Spectacles - or "Snapchat sunglasses" - are some of the quirkiest gadgets we've come across in quite some time. Even if you're not big on Snapchat, there's plenty of enjoyment to be found in capturing day-to-day life from a whole new perspective.
What Are They?
Spectacles are video sunglasses from Snap, the company formally known as Snapchat. Notably, Spectacles are Snap's first foray into hardware, with the company previously operating as an app-only business.
The glasses use a 115-degree lens, which records video in a circular format designed to mimic how the human eye sees. When you're watching them these back on your phone, they'll automatically be cropped to either landscape or portrait, depending on how you're holding your phone. Rotating your phone will also change what you see.
While the videos are designed for use in Snapchat, you can still export footage to your camera roll for sharing via other apps. If you choose to do so, the video will appear as a circle surrounded by a white background.
Spectacles feature an outward-facing light that fires up when you're recording (presumably, to alert others they're being filmed), and an internal light for your benefit. Tapping a button on the top-left hand corner of the sunnies will start recording a snap. You can then can tap again to expand the capture time up to 30 seconds.
Spectacles are compatible with both iPhone and Android.
First and foremost, Spectacles are both simple and fun to use. Pairing with Snapchat is a case of holding the camera up to a QR code on your phone, and after that you're ready to go. Pop them on, tap the button above the left lens, and you're filming.
It doesn't sound like much, but it's surprisingly enjoyable to just start recording video on a whim, without having to pull out a phone or a camera.
Given the price tag and the form factor, Spectacles shoot reasonable good quality video. It's nothing to write home about - your smartphone's camera will shoot in a higher resolution and is probably higher quality - but that's not really the point. When you're watching Spectacle shot videos back on a smartphone they look good enough. After all, quality isn't really the selling point of Spectacles, it’s the ease with which you can start filming and the unique perspective they provide.
As a bit of a camera nerd, I quite enjoy the wider field of view that you get when you shoot on Spectacles. Doubly so when you're filming things you wouldn't normally bother filming. For example, while in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, I got snippets of my first train trip to the expo, and while the actual footage isn't necessarily that interesting for anyone else, the circular first-person-view imbues it with a certain charm.
In the box (well, tube) with your Spectacles, you'll find a nifty yellow charging case. In addition to keeping your glasses safe, it stores enough juice to recharge the Spectacles four times. Each charge gives you about a hundred 10-second videos, so you're able to get about 500 clips all up before you have to recharge everything.
Rather than using a conventional charging standard, Spectacles come with their own proprietary magnetic charging cable. This can be attached directly to the glasses, or to the back of the case. While I can understand the need for a unique cable to suit the Spectacles' form factor, it could be a pain if you lose it.
Importantly, Spectacles are actually reasonably high quality sunglasses in terms of both build and lenses. I'd say they're roughly on par with the Raybans I normally wear, which is solid, given that the Raybans were more expensive and don't have a camera inside. Especially cause the Spectacles are still quite light.
What's Not So Good?
From a technical perspective, the only real issue with Spectacles is the process for getting video off the glasses. It's not so much that it doesn't work, it's just a little slow. Regardless of whether you're syncing the video back to your smartphone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (you'll need to use Wi-Fi to get higher resolution versions of your video), the process can take some time. Especially if you've shot a lot. It's far from a deal breaker - after all, it still works - but there's definite room for improvement.
As you might have noticed from the little picture next to my byline, I wear reading glasses. Thankfully my eyesight is mostly fine; I can still see without them, which means I can swap them out for a pair of Spectacles when I want to shoot video. If you actually need prescription glasses, you're kinda out of luck. It's not really not possible to wear Spectacles over normal glasses, and you'd look really stupid doing so anyway. There are a few places in the US offering prescription lenses to replace the ones that come with your Spectacles, but that's another cost to deal with.
It's also hard not to find yourself feeling a little self-conscious when you have a camera strapped to your head, at least from my experience. While Spectacles are nowhere near as threatening as the infamous Google Glass, there's still something inherently weird about wearing a camera as you go about your day.
No-one has ever had a go at me for wearing Spectacles - in fact, the most common reaction has been "oh my god, are those Snapchat glasses? Can I try them?" - but I found myself being mindful that there are plenty times and places where they're not appropriate, and questioning whether I was in one at any given moment. "Are these fine to use at the airport? I don't know, I won't risk it. Can I use these at a tech convention? Yeah, that's probably fine."
Wearing sunglasses inside just to shoot video is a bit weird though.
Please note, video has been compressed to minimize your data usage, and muted for the sake of your ears.
Who Are They For?
Spectacles feel like they're made for Snapchat addicts. They manage to encapsulate the idea of Snapchat into physical hardware, and seamlessly extend the experience.
But even if you're not the biggest fan of Snapchat, there's still a certain allure to Spectacles. They let you film from a unique perspective and take shots you might not normally get. Playing with your pet, teaching someone to ride a bike, eating dinner; really, anything where you can't spare a hand to hold a camera with.
Sure, strapping an action camera to your head could give you a similar experience, but the Spectacles implementation is far more polished, and far friendlier. For a first-generation product, they're amazingly well thought out. And most importantly, Spectacles are a hell of a lot of fun.
How Do I Buy Spectacles In Australia?
After months of selling its video sunglasses through pop-up stores and vending machines around the United States, Snap is now letting anyone get their hands on a pair of Spectacles through a new online store.
The glasses are available in a choice of three colours - black, orange, or blue - and retail for USD$129 (approximately $170). While you're only able to get Spectacles shipped to US addresses, forwarding services such as HopShopGo and Big Apple Buddy can always ensure a pair makes it way to Australia - for an additional fee, obviously.