor around. It’s cool but not exactly practical.  

The TCL NXTWEAR XR glasses build

TCL smart glasses in their charging case
The case charges the glasses and stores them. Eric Alt

Right out of the box, the TCL NXTWEAR S XR glasses are (pardon the expression) Apple-like in their stylish simplicity. You get a small carrying case, the magnetic USB-C cable, a separate eyeglass pad so you can adjust fit and comfort level, and Ray Ban-like sunglass overlays that attach to the front of the NXTWEAR magnetically (and with TÜV Rheinland Certified lenses, they do actually provide sun and blue light protection). 

Everything you need can be placed into the carry case, which has a nice, padded interior and a hard plastic shell, making it perfectly easy to store in a laptop bag or stuff into your airline carry-on without worrying about scratching the lenses or crushing the device. 

The TCL NXTWEAR XR glasses setup

Overall, the core device is unfussy and well-designed, with set-up generally very easy (as long as you have a compatible device handy). I was able to hook the NXTWEAR S to my MacBook immediately, and the computer was able to recognize the device and switch into “second screen” mode without my having to do anything. Again, this device is intuitive and a great step forward, but it needs to be more device-agnostic.

The TCL NXTWEAR XR glasses performance

The TCL Smart glasses box

The TCL NXTWEAR gets right to work without any complicated or annoying setup. Once plugged in, you can immediately access the second screen, which looks crisp and clear with CONTRAST > 100000:1 and sRGB 108%, among other specs. Volume and brightness adjustments can be made easily via small buttons on the right temple. I used it primarily on a MacBook and iPhone and didn’t even have to download an app to start enjoying it immediately. 

The magnetic eyepiece not only improves the look of the glasses (you go from cybernetic accountant in 2099 to Tom Cruise on an aircraft carrier in a flash), but it does help temper some of the transparency and gives you richer, more “TV”-like colors. On the negative side, the device does have some compatibility issues with apps like Amazon Prime and MoviesAnywhere. 

So, who should buy the TCL NXTWEAR S XR glasses? 

Early adopters, who love a good gadget more than they look for practicality, will find that the NXTWEAR S XR glasses offer a fantastic design that delivers on its promises—it’s just that what it promises isn’t something you’ll necessarily have to or want to integrate into your everyday life. 

It seems clear that TCL will keep iterating on this idea, and each phase will likely smooth out some of the roughness and cumbersome annoyance. At around $400, it’s an expensive novelty, but it has potential and is fun to play with in small doses (allow your eyes to re-adjust to the real world after wearing them for a bit).