For long, augmented reality (AR) headsets have remained stuck within the realm of enterprises with little to no options offered to the general consumer. This has started to change in recent years, and one of the latest consumer AR glasses is the Rokid Air which is aimed for general entertainment and gaming. Sleek, lightweight and with a plug-and-play approach, does it offer a compelling reason for the general consumer to adopt AR?
As in the early stages of virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) headsets have been, up until very recently, prohibitively expensive; and hence have been marketed towards enterprise use. The Microsoft HoloLens 2 starts at $3,500 and the MagicLeap 1 (from a company that initially aimed to deliver consumer AR and pivoted to enterprise) starts at $2,295.
However, in recent years, other companies have come up with cheaper, consumer-oriented AR glasses that could easily be mistaken for sunglasses. These include the likes of the $599 Nreal Light and the $599 MAD Gaze GLOW Plus which are portable smart glasses that plug into your phone to use the latter as the processing unit and mirror content akin to holograms viewable from the glasses. The Rokid Air under review here functions similarly and is currently for sale at $479 on Indiegogo.
Out of the box, you will find the following items:
- Rokid Air AR Glasses
- USB-C cable
- Hard carrying case
- Cleaning cloth
- User manual
As for more specs details, you can find them below:
- Weight: 83g
- Audio: HD directional speaker x 2
- AI Interaction: High-performance noise-cancelling microphone x 2, AI voice recognition
- Display Brightness: 1800nits
- Diopters: Caters for myopia of 0.00 ~ - 5.00 D
- Optical Display: FoV 43°
- Contrast Ratio: 100000:1
- Resolution: 1920*1080*2
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Physical Button: Screen on/off button
- Android Phones with USB-C Display Port and OTG (Android 10 or later)
- Connect with the following devices through third-party accessories:
- 1. iPhones running on iOS 11 or later;
- 2. Video game consoles (PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, etc.) with HDMI port
- Enhanced 9-axis (IMU, magnetometer)
- Sensor fusion scheme
- Proximity sensor
Having tried both the Nreal Light and MAD Gaze GLOW Plus, I was positively surprised by how light the Rokid Air is when I first took it out of the box. At only 83g, it’s the lightest of the bunch and you could easily wear it throughout the day should you wish to; the detachable USB-C cable especially makes this a possibility. The weight is enabled by the plastic finish which nevertheless doesn’t feel cheap but rather stylish with the metallic grey finish.
The glasses are comfortable and the flexible arms hinges ensure that the glass will fit most head sizes without pressing too much thanks to the padding at the rear end of the arms. While in use, heat might be a concern but the Rokid Air’s heating is barely noticeable (if at all) when worn thanks to the metal heat conduction system it adopts to dissipate heat.
For further comfort customisation, the Rokid Air features adjustable (or even malleable) nose pads which you can easily and manually adjust the width of to fit your nose bridge comfortably. There’s also the option to adjust for diopters, or how close/far the screen is from your eye, on each individual lens with a dedicated knob and can help prevent the need for glasses while using. However, for people like me with astigmatism, this approach is not optimal as images can still be blurry even when adjusting with the knobs. An option to include lens inserts as Nreal Light and MAD Gaze GLOW Plus allow would have been very welcome in the Rokid Air.
Around the middle of each arm, you can notice small speakers that direct audio towards your ears when worn. The audio output is pretty decent and crisp, even making it appropriate to listen to music or viewing videos through the glasses.
At the rear of the left arm is a USB-C port through which plugs in the detachable USB-C port that comes included in the package. Being detachable is a very welcome feature that allows for easy storage and replacement of the cable in case of damage.
It’s also great that Rokid includes a hard carry case in the package that fits everything you’ll need from the cable through the AR glasses to the microfibre cleaning cloth. The carry case enables you to carry the Rokid Air anywhere you go safely and conveniently.
Overall the Rokid Air feels like a polished and well designed portable pair of AR glasses on the hardware front. It’s lightweight, customisable for comfort and stylish. While it won’t initially draw attention for being bulky, it might get you some glances for its heavily sci-fi inspired look. I don’t mind it as it adds to the aesthetics but it might not be to everyone’s taste.
To use the Rokid Air, you will need to plug it into a compatible phone (one that features a with USB-C Display Port and OTG) with the included detachable USB-C port. For this review, I am using the Black Shark 4 but you can find the official phone compatibility list below:
The way the Rokid Air functions is similar to the Nreal Light and MAD Gaze GLOW Plus. By plugging in your phone, the latter will power the AR glasses and the phone’s screen is mirrored to a small screen featured on top of the Rokid Air and a series of mirrors help display that mirrored screen as a hologram in front of your eyes. Given that you are looking at a projection, the effect is rather gentle on the eyes (as compared to staring directly at a screen), somewhat akin to a projector.
In its most basic form, the mirrored screen will be just like holding your phone in front of your eyes. The screen will move wherever you move your head (or glasses). In addition to phones, this basic mirror mode is also compatible with PCs and consoles (PS4, Xbox and Switch with an appropriate adapter, as Rokid says, but is not sold by the company as far as I know). But, truth be told, this is rather basic and not a very convincing AR experience.
Luckily, Rokid has a dedicated Android app, the Rokid Air app, that really unlocks the device’s potential and offers the most use for this device. With it, you have at your disposal a dedicated AR launcher where you can access the in-built browser, settings and the Rokid app store which features a growing number of free apps and games. These are quite handy to have, especially given that Rokid has itself developed games and apps and is still rolling them out. This helps make the device stand out from competitors like MAD Gaze and Nreal which have fewer first-party apps.
The video below shows how navigating through the Rokid Air AR launcher looks like:
Interestingly, even VR games like End Space are available on the Rokid Store and, more bizarrely, End Space is even available for free while the Quest and Steam VR versions are paid. The game plays surprisingly well on the Rokid Air, without any noticeable lag or technical issues. It is quite fun to play a sci-fi dogfighting game on such a lightweight headset; but the Rokid Air’s limited 43° FoV is quite striking when playing such titles. A VR mode with extra (or swappable) shades that blind the glasses for a VR-like immersion might have improved the experience.
In fact, as of now, there aren’t many AR games as such on the Rokid Air store, as most are essentially VR games, with a 360° environment that you’ll see from a small window. It’s not bad really and some games like RythmJump, Space War and the timeless Tetris are quite fun to play on such a portable headset. In addition, the virtual gamepad that shows up on the screen when you boot a game could use a D-pad, especially for games like Tetris to give more dexterity.
In comparison, the Nreal Light has more compelling AR games and apps. However, it’s still encouraging to see Rokid releasing games for its hardware for free to owners of the headset.
Another standout feature of the Rokid Air is the voice controls. By saying some command terms, you can control the device hands-free. It’s a handy feature but it requires a learning curve to get acquainted with the commands and I couldn’t get them to always work.
While the games proved fun, the most compelling experience I’ve had is with the ‘Phone App’ app. What it does is that it lets you access your phone’s home screen as a floating window with 3DoF, meaning that the window will stay in place even if you move your head around. This makes for a more compelling AR experience and given that the apps you have already installed and signed in on your phone are accessible on a hologram, you can easily navigate them, use them as you would otherwise do, except that you’ll have the bonus of viewing them on a 120'' virtual hovering screen.
Through the Phone App, I enjoyed viewing YouTube videos, scrolling my news and social media feeds while my Spotify playlist runs in the background; and all this in a sci-fi-esque holographic window. The speakers on each arm helps provide an up close and personal experience and the audio quality adds to that experience. The Nreal Light also has such a feature and really such an app is what I think can get more AR adopters as it gets users into a familiar environment with their favourite app, except in AR mode.
Unfortunately, Rokid removed the ‘Phone App’ in a recent update and it is quite a shame as you won’t be able to access your installed app in AR mode. You could still sign in to your social media accounts and YouTube via the Rokid Air app’s own browser but I wouldn’t recommend it given potential privacy/security issues with third-party browsers.
However, it’s understandable that Rokid pulled down this app as it wasn’t running optimally. While using it, I found the hovering screen to move either left or right incrementally over time. In addition, my phone's screen would display as normal (which could be distracting when viewing videos) and I would have to look at it to navigate. An option to have the laser beam to navigate on the holographic window (and not have my phone's screen run as normal) would work better. Hopefully the developers can fix these issues and bring back this simple yet compelling app.
While Rokid removed the ‘Phone App’ (hopefully only for now), they do bring new features with each update. The latest one includes screenshot and screen recording, as well as a community tab where users can chat in forums to discuss anything Rokid Air-related. In addition, the company brings quality of life updates with new app versions such as the ability to use the device while lying down and still have windows floating in front of you (before you could only use it while seated). It’s another positive sign to see Rokid bringing new features and updates to its device, showing that it cares for its community.
While the screenshot and screen recording features are handy, they only function on the in-app browser, Rokid app store and the main menu/launcher. You cannot take screenshots or recordings of games that are running on the device. Hopefully this is a feature that is integrated in the future so that users can also share their AR gaming experience. This is why the pictures I’m taking are with another phone through the glasses and aren’t the sharpest; but the images viewed via the AR glasses are quite crisp.
Rokid told me that they will integrate the screen capture feature in their SDK so that app developers can include the option in their own apps while developing for the device.
At this point, it feels like the Rokid Air can still be fleshed out with more features that hopefully the company will bring to it. Ideally, these should have been available at launch and not have users wait on new features, especially since it is still not a cheap device; and there are more features that could be added.
In addition to the lacking features highlighted here, it would make for a more compelling experience to be able to have multiple windows open at once, especially to multitask. Say you could open Spotify and choose your playlist while writing a document and doing some adjacent research online.
Another feature that would be handy would be the ability to resize the window and adjust its location. These would work in tandem with multi windows as you can make screens that you aren’t using much, smaller and enlarge and reposition those you are focusing on. These are already features existing in the Nreal Light and Rokid could take some inspiration to offer an experience as compelling as its competitor. And already, Rokid told me that they are working on such features and I look forward to testing them once they roll out. If the company does come up with new features in future updates, I will happily update the review to highlight these.
In fact, I really hope to see such features come to the Rokid Air as it is a well designed, lightweight AR glasses with crisp display and promising tech that could serve as a compelling extension to your phone. However, at this time, it feels more like a device for early adopters and there’s nothing wrong with that as such AR glasses are still a niche market. It is lacking some features that its competitors already pack but I think Rokid is on the right track as it builds towards wider adoption and I look forward to what the company comes up with next.