Lenovo has released consumer AR glasses that can connect to iPhones.
Lenovo is dangling a platform-independent carrot in front of AR hopefuls.
After years of pushing augmented reality (AR) glasses to businesses, Lenovo announced today that it will finally sell AR glasses to consumers—and I got to try out the lightweight Lenovo Glasses T1. They bring some notable features to a space that has piqued industry-wide interest but is still likely far from becoming ubiquitous, with their Micro OLED displays and required tethering to Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices.
The early version of the T1 I tried had few features; I could mostly only see a home page with basic menu options and a desktop with app icons, such as web browsing. Although the glasses were not yet ready for me to watch a movie or navigate through apps, I was impressed by how clear the text and menu items were. This was in a bright room with extremely tall windows. Even when exposed to direct sunlight, the few colours on display appeared vibrant and the text legible.
Lenovo specifies 10,000:1 contrast and 19201080 pixels per eye for the displays. According to Lenovo, the glasses are also TÜV-certified for low blue light and flicker reduction. Before I make a final decision, I need to spend a lot more time exploring and testing the Micro OLED displays. However, the combination of smaller pixels and, from what I’ve seen so far, vibrant colours should allow for screens so close to the eyes. More broadly speaking, brightness can be a concern with OLED technologies, but the small demo I saw fared well in a sun-flushed room.
The Glasses T1 was tested while connected to an Android smartphone via its USB-C cable, but it’s also supposed to work with PCs, macOS devices, and, with a separate adapter, iPhones.
The UI displayed on the glasses is determined by the connected platform. During my demonstration, I used a five-way trackpad, home button, and menu button on the tethered smartphone’s touchscreen to control input. I didn’t get much time with the glasses, but it was clear that I’d need a lot more time for movements to feel natural; I frequently had to look down at my phone to figure out where I was in the display.
The edges of the glasses’ arms use a flexible rubber-like material to accommodate different head shapes. Lenovo’s specs fit my face shape nicely without weighing it down or forcing me to fiddle with the nose clip options. However, the left arm, where the cable exits, was never perfectly positioned around my ear. I wouldn’t want to move around aggressively or wear these for long periods of time as they are.
With no processor or battery, the glasses are easier to keep trim. There are no sensors or cameras, unlike the Lenovo ThinkReality A3, which was announced last year. Another T1 feature is the ability to add prescription lenses and a pair of speakers (one near each temple).
Lenovo is designing the T1 to be less powerful (and thus less expensive) than the A3, which can support up to five virtual monitors. However, because they have less hardware, they should be lighter on the face than the 0.3-pound A3 glasses. It remains to be seen, however, how complete or immersive an AR experience Lenovo will be able to provide with the T1, which also has a lower 60 Hz refresh rate and a 38-degree field of view.
Lenovo claims that its wearable display will appeal to those who enjoy gaming or streaming video content on the go. It also stated that the head-mounted display is more private than a phone or laptop for viewing things like bank records, documents, or other sensitive information in public.
AR for the general public?
From Apple to Meta, tech companies have proclaimed the importance of augmented reality, with many experimenting with their own designs of the emerging technology.
Meta is openly developing AR glasses in response to concerns about its approach to mixed reality and the partnered release of Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses without embedded displays. After a long wait, Apple’s AR/VR headset is expected to arrive in January. Meanwhile, Snap’s Spectacles are true AR glasses that have yet to be released to the general public, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel stated last year that mainstream AR was still a decade away. Smaller-brand efforts, such as the Nreal Light, show commendable progress but face limited compatibility.
Lenovo’s Glasses T1 appear to be a more serious commitment to the consumer augmented reality dream, but there are still reasons to be sceptical.
The Glasses T1 are manufactured by one of the largest OEMs and a company with experience in AR wearables. Lenovo unveiled the ThinkReality A6 in 2019 before introducing the more streamlined A3. According to a Lenovo representative, the A3 was originally priced around $700, but the majority of units sold were more than $1,000. Lenovo has not only identified a market for AR glasses, but it has also been able to upsell to that market and is now expanding into the consumer space. Wide compatibility and a reasonably light package are also positives.
However, before people can wear AR glasses in public, many obstacles must be overcome. The technology must overcome challenges such as bulkiness, discomfort, app support, price, and the limitations of on-device computing and tethered connections.
After debuting in China (as the Lenovo Yoga Glasses) this year, the Glasses T1 are expected to be available in select markets in 2023. Lenovo hasn’t announced a price, but I’m told the glasses will be under $500.