What would it take to get you to wear something on your face?
Snapchat is making sunglasses now, if you haven’t heard. A $130 pair of glasses with a camera inside, which takes snaps of the world without ever removing them from your face, have started descended like magic from strange pop-up vending machines.
What are they, and why should you even care? CNET finally snagged a pair in Los Angeles, and here’s what we know so far — after our own Ashley Esqueda tried out a pair. (See video, above.)
This story was originally published on September 27 and has been updated with hands-on impressions and video.
They’re not Google Glass, they’re camera glasses.
Smartglasses — or any sort of aggressive head-wearable tech — is still strange territory. Google Glass died as an awkward joke. Most smartglasses look like the sort of oddball things a normal person wouldn’t wear for more than a few seconds. But these glasses just have a camera, no display.
They’re made by Snapchat (or, Snap Inc.)
Spectacles were a surprise announcement earlier this year by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, along with the launch of Snap, Inc. Snapchat is a popular social media app, but Snap, Inc. is positioned as a “camera company,” and Spectacles are its first product. They’re priced affordably. They have a camera inside. They record video. And they pair to a phone.
Right now, the only way to buy them is from a vending machine.
No one was sent any Spectacles to review, and they’re not in stores. Instead, pop-up dispensers have become the only way that early adopters can line up and grab a pair to try. A single yellow “Snapbot” vending machine that looks like a minion emerged in Los Angeles, and is now moving around the country to undisclosed locations. People had to line up to buy one before the supply ran out.
They’re sunglasses with a connected camera inside. Spectacles can record 10-second video clips that upload to Snapchat via an iPhone or Android phone paired through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Place them in the included case to recharge, AirPods-style.
Wearable camera-glasses aren’t new, but Spectacles are aiming to be the best. Companies like Pivothead made them years ago. Google Glass did something slightly similar (it could record video clips and photos, among other things). So understand that having a camera on your face has been a thing for a couple of years now, at least. But Spectacles are trying to look fun, and like something you’re wearing in public on purpose.
They’re bright and weird-creepy versus stealthy-creepy. Spectacles seem to have bright, Elton John-esque designs, and there’s a very prominent circular ring of LEDs that light up when video is being shot. That’s a different approach than Pivothead, which made black sunglasses that looked nearly normal, hiding the camera in the bridge of the glasses.
They’re priced like a novelty. Evan Spiegel calls them a “toy,” and at $130 they’re in that spontaneous-purchase novelty zone where Amazon Echo and Fitbit lurk (and the more expensive Apple Watch most certainly does not). Many pairs of sunglasses already cost that much. Maybe you buy one for a weekend at Coachella or Burning Man. Maybe you just do it because you want to try something new.
The case is also a charger. That bright, colorful packaging is clever, doubling as a way to charge up Spectacles when not in use. Sure, you need to bring the case around, but you probably would anyway.
They shoot circular video that can be viewed in landscape and portrait. The 115-degree wide-angle camera captures video in a circle…so, if you view this video in the Snapchat app, you can look at it in horizontally, or vertically…or, by continuing to spin your phone around in any orientation. The video is reframed as needed, meaning you might want to keep repositioning your phone for certain videos. It’s a great idea.
It only records 10 seconds of video at a time. Like quick-snaps for video, and much like what Snapchat already does. This isn’t a record-your-kid’s-whole-birthday-party set of camera glasses, unless you keep snapping 10 seconds at a time. To snap, you tap (the frames).
These won’t make everyone look like hamburger-cat-people (maybe). Snapchat’s insane set of filters that map onto photos or videos with uncanny precision are amazing…but these Spectacle glasses don’t do anything like augmented reality. They don’t have video displays. These are just camera glasses. However, videos recorded via Spectacles could have filters applied afterward in the Snapchat app.
They’re designed to sync into one app: Snapchat. Welcome to the world of connected wearable app-cessories. Spectacles are a one-purpose gadget that syncs right into Snapchat. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Snap nailed a great app first (Snapchat) and then is releasing a product second. And anyway, most great connected products tend to work this way.
They’re selfie-challenged. These are outward-facing camera-glasses, not inward. They’re glasses for snapping others, and capturing action shots. In a selfie world, maybe that seems weird. But when it comes to mounted action cameras like GoPro, it’s pretty standard.
They seem to be going after GoPro more than augmented-reality smartglasses. Again, they’re glasses with an embedded camera, not any sort of deeper set of “smartglasses.” And that’s probably a great idea, because they’re going to be a lot less complicated. And now that everything in the world is being instantaneously livestreamed, Spectacles could be a simple type of hands-free way of snapping stuff on the go. Or, yes, while doing crazy things.
I have no idea if wearing video-capturing glasses is finally acceptable, but we are definitely in a place where everyone already shares everything from their phones. I still think Spectacles seem more like party favors than permanent lifestyle decisions, but if people end up wearing them and not being mocked, Snap might have a victory for wearable face-tech. Spectacles seem like novelties, but maybe they’re something more.