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HomeNewsTCL NXTWear G review: The almost unwearable wearable display

TCL NXTWear G review: The almost unwearable wearable display

Wearing the TCL NXTWear G.

TCL NXTWear G
MSRP $715.00

Score Details

“I was excited to try out the TCL NXTWear G wearable display, but unfortunately while the concept and technology is good, the execution and wearability is not.”

Pros

  • Colorful screens show plenty of detail
  • Easy connection and no set up
  • No battery to recharge

Cons

  • Uncomfortable fit
  • No focus adjustment
  • Small icons used throughout the interface
  • “Rounding” of viewing area

When I first heard about the TCL NXTWear G wearable display, I was very excited to try them out. Putting on a pair of high-tech glasses, and then using only my phone and a pair of Bluetooth headphones to get a big-screen cinema experience really fit in with my recent quest to shut out the sounds of the world.

However, my anticipation was short lived once I tried them on, as I hadn’t bargained for the way the NXTWear G would assault my face. I did find things to like, but unfortunately, this wearable display is otherwise the very definition of a first-generation product.

Design

The TCL NXTWear G is shaped like bulky sunglasses, but with oversize arms and two screens where you’d normally look through lenses. A thick rubber-coated cable is attached to one of the arms which stretches out to 1.2 meters in length (about 4 feet). The front piece is covered in reflective black plastic, which extends out along the arms. A speaker vent on each arm exits close to where they meet your ears.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

When they’re not on your face the NXTWear G look quite good, in a space-age geeky way, but unless you have a small face, they’re not proportioned very well when you put them on. Unlike actual spectacles, they’re not worn right up against your eyes which adds to the unusual look. Obviously, they aren’t for wearing casually, but you should expect to get some odd sideways stares wearing them in Starbucks or on an airplane.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

The positioning of the NXTWear G on your face means you can see out below them, allowing you to control the onscreen content using your phone, or not trip over the cat if you get up and move around while still wearing them. Like many pieces of wearable tech that go on your face, the TCLWear G will never make you look cool. But that’s not really the point here. They’re designed to put a personal cinema screen right in front of your eyes, but this means wearing them for more than 10 minutes, and that’s where the pain begins.

Wearing the glasses

I admit, I was really looking forward to using the NXTWear G. I love the idea of shutting out the world with a great screen right in front of my eyes and a good pair of headphones on. Unfortunately, it seems to have been designed by people who have never actually worn glasses, or possibly anything on their faces at all, and have instead taken inspiration for the design from an insidious torture device. It’s OK, TCL, I’ll tell you everything you want to know, just don’t make me wear the NXTWear G for too long.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

There are two primary problems that make the NXTWear G so uncomfortable. The first is the grip of the arms. There’s very little flexibility once they’re opened out so they’re really tight, and the tips dig into the spot behind my ears to the point where I could still “feel” them for a while after taking the glasses off. Once clamped onto my face, there’s no doubt the NXTWear G aren’t going to fall off without someone ripping them off, but this security makes wearing them even for the length of a music video on YouTube a test of endurance. Being forced to wear them to watch a 120-minute movie sounds like a punishment you’d threaten a particularly naughty child with.

The second problem, and even worse than the vice-like grip on my head, is how they sit on my nose. There are three surprisingly rigid nose pads included, each apparently designed to pinch the bridge of your nose with ever-increasing amounts of uncomfortable pressure and never give in. They also have the unpleasant side-effect of ensuring you feel every single one of the NXTWear’s 100 grams bearing down right on your conk. Restricted breathing capacity and the growing feeling of being in a headlock do not make for an enjoyable viewing experience.


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TCL NXTWear G nose pads.Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

TCL NXTWear G lens in close up.Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

TCL NXTWear G seen from the top when closed.Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Maybe it’s the shape of my head and nose that’s the problem, as in other NXTWear coverage the comfort has not always been highlighted in an overly negative fashion. Obviously, faces don’t have a uniform size, so while wearing it is like putting my head in a vice for me, it may provide pillow-like comfort for others. The glasses may eventually “give” a little, but after 10 days or so using them for this review, they have not stretched out in any meaningful way. For me, the NXTWear G wearable display is too uncomfortable to use for any meaningful amount of time.

Looking into the screen

Very little concession seems to have been made in the design to make sure the NXTWear G fits comfortably on as many different faces as possible. The nose pads are fixed in place, with no forward or back movement to help with fit, and this lack of adjustment means it’s impossible to position the display at exactly the right spot to see all the images. Again, perhaps my head is horribly misshapen and no one else will have a problem, but I simply couldn’t get it in the right spot to actually see all the display.

With the smallest nose pad fitted — the least uncomfortable for me — and the glasses balanced in the center of my nose to maximize breathing ability, all four corners of the screen are hidden by an odd rounding of the viewing area. It’s distracting and annoying, especially when using the PC-like desktop view, as this hides the tiny icons in those corners from view. But Andy, you say, why not just adjust the glasses to see more? Sure, but the trouble is, when you move the glasses to the tip of your nose the top of the display disappears, while squashing them against your face obscures the bottom of the screen.

Swap to the other nose pads and there’s no improvement at all, it just exasperates the issue based on the size and shape of your face, and adds in even more discomfort. The angled glass also plays a part in trying to get the position right, as in bright rooms they reflect your clothing, when the lack of varied adjustment becomes even more of a problem. You can eat while wearing the NXTWear G, but drinking is rather messy because the glasses poke out quite far from your face. A normal glass just bumps up against them, forcing you to look right up to try and get the liquid down your throat, but this mostly results in you spilling it down your front. Convenient, they are not.

Perhaps the closest approximation to how the NXTWear G feel on your face is to imagine those massive, front-heavy, tangled-metal contraptions the optician uses to assess which lens combination you need during an eye exam, but with the screw-down nose part tightened to a deliberately restrictive degree. It’s that, but marketed for enjoyment.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

This brings me to a different kind of restriction. If you don’t have 20/20 vision, the NXTWear G aren’t for you. It’s practically impossible to wear glasses under them, unlike some VR headsets like PlayStation VR, and there’s no focus adjustment like there was on the Samsung Gear VR, so there’s every chance you won’t see the screen clearly at all. TCL’s solution is to supply a lens attachment ready to take your prescription lenses, which magnetically clip to the inside of the frame.

But fitting your own lenses will undoubtedly cost quite a lot more money, and may also be impossible depending on the strength of your prescription. I’d also be wary about the attachment introducing even more reflections, as it sits at a vertical angle in front of your eyes, unlike the 45-degree angle of the glasses. I found an old pair of glasses that squeezed under the NXTWear G so I could assess image quality and so on, but by no means is this a recommended action to take.

Watching video

Let’s say it’s the shape of my head that’s the problem here, and not the NXTWear G. What’s it like when you do wear them? I endured the discomfort and squinted like a champion to find out. I used them with the TCL 20 Pro 5G phone at first. All it takes to get the glasses started is to plug them into the USB Type-C connector. There’s no battery to charge or Bluetooth to pair, so it’s very simple.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

You’re presented with a desktop-style menu, which at times reminds me of ChromeOS, but there is also the option to mirror your phone’s display too. While mirroring works really well — it’s fast and very responsive — I don’t really know why you’d do it for general tasks like checking email or reading Twitter, because you still have to hold your phone right in front of you with the screen active to control everything. You’re just looking straight ahead, rather than down a bit.

What the NXTWear G’s OLED screens are for is watching video. The image has a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 60Hz refresh rate, and an equivalent size of 140-inches. In desktop mode apps open and perform just like they do on your phone, and I didn’t have any reliability issues. But this means there are lots of very small buttons to grapple with, such as accessing the menu, making video fullscreen, or adjusting the resolution and subtitles. Although the screen of the attached phone changes to become a touchpad, it’s still a pain to move the little cursor around and tap these minuscule buttons. The trackpad on the phone doesn’t swap to become a keyboard when you want to search for something either, so you have to slowly tap each letter out with the cursor on the glasses’ virtual keyboard.

Start watching video and those without much speedy movement are fine, with the OLED screens showing lots of color and detail, but introduce a more action-packed video and things aren’t always so good. Fast action scenes in movies can blur quite a lot, and some jerkiness is introduced, spoiling your enjoyment. Watch the same video on your phone screen, and none of this is evident. It’s better when watching 60 frames-per-second video at 2160p, but this isn’t always possible.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Why would you want to wear the glasses at all, then? The answer is definitely an increased level of immersion into the video. It’s a very cinematic experience, and you quickly get sucked into what you’re watching, much more so than watching on your phone screen. The “size” of the screen in front of your eyes is impressive, and if you wear a pair of Bluetooth headphones — in-ears work best due to the size of the arms — the world around you melts away. There are speakers inside the arms on the glasses too, which are adequate for spoken word but lack bass.

Assuming you can wear them comfortably the NXTWear G has masses of useful potential as a secondary display used primarily to watch video supplied by your phone, but the interface, lens design, and viewing area definitely needs refining.

Compatibility

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is designed to work well with the NXTWear G, but what about other phones? Connect to a Samsung S21+ or other S21 phone and Samsung DeX is automatically activated, showing the desktop view and converting the phone’s screen into a touchpad. It defaulted to using the phone’s speakers, rather than the NXTWear G’s built-in audio though.

Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Connect to the OnePlus 9 Pro and the display mirrors the screen on the phone. Watching video this way produced a smaller screen size unless you zoom to fill the screen, resulting in losing some of the content. The Google Pixel 4a didn’t recognize the NXTWear G as a display, and wouldn’t work at all. You can’t connect to an iPhone due to the glasses requiring a USB Type-C port, but the NXTWear G does work with an iPad Pro, but like the OnePlus 9 Pro the visible screen when watching video is slightly smaller than using the TCL 20 Pro smartphone.

I used them with a Huawei MateBook X Windows 10 laptop and they instantly mirrored the screen, although all the text, buttons, and icons are very small. The laptop’s screen stays on by default too, so you will have to dig through the settings to try and switch it solely to the NXTWear G for private viewing. TCL lists a wide range of phones and laptops that it says work with the glasses, with many new and old models, ranging from the LG G5 to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Be aware that the glasses use the battery power from your phone, and it uses a lot.

Price and availability

Availability is limited at the moment. The NXTWear G are available to buy in South Korea and Australia from July, with Europe to follow soon afterward. A release in the U.S. is also planned, but no time frame has been given yet. In Europe, the price has been set at 599 euros, or about $715, and in some regions, the wearable display will be sold as a package with a video service subscription.

Our take

I love the concept of the NXTWear G, but the execution is poor. If it had been comfortable to wear, this would be a very different review because the actual screen and its performance are decent. However, I cannot imagine wearing them for very long as they get so uncomfortable so quickly. Plus, as a glasses wearer, I’d have to pay out for a set of prescription lenses, which are likely to be expensive, and TCL doesn’t advertise a preferred partner with the ability to make them, leaving you to sort it out and risk disappointment.

The awkward, imprecise positioning of the glasses on your face means parts of the screen are obscured, and the lack of overall adjustment means they never feel like a “one-size-fits-all” wearable. The device compatibility is decent, but the experience will be different on each one based on the models I’ve tried.

It is very much a first-generation product, and I’ve no doubt should TCL continue with the product line, it’ll get better with each revision. I hope it does as there’s real promise here, but any future versions desperately need to be designed to fit more face types, and provide a vastly increased level of comfort. The TCL NXTWear G is a wearable tech product I wanted to use, but while the tech part is successful here, the wearable part really isn’t.

Is there a better alternative?

The best alternative is not wearing them at all. Most mid- to high-end smartphones have superb screens today, and are often big enough to watch a movie on the move. If you really want a screen in front of your face, the TCL NXTWear G stands alone, with only virtual reality headsets offering some sort of competition. This may change over time, as the NXTWear G is a very new type of product.

How long will it last?

The NXTWear G is well made, very sturdy, and keeps the precious lenses and screens well protected in the headset itself. The chance of scratching or breaking the glass is slim if you treat them well, and the arms feel very strong too. Even the cable is twice the thickness you’d expect, and should withstand some harsh treatment. There’s no software on board to update, and no battery to diminish over time either, so it should last for several years.

Should you buy it?

No, it’s going to be a gamble as to whether you’ll find them comfortable or not, and if you can even see the entire screen when you put them on. It’s best to wait until TCL releases the next version to try this interesting new device type.

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