Best AR glasses and headsets: augmented reality is here to stay!

Best AR glasses and headsets: augmented reality is here to stay!
So, you've heard about the Vision Pro and you've seen what the Quest 3 can do. But those devices do more than just VR: they use it alongside AR to create MR, resulting in a complete XR experience. So many realities to pick from!

Well, there's still the possibility of AR being the most practical of all of them. Hear me out: if augmented reality can place virtual elements that expand the capabilities of the real world, then that means that the tech could be truly next-level useful in numerous ways. 

Most notably, it could be utilized to enhance productivity and save time. Why have to look something up, if you can literally just look up at it and see what it's all about, right? I know that this sounds really futuristic, but we may not be that far off. 

In 2024 though, we're still not there yet. As of right now, you've got to choose between two different types of AR products, capable of impressing you in different ways:

  • AR glasses, which are cheaper, more comfortable and require a separate power source. Closer to a portable, compact monitor with extra features, really.
  • AR headsets, which are bulkier, less easy to transport, but pack features closer to where we want the Vision Pro to take us. 

Now, I certainly want a more portable version of the Quest 3 and I'd also take a smarter version of the Xreal Air 2, but that doesn't mean that these devices — or the rest of the ones that you'll find on this list — aren't worth your time. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

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Best AR headsets

These headsets are all-in-one devices, and normally have both AR and VR capabilities. They're definitely not meant to be used outside, as they're bulky and cover your field of vision, letting you see "through" them via their cameras, instead of the transparent lenses AR glasses use.

However, for that bulk, you're getting powerful built-in AR features for productivity and socializing, plus you'll not be dealing with any cables connected to phones or computers. These devices are completely standalone.

Meta Quest 3

No joke: the Quest 2 used to take up this spot. But the Quest 3 is such a jump in AR capabilities from it's prequel that it almost feels insane to think about that. The Quest 2's passthrough was fuzzier than a monster from "Where the Wild Things Are" and unlike the beloved children's book, limited to black and white. Not only that, but the headset's AR features were limited to glorified overlays over the previously-described live feed.

Hence why now here sits the Quest 3. Color? Not only that, but without all of that massive grain and fuzz! But Meta didn't just stop there: we've now got MR thrown into the mix, thanks to the Quest 3's spatial capabilities. This means that visual elements are no longer just floating in front of your face, but can be anchored to the limited space around you. The best part? Meta has promised huge MR updates in the future, coming as soon as 2024 too! And we can't wait!

Meta Quest Pro

This could've been the best AR headset of 2023, if the Quest 3 had not come out. If you don't mind spending a bit more money, the Quest Pro is just a better version of the Quest 2, with much improved (color!) cameras, and more AR features. But then again, why spend that much if you can get a Quest 3 for less?

Initially priced at $1,499, this wasn't exactly the easiest headset to get a hold of, but after its price went down to $999, it's much easier to recommend to anyone looking for Meta's most powerful and polished augmented reality experience.

On top of color cameras for passthrough, as well as hand tracking (which the Quest 2 also has), the Quest Pro packs eye tracking, for some immersive social experiences in both AR and VR.

Indeed, Meta is marketing this headset as the way to connect with people, and even collaborate, in augmented reality.

When it comes to connecting with people on a Meta headset such as this one, there are many options – games such as VR Chat, apps such as Meta's own Horizon Worlds, plus countless multiplayer games, albeit not all of those options work with the AR mode.

Microsoft HoloLens 2

This is the most expensive AR headset in the bunch, and there exist other options like it, but we'll try to keep things consumer-friendly. The HoloLens 2 gets a deserved mention here, due to its predecessor being arguably the OG of AR headsets.

Aimed more at businesses and professionals, the HoloLens 2 is a powerful AR headset, but not one you should be buying expecting to game and socialize. Even though Microsoft showcased a super fun Minecraft AR demo on its first HoloLens all the way back in 2015, nothing's really come of it.

However, if you're a business looking to expand into AR, and use it for both training personnel and working on projects – this is the headset to consider. Microsoft does sell it in monthly payments to ease things up a bit, so there's that option.

Best AR glasses

Augmented reality glasses are the more affordable and lightweight option; wearable AR devices you could easily wear outside, or on a plane flight, during a bus trip, and so on. Most people probably won't even notice that these aren't just any normal glasses. 

And let's be honest: AR glasses are neither as smart nor as close to actual AR or MR as they should be nowadays. But still, that doesn't mean that they don't have their use-cases, especially for some very specific user types. 

Traditionally, the crowning feature of modern AR glasses is the big virtual screen they can project for you, letting you watch your favorite movies or YouTube videos without carrying a bulky tablet or laptop around with you.

Peak portable entertainment, those are! Or glorified portable monitors? Well, if you're looking to buy, here are the best options to consider right now:

Xreal Air 2

If you want to check out what the best of current-gen AR glasses have in store, then checking out the Xreal Air 2 is a top-choice starting point. Even though this pair's screens are only 1080p, the screens feel and look amazing. And that pleasing 120Hz refresh rate probably has something to do with that.

Sound coming from the Xreal Air 2 also feels really good, certainly a step up from that of some members of the competition, where it could sound distant or muffled. 

But what can you do with these? Well, essentially: you plug them in to your favorite device of choice, like a portable gaming console or your phone, and they'll mirror your screen, so that you can view content in a higher resolution. And if you're rocking a Samsung Galaxy phone with Dex on board, you can even get some work done with them. Nice!

If you pair the glasses with the Nebula app on your phone, then you may get more out of them. Head-tracking will be enabled and you'll be able to set up a multi-desktop experience, but your miles may vary in terms of usefulness with those. 

Nreal Air

These are among the most popular, best augmented reality glasses you can get right now.

We recently did an Nreal Air review, and were very happy with their virtual screen's brightness and sharpness, size (201 inches!), as well as the glasses' design itself. They're light, look cool, come with a hard carrying case for some good protection, as well as a nice braided cable, which you'll probably be plugging into your smartphone.

However, they can be plugged into computers also, and in my personal experience, plugging them into my Mac and getting three virtual AR displays to work with was a blast. Having three screens for your Mac without actually carrying three screens? Yes, please.

The Nreal Air have an app for pretty much any platform, which enables their AR mode, without which, they are basically going to project your phone's screen into your field of vision, serving as a big virtual display.

So even without the app, those are very useful for watching content on the go, where space might be limited.

Rokid Max

As we've mentioned in our review of the Rokid Max, these are probably the best AR glasses that you can get right now. Why? Well, they offer outstanding audio and great displays with a 120Hz refresh rate to boot, without sacrificing their portability.

Want a solid big-screen experience on the go? You can have that. And thanks to the high refresh rates, you can even enjoy gaming on the go too, since these work with consoles like the Nintendo Switch or portable computers like the Steam Deck too.

Sure, the app isn't anything to write home about. But! You don't have to use it in order to enjoy the best that the Rokid Max has to offer. 

TCL RayNeo Air 2

I know right? Who would've expected to see a product from TCL here?! But if we have to be honest: the entry is absolutely earned. Right out of the gate, you can see that this is a stylish pair of specs, which makes them really stand out among the rest.

Not only that, but these feature a beautiful, bright screen that you can enjoy on the go. Watching movies? A blast. Gaming? That works too! The downsides? Well, there's several, actually, but even with those, we're still putting the RayNeo Air 2 on the list.

What is a bummer about this model is that:

  • It doesn't come with a case or lens cover, which is absurd in this market, given the portability of the product
  • The edges of the screens are blurry, which in 2023, shouldn't really be a thing

But in this price range? You may be able to live with these compromises. 

Best upcoming AR headsets/glasses:

Apple Vision Pro

Apple's marketing it's first ever headset as something different entirely. In fact, the Big A wants us to call this thing a "spatial computer" and just judging by that alone, you know that a ton of AR and MR shenanigans will be involved.

But the Vision Pro is a new-age beast for another reason too: it's not only powerful, but powerful in a way that aims to empower you to get your productivity on. Sure, we're expecting it to be able to runs games and let you enjoy productivity as much as any other headset.

But what about a full blown, proper and portable mixed-reality workstation? Well, that's the sort of expectations that Apple has set up for the Vision Pro. And come February of 2024, we'll find out for sure if that's really the case. 

Xreal Air 2 Ultra

So, rumor on the street is that these are planned to go head-to-head with Apple's Vision Pro. Will that be the case? Unlikely. But does that make them unremarkable? Far from it. In fact, this may turn out to be the best product that Xreal has ever made, if all the stars align.

I mean, it took us getting to 2024 in order for someone to make another pair of AR specs with spatial capabilities, so that they can do more than act as a another portable monitor. That being said, Xreal's software hasn't been best-in-class, so we hope to see the company step up it's game in that department.

But with features like hand tracking, room mapping and 6DoF — meaning that you could walk around while wearing them — the Xreal Air 2 Ultra should certainly enter your release radar if you're interested in AR tech. 

What are the key features to consider when buying an AR headset?

Your first step should be to consider whether you really want an AR headset per se, or AR glasses instead. All the other questions will pretty much answer themselves, once you take the following into consideration…

AR headsets are bulkier and more expensive, but if you love gaming – those are more likely to offer what you're looking for. In addition, if you want to do some productivity or even socializing in AR – once again – AR headsets, like the ones on our list – are your best bet.

AR glasses, however, are thin, light and ultra-portable, but will rely on your smartphone (or other device) for everything. Essentially, they just offer a virtual screen for you to watch your content on, taken from your phone, PC, or what have you.

Can I use AR headsets for gaming, and what games are available?

Yes, there are AR games available for the Meta headsets we've listed above. Sometimes also called mixed reality games, or mixed reality experiences.

The two Meta headsets on our list have an app store with countless mixed reality games you can choose from, which support passthrough mode, which itself is what changes the experience from VR to AR (or mixed reality).

So if you're looking to play AR games, get a Meta headset like the Quest 2 or Pro, then get yourself a game with passthrough support, like Blaston, Blockverse (a Minecraft clone), Cubism or one of the countless others.

Alternatively, the AR glasses on our list also technically have support for games, but the experiences might feel underwhelming in comparison, not to mention the fact that dedicated games for those glasses are few and far between. So again – if AR gaming is your goal, you'll need to look into a Meta headset.

Are there any system requirements I need to consider, for using AR headsets with my devices?

Nope! The AR headsets on our list are standalone, meaning you don't need to connect them to a powerful computer – they do the computing on their own.

The AR glasses on our list, however, will require you to have a smartphone or a computer to connect to them, but there are no system requirements to worry about. They can run off of pretty much anything with HDMI out support.

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