Although TCL makes a wide variety of products, including smartphones, these days, the company is still best known for its TVs, and TCL’s newest product is essentially a wearable TV that offers a portable screen. Named the NXTWEAR S, this set of eyewear is an iterative update to the NXTWEAR Air that was shown off at CES earlier this year.
I hesitate to call the NXTWEAR S “smartglasses” because so far, it doesn’t do anything other than broadcast content in front of your face. There are no camera lenses for content capturing or AR capabilities, for example, and while there are sensors like a gyroscope and an accelerometer, they aren’t put to use so far in the pre-production unit I tested. This is OK with me, though, because AR glasses in 2022 are still mostly half-baked. The TCL NXTWEAR S doesn’t try to be more than what it is: a wearable portable large screen.
TCL is curiously going with the crowdfunding route for the NXTWEAR S on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo, although it has “guaranteeing shipping” by January, and the project is fully backed. Therefore, this isn’t an official review because the product isn’t commercially available yet.
Hardware and design: Is it a real 130-inch screen?
The NXTWEAR S features a pair of micro-OLED display panels sourced from Sony, and together they pump out a screen with dimensions equivalent to watching a “real” 130-inch screen at about 13 feet away. The visuals are 1080p in resolution, and the colors are punchy and vibrant.
The displays use the so-called birdbath technique to beam the visuals to the user, meaning the micro-OLED screens aren’t pointed at your eyes. Instead, they’re reflected toward you via a series of spherical mirrors. This makes the screen appear a bit further away (13 feet). The NXTWEAR S can also pump out 3D content, though there was no compatible 3D content for me to try at the time of testing. TCL reps say the content will be ready within TCL’s companion app by the time the glasses ship.
The glasses are mostly made out of plastic, which keeps the weight low at just 89g, and there are multiple nose clips to ensure they fit different nose sizes. There are a pair of open-ear speakers located on each glass arm, and they do a surprisingly fine job. Of course, because they have an open-ear design, they don’t block outside sound at all, so if you’re in a noisy environment, you’ll want to use a pair of wireless earbuds with ANC instead. But alone in your home? The onboard speakers are fine.
There are also knobs on each arm, one for volume control and the other for screen brightness. TCL did not reveal numbers for maximum screen brightness, but the display is more than bright enough that I almost always used it at the lowest brightness setting. Dialing brightness to the max actually feels uncomfortably bright.
Looking at the photos, you may have already noticed the glasses have two distinct looks from the front. That’s due to the lens cover, which attracts magnetically. The lens cover also gives the NXTWEAR S that Ray-Ban Wayfarer appearance, so it all feels stylish.
Without the cover, visuals broadcast over the real world, allowing users to watch content while still seeing what’s in front of them. The lens cover, conversely, will cover up the real world so content is displayed on a black canvas for more immersion.
The NXTWEAR S has no battery or internal memory. It instead draws its power and content from the device it’s plugged into. The connection is made via USB-C, so the device you’re plugging into must support USB-C display output. Thankfully that’s most laptops, iPads, and some flagship Android phones. The Google Pixel 7 Pro and Xiaomi phones, unfortunately, use inferior USB-C 2.0 ports, so they don’t work with the NXTWEAR S. But almost any recent Samsung flagship will, as will many OnePlus and Huawei devices.
I had no issues connecting the NXTWEAR S with my Galaxy Z Fold 4, Oppo Find X5 Pro, M1 iPad Pro, and M1 Max MacBook Pro. My friend tried his older LG G8 Plus, plus several PC laptops, including the Dell XPS 13, and things ran smoothly. Just plug in and go.
One of the upgrades over the NXTWEAR Air is that the cable is detachable from the glasses. What’s more, it attaches via magnetic pogo pins, similar to Apple’s MagSafe. This saves the glasses or connected device from being yanked off a table if the cable gets caught on something.
Software and performance: What is the NXTWEAR S for?
The benefits of having a large portable screen should be self-explanatory, and everyone will have different use cases. But for me, I see the NXTWEAR S coming in very handy for two situations.
The first is using the glasses as a portable monitor when working off a laptop. Not only is the screen a bit more immersive because it appears larger, but it also allows me to look straight ahead instead of needing to crane my neck down. In my younger days, I could work off a laptop all day without issues, but once I got past my mid-30s, my neck would feel the strain after an hour of laptop use. The NXTWEAR S saves me from that problem.
The second major use case is using the NXTWEAR in bed. I have a terrible habit of spending the last hour or so of my day lying in bed while checking my phone. I could be watching a YouTube video or reading a Twitter thread, but the point is I am on the phone while horizontal, and that’s an awkward position. Sometimes I have to lay on my side and prop the phone against a wall or on my back and have to hold the phone above my head. With the NXTWEAR S, I can now consume phone content while lying in bed, hands-free. It sounds weird to focus on something so small, but it’s awesome to watch a movie while on your back and staring at the ceiling.
I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but the NXTWEAR S definitely comes in handy for that, too, since you won’t have to look down at the phone, and your thumbs won’t be actively blocking the screen.
How long you can use the glasses will depend on the battery life of your device. In general, a two-hour Netflix session will burn about 30% battery from my Galaxy Z Fold 4, which has a battery capacity of 4,400 mAh. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about battery life with these glasses if you’re plugging into a MacBook, iPad, or 2022 flagship phone. On a less efficient older PC or a 2017-era Samsung phone (where the battery life was mediocre, to begin with), the glasses may burn through the device’s battery in 3-4 hours.
There is a companion app available for the NXTWEAR S that will provide 3D content and some basic AR functionality, but at the time of testing, the app was not ready. All I could do was plug the glasses into a device and mirror the content.
TCL NXTWEAR S: Should you consider one?
As mentioned, the NXTWEAR S isn’t technically on sale yet. You can still “order” one for January delivery on Indiegogo starting at $349. At this price, and with features like the companion app and 3D content not available yet, it’s hard for me to give the glasses a full-on recommendation. However, they’ll likely see a price bump when they hit retail stores. It’s up to the user to decide whether these glasses bring enough benefits.
For me, the glasses work well enough as it is now as a portable screen, and its ability to let me work off a laptop at coffee shops without straining my neck is worth the price of admission. But your mileage may vary.