Snapchat Spectacles ($130) may look like a trivial toy, but after using them for a little more than a day, I'm convinced that they're something greater. This wacky wearable feels like a response to everything the now-defunct Google Glass did wrong. Glass offered too much, with a cumbersome interface and a ton of social baggage.
Snap, the maker of Spectacles and the Snapchat app, seems to have paid attention to that disaster, and the company has made its wearable supersimple, single-purpose and silly. But is that enough to make Spectacles worth the cost and the effort of using their app?
The Joy of Snapping
Before I knew it, my first day with Spectacles had ended, and I had recorded 82 snaps. The glasses seem to be aimed at the documentarians among us, as Spectacles primarily share the point of view from your face (and let you narrate your videos).
In the time since Spectacles started to spread into the world (at a slow pace, thanks to a scarcity-based release method), I've noticed Snapchat users sharing great snaps made from the glasses that show off why these clips are more than a fad. From skateboarders midgrind to pet owners playing with an adorable animal, Spectacles offer a point of view that you could share with others only by using a GoPro and helmet.
One of the best parts of snaps shot on Spectacles is that these clips rotate 360 degrees if you move your phone while you're viewing them. I actually uttered a Keanu Reeves-esque "whoa" when I first saw this in action, and the novelty hasn't worn off yet.
The Spectacles' camera is above the right lens, while Snap placed the status lights above the left one, with the button you click to snap. Spectacles don't provide anything in the way of a user interface — just a white indicator light glowing from the left hinge that lets you know you're recording.
The people who are looking at you will see a spinning ring of dots in the status lights — a playful way of communicating to others that they're being filmed. After a brief (but sometimes longer) amount of time, you'll get a notification on your iPhone or Android that your videos have been imported to your phone.
By making the Spectacles this easy to activate (and they're always on), the eyewear bypasses all the clutter of Google Glass' unintuitive interface, which made you navigate by stroking the frames and moving your eye. Of course, Spectacles offer only one feature, as opposed to the myriad tools Google tried to pack into Glass. But this is a case of demonstrating that it’s better to focus on one thing and do it well, than adding on a lot of half-realized features.
That said, while I admire Spectacles’ simplicity and ease of use, I didn't have an answer when a colleague asked me why they couldn’t take still shots. It should be possible to add a second button without making the glasses too cumbersome.
Stuck in Snapchat's Limitations
Snapchat users are accustomed to their snaps not looking sharp, as it's more about capturing the emotion of a moment than pixel-precise pictures. Spectacles' circular, fish-eye videos measure 1080 x 1080 pixels and 29 frames per second, but they don't look crisp when they're played back.
For smoother clips, you can download what Snapchat calls the HD version of your video, which is also 1080 x 1080, but at a faster frame rate (59 fps). You probably won't download HD versions often, though, as each download requires a lengthy process of activating the Wi-Fi chip in the Spectacles and connecting your iPhone or Android to that network.
Video that's shot on Spectacles at night looks as unclear as what you get when you use the app on an iPhone or Android device. While all of these issues are to be expected, it would have been nice to see Snap deliver a camera that performs decently in low light.
Design: Paging Willy Wonka
If I had to describe Spectacles in a single word, it would be "silly." When I explored New York wearing them, I got a series of other answers, including "goofy" (from my dad) and "'80s" (from a bartender). As much as they look like something Willy Wonka would wear, Spectacles aren't weird enough to wreck your day-to-day experiences with stares from onlookers — my barista, for example, was unfazed by the sight of them.
One colleague said that the glasses bore a feminine look, because of the cat-eye corners, but I don't think they're so gendered that they can't be used by all. The predominant response I got from others was that the wacky teal-colored glasses projected a sense of "not giving a damn what people think."
Unfortunately, Spectacles don't feel that durable — the frames offer a build quality that's not that much better than cheap promotional sunglasses. My Warby Parker Winstons cost about the same as Spectacles, but their frames feel much more solid. Clearly, you're paying for the camera that connects to Snapchat, and not for durability.
Luckily, Spectacles come inside of their charging case, which is a thick, triangular foam box that feels like it can take a spill. It also holds four full charges, which you fill up by connecting the proprietary connector cord to its underside.
The use of a proprietary connector may annoy people who are worried about replacing the cable if it gets lost, but the tiny space for a port on the hinge gives Snap good reason to go its own way. The cable itself is a nice touch, with a woven-fabric casing that will prevent wear and tangles.
The Spectacles offered a good, snug fit to my head, but Snap said that alterations are possible. The company advises you to contact "a qualified optician," and tell that individual "to not apply heat or water anywhere near the front of the frame where the electronics are housed."
You've also got to pick a color for your glasses: Spectacles come in Coral, Teal and Black. I opted for Teal, because I thought, if I'm getting something goofy, I might as well go all the way. In retrospect, I wonder if the subtler black Specs would have been best.
In a small touch that's too cute by a few measures, Spectacles come with a cleaning cloth that's cut in the shape of Snap's Ghost logo. I would have been more receptive to this if the cloth had been slightly larger; its 5.5-inch height is only large enough to cover both sides of a lens at once.
Software: Not Exactly a Snap
It may be easy to record snaps on Spectacles, but getting them onto Snapchat is a bit of a trial. Once the clips arrive on your handset — which can take a while if you've taken a lot of Snaps — you've got a little work to do before you can get them up and online.
Go to the Specs tab in Memories and tap on the screen (the app won’t prompt you with any other suggestions). You'll have to tap through each snap that you've recorded that day to find the one you're looking to post. The better way to peruse your snaps is to hold down on the circular video previews in Memories and select Show Thumbnails.
You can edit your clips with filters, doodles and text, but if you don't place them in the middle of the snap, they might fall off the screen when the device is rotated.
Who Is This For?
The biggest questions about the existence of Spectacles are "Why do they exist?" and "Who are they for?" It's clear as daylight that Spectacles are made for Snapchat addicts who are looking for a new toy and a way to become a more prolific Snapper.
The biggest convenience you gain by using Spectacles is hands-free Snapping. You no longer have to carry around your phone in one hand just to record a snap. Just tap the button on your glasses, and you’re capturing clips.
But I wouldn’t go so far to say that Spectacles will appeal to all 60 million of Snapchat's daily, active users. A friend who self-identifies as an "incessant Snapchat user" told me that she's not interested in them because the lens faces outward, and she only uses Snapchat for its selfie-enhancing filters.
The Bluetooth Blues
Spectacles communicate with Snapchat over the Bluetooth wireless connection protocol, which is still far from perfect. While I was out and about, I got an error message in the Snapchat app that told me that there was an issue with my device's Bluetooth. Fortunately, the glasses will store your videos until they can access your phone.
Snapchat's first suggestion — turn Bluetooth off and on — didn't work, but the more annoying suggestion to restart my device did. Hopefully, this happens on an extremely infrequent basis, since it took a while for my iPhone 6 Plus to reboot.
According to Snap, Spectacles hold enough battery life for 100 snaps. After that, you'll need to charge them by connecting the proprietary cable. You can also refuel by docking them in the charging case, which holds four full Spectacles charges. I didn't hit any low-battery problems with the Spectacles during my testing, but I noticed that transferring lots of videos over Bluetooth did take a toll on my iPhone 6 Plus' battery.
You'd be disappointed if you bought Spectacles because you thought that they're a great pair of sunglasses. Unlike sunglasses from mainstream companies such as Warby Parker, Spectacles lenses aren't polarized, which means they won't reduce glare.
As someone who already wears prescription eyeglasses, I was kind of annoyed that there isn't a version of Spectacles that attach to glasses. There is a workaround, though: Snap suggests that users "consult a professional ABO-certified optician for guidance" in swapping out Spectacles for prescription lenses.
How to Get Spectacles
Originally sold at limited-time pop-up Snapbot kiosks and a store in New York City, Spectacles can now be purchased online from Spectacles.com.
Bottom Line: Is This Spectacle Worth It?
Snapchat users are likely caught in the siren's song of the Spectacles, pondering whether it's worth it or not to drop $130 on these specs. The convenience of hands-free recording and POV video adds new depth to the social networking app, but its hard-to-use software and the lack of still photography is a reminder this is a version-1 product.
But as annoying as they may be, these issues feel as fleeting as a Snapchat post itself. The confusion that arises from the Memories section can be fixed in an update to the Snapchat app, and since Snapchat never promised still photography, addicts of the network can probably learn to accept this limitation. If you use Snapchat for more than selfies, Spectacles will likely make the app more fun and let you become a better snapper.