Oppo’s Air Glass is an AR experiment with a great idea

“Normal Looking Glasses” is the holy grail of augmented reality. Major tech companies like Google and Intel have joined startups like North and social media giants like Snap in an attempt to design something that people can wear without feeling completely awkward on their eyes and more importantly, That’s without making the people around you uncomfortable. No one has cracked this code after nearly a decade of concerted effort – but Chinese phone maker Oppo is at least having some fun with the challenge.

Earlier this year, Oppo launched Air Glass, a glass-based heads-up display for the company’s smartphones. Oppo has no plans to launch the Air Glass outside China, and it only sells in “limited quantities”, where Oppo is already planning to replace it with a next-gen variant. It’s pretty expensive at 4,999 yuan (around $745), and like almost all consumer-oriented AR devices, it’s still more of a demo than a product.

But where many AR experiments focus on pursuing pure technological capability, the Air Glass accepts some obvious hardware limitations with an interesting form factor to play with. After getting a set of specs and a compatible phone to try on, I’ve found a design idea so obvious that I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more often, executed with a roughness that makes clear That’s how much work is left.

Oppo’s Waveguide projects any LED color, as long as it’s green.
Photo by Adi Robertson/The Verge

AR is a spectrum, and Air Glass falls on the “simple notification machine” side of it, not the realistic hologram you’ll find in products like the Microsoft HoloLens. The device is a single lens equipped with a monochrome Micro LED projector and a waveguide that projects its light, along with a plastic stalk with a small speaker and a trackpad that accepts swipes, taps and presses.

But instead of being permanently built into a pair of glasses, Air Glass offers a two-piece design. The system described above has a shallow magnetic split that looks like an Apple MagSafe port in the middle of the stalk. To use it, you put on a pair of custom-designed metal eyeglass frames, which have a matching magnetic center on the temple. The frames are simple glasses but the lenses fit the system on the right, and you’ve got a monocular AR display similar to Google Glass. When you’re using the AR component, you use that magnetic divot to snap against a curved charging case that looks like a little shoe horn, which in turn charges over USB-C.

When you pair the Air Glass over Bluetooth (again, for China only) with an Oppo phone, you’ll get a green heads-up display that covers a small but important part of your vision – for me , was about the size of my palm, a foot away from my right eye. The virtual overlay looks like something Cyborg Assassin would use in the dystopian future of 1995, but in a mostly good way: It’s high-contrast, reasonably visible in everything but bright sunlight, and features a washed-out phone screen. Avoids feeling like few full-color AR displays do. I kept the Clock Display lit continuously for about three hours without draining the battery, and the charging case is supposed to charge for close to 10 hours, though I never managed to fully charge it and then turn it on once. finished in

I like the theory behind Oppo’s design because it’s a strong strategy to offer plenty of styling options, while also reducing the perennial AR creep factor. Nine years ago, Google Glass put an expensive camera and projection system in front of the wearer’s eyes at all times, something that sounded weird at best and downright offensive at worst — those no-glass bars in San Francisco. Remember? Wearing them not only made you a person who had an electronic device, but a google glass wearer, to use a more polite version of the word. Companies like North have since created more subtle glasses, but they’re still based on the idea of ​​keeping electronics on your face the whole time.

A set of Oppo AR glasses broke his frame

The lens slides off the frame like a MagSafe charger.

A side view of a pair of Oppo AR glasses

A metal nub on the frame holds the lens in place.

In contrast, Air Glass is like earbuds for your eyes. Low-tech magnetic nubs mill directly into the frame and it seems like they can be easily combined into a variety of styles. The magnetic grip between the 30-gram lens device and the frame is solid enough, but it’s pretty easy to remove the AR part and stick it into the case, even if you wear prescription glasses the whole time, making it clear that you don’t have to. There is an incognito screen glued to your face. It’s a solution that takes people’s concerns about privacy and distraction seriously, rather than just trying to hide what they’re worried about inside a small package. It also helps that this generation of Air Glass doesn’t have a camera, though Oppo says it doesn’t rule out the option for future versions.

Oppo’s AR interface focuses on simple widget-like applications in the form of “cards,” which you manage from the companion smartphone app. “Opening” a card launches it in the Glasses, and you can swipe between cards with the side trackpad or tap the Glass’s display to turn it on and off. You can long-press the glasses for voice commands or use gestures with the Oppo smartwatch, which I didn’t have.

In their most basic form, cards display information such as time or weather. More complex cards use Baidu Maps to open turn-by-turn directions, display near-real-time language translations, or load text files to build an AR teleprompter. Since the teleprompter effectively displays any text you want, you can use it more creatively — I spent a night writing the recipe in a Word document and using the glasses as a hands-free screen. cooked food.

A side view of the Oppo Air Glass Trackpad

The trackpad swaps between cards and toggles the display.

It’s a nice set of features executed intuitively at a high level, but the average experience is still pretty rough – and only half usable for someone who doesn’t speak Chinese. The turn-by-turn navigation tools and voice commands aren’t implemented in English, so I rummaged through them with the help of Google Translate and my half-forgotten college language studies. (Within my very limited abilities, both seemed functional but clunky.)

Automatic translation is limited to English and Chinese, and it’s not quite as intuitive as, say, vaporware glasses Google told us to envision in May. You can press a button that allows a person to speak a language in a paired phone and see it translated into text in another language on the glasses, then speak to the wearer of the glasses and translate the results into text on the phone in the same way. Can get translated. There’s also an option for two sets of glasses, but I wasn’t able to try it.

Using the translation system by talking to myself in both languages, the phone side had a tendency to time out or not recognize that I spoke after pressing the button. Short messages from my native English or my very rusty Mandarin took several seconds to translate and then translate – which isn’t an issue unique to Oppo, but a reminder that real-time translation still doesn’t work in the real world. has limits.

Plus, the fact that Oppo’s non-AR frames are fairly generic (albeit without glass to me, which made me look like an insufferable hipster wearing them in public) doesn’t make the overall package any less ridiculous-looking. The lens-over-lens design of the glasses looks distinctly silly, especially because the frame and waveguide are completely different shapes, whereas Oppo designed them to work together. From specific angles, the glasses will clearly and brightly display the outside world on your screen, enhancing their retro-sci-fi vibe. The design is barely heavy compared to wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses, but it leans to one side—not enough to bother me as a wearer, but enough to be noticeable from the outside . It’s intuitive to imagine that eyeglass designers create compatible magnetic nubs on different styles of frames, but it’s not clear whether the lens will perform equally well on top of a variety of shapes and sizes.

And even worse, I had persistent, if minor, comfort problems with the optics. In my first few hours with the glasses, I got a little motion-secured and got a headache within minutes of putting them on. The discomfort seemed to get better with time, but my eyes still feel strained after wearing them.

Specs of Oppo Air Glass in their Charger

The charging case plugs in via USB-C.

Inside view of Oppo's glasses in their charger

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

I asked Oppo about the problem, and spokesperson Krutika Bolamma said that monocular displays like Air Glass and Google Glass can cause headaches for some buyers. over email, AR optics specialist and KGONtech Writer Carl Guttag agreed that a single lens—with a focal distance effectively focused at infinity—could be the culprit. “You may be struggling between one eye focused at infinity and the other eye focused on the real world,” Guttag said, suggesting that I can confirm this by trying to keep my other eye focused at distance.

This tracks with my casual experience, where doing close-knit tasks like cooking or looking at a monitor caused sickness when walking around with turn-by-turn directions. (On the other hand, I’ve used Google Glass in a similar fashion with no trouble.) Guttag also suggested that the micro LED’s flicker could cause sickness for some people, though he said I’ve used the HoloLens 2 as well. Have seen a problem with it. Plus, something that hasn’t been an issue in the past.

A front view of the Oppo Air Glass

The frames look normal. Monocle on the frame… Not at all.

I’m not sure how comprehensive my response is; My husband wore the Air Glass eyepiece for about 15 minutes, which was so long that I got a headache without incident. I’m not even really sure what’s causing this as I’ve been fine with headsets with comparable designs. But it’s just one example of the complexities that AR hardware adds to computing and the kind of thing that holds AR back—the risk of being a dealbreaker of physical pain for many tech consumers.

It seems that Oppo may envision Air Glass as one of the possible devices that people can buy. It doesn’t replicate all the features of something like Nreal’s consumer smart glasses, which let you watch streaming video and even play Steam games. Future versions should get support for more colors, but the goal is not to have an all-in-one computing package. It’s like the specs equivalent of a smartwatch.

But even with all these caveats, including the fact that I’ll almost certainly never see one for sale in the US, using Air Glass is a strange experience., It’s a form factor that high-profile players like Apple and Meta aren’t seriously exploring, addressing some of my biggest concerns with AR as a platform. And while the entire field of consumer glasses is a big experiment, there’s a lot of room for weirdness.

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