It’s a concept that technology has tried in the past – a camera that users wear in some sort of fashion on their faces, opening up possibilities of sharing not only one’s experience, but one’s actual perspective on life. There are a few examples out there of this concept but they haven’t really stuck, for a few different reasons: first, they tend to look a little too obvious; second, the issue of privacy turns up when people feel like they’re being recorded at all times. While the solutions to these issues haven’t been addressed in a specific fashion, one company you may be really familiar with is looking to be the pioneer – and I think they’ve done an excellent job by somewhat addressing the aforementioned issues.
How does this pair of fashion sunglasses with a camera built in succeed where others before it have failed? Well, it’s not just because of the culture of exclusivity that Snap Inc. has managed to foster with their pop-up vending machines, though we will admit that it is an incredibly effective marketing strategy. After all, I personally went to three different pop-ups trying to get my hands on these glasses and failed each time.
No, instead it comes from the fact that this product is actually pretty well executed. And in this review, we will explore what makes the hard-to-get Snapchat Spectacles one of the must-have gadgets in 2017.
Before the actual review, let’s get one thing out of the way: my opinion of Snapchat. The picture and video messaging service is one of the most popular ways of connecting with friends and the masses, and brings its own brand of silliness to the entire spectrum of social silliness. I have gone on record (in our podcast) that I am not an avid user of Snapchat as a social media platform. However, I am a fan of the way that Snapchat makes connecting with friends really simple and pretty damn fun. Its interpersonal communication system is one of the best out there that even includes built-in voice and video calls on top of picture, video, and text chatting. The fact that all of the content goes away at some point allows Snapchat to foster candor – users are more willing to share their disgusted face reacting to someone else’s Snap because it won’t live on in infamy or even in the cloud. And if the other user actually did want to save the Snap, the original sender would know about it.
So, for a user like me that does not partake in the Snapchat social media frenzy, what use do I have for a pair of glasses that take video of my personal perspective? As a budding regular vlogger, I wanted a different way of getting footage of my experience for the videos that I share typically on YouTube.
Also, I broke my last pair of sunglasses.
Little did I know that the Spectacles would be my gateway drug into the Snapchat world. More on that later – first, let’s talk about the glasses themselves.
The Snapchat Spectacles – if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one through one of the pop-up vending machines (or by buying it off of someone who did get lucky), come in a few different colors; blue, an orange-like coral, and a straight black color with all of them sporting the signature yellow Snapchat trim. Though I would have been happy to try on the other pairs, black was the only pair that I would own. It looks about as normal as you would hope, but much of the design around the cameras cuts the subtlety away – anyone making more than even a cursory glass at your face will probably notice you’re not wearing regular sunglasses.
Compared to the Google Glasses of the world, these are certainly more stylish – but they toe the line into gaudy. The Spectacles don’t shy away from Snap Inc.’s playful and perhaps millennial-inspired attitude, opting for a lens shape that is neither aviator or wayfarer. Wayfarer Spectacles would have been incredible, but for what these glasses cost, it’s basically all about the electronics inside and definitely not style at comparable prices.
The build quality is… decent. For $129 retail (note: not the price I paid for mine) these definitely don’t feel like really high quality sunglasses. The plastic finish feels a little fragile and makes me want to coddle the glasses when not in use, and one of the hinges already feels a bit loose, which is worrying. I haven’t had any issues with the glasses actually breaking down, but I imagine that, without some delicate handling, the typical wear and tear could take its toll. As for the fit of the glasses, they pinched a little on my head, which added to my worry that the glasses would deteriorate even under my normal usage of them. Since that first donning of the glasses, I still haven’t gotten used to the way these feel on my face.
Indeed, you’ll be paying the price for the two modules that sit on one’s temples: on the right side (when wearing the Snapchat Spectacles) is the camera, while the left temple has a light-up indicator to show that the glasses are recording, and a button on which users can tap to start a 10-second total recording or hold down to cut that time down. Behind that left temple lie the charging connector pins that are exposed when the arms are folded down.
These contacts sit magnetically on the connectors of either the charging case or the charging cable itself. The case, a triangular prism clamshell in a rather loud yellow color, holds a battery that can charge the Spectacles up to four full times, which works for anyone that is incessantly snapping throughout the day. To check the battery life of the Snapchat Spectacles, a couple decisive taps on the side of the left temple will light up the indicator.
Speaking of battery life, Snap claims that the Spectacles can get up to 100 snaps done before needing a charge. I think this is a bit of an exaggeration, as I got closer to 60 snaps before getting the low battery warning (and before you say anything, this was achieved as my friends passed around the glasses and kept recording tons of footage on their own). When taking the time at certain points to extract the Snaps, however, the battery life unsurprisingly takes a dive, yielding closer to 40 snaps on one charge. This is the price you might pay for trying to being timely with your Snaps, as opposed to uploading whole stories at the end of the day, when everything has already passed. Plenty of other Spectacles wearers have mentioned that this is a bit of a frustration, as well.
The indicator on the left temple is really elegant, actually. The rotating dots cycle through and are much better to look at than a distracting – and alarming – red record light, and are inviting enough so that I haven’t been negatively approached by people I happened to have in my Snaps. Instead, people tended to be curious about what was happening, at which time I would explain the product. This happened an almost incredible amount of times, especially since I took my Spectacles to a bar during one of its busiest nights. However, no one asked me to stop recording or delete footage of them.
I will say that this might have been because of the 10 second nature of the recordings – unless users were pressing the button over and over again, it isn’t as if the Spectacles were recording a long-form documentation of what is occurring in front of it. I do encourage, however, that Snapchat Spectacles users take on the same code of ethics that Google tried to instill in its Glass Explorers – don’t be a jerk. If someone asks you to stop recording or to delete footage, it’s best to just do it. Take it from a vlogger – there are always more opportunities to record footage even after a situation like this occurs.
That’s the glasses, but what about the videos. Viewing the recorded Snaps on the app is simple enough – with the phone that is paired to the Spectacles, swipe up to the Memories area and find the section for Specs. From there, the app will automatically extract the videos from the Spectacles. Again, Snap is not really forthcoming about its product specifications – it is unknown how many Snaps the Spectacles can hold, but they have not indicated low space in any of the days I’ve used them for even 50+ recordings.
It’s important to note that the Snaps don’t post to My Story automatically – this is a question I got a lot while using the Spectacles – and they instead sit in the Memories area until you decide to post them or send them to other users. One can go through the different stories put together by the Spectacles and upload them one by one (either as-is or after some traditional Snapchat editing), or upload whole groupings of Snaps at once. The clips have to upload one by one still, and I found that posting groups of footage often lead to cut footage because the Snapchat app didn’t hold connection long enough to do every shot. For the most consistent experience, it’s best to upload Snaps one by one.
There seems to be a lot of processing being done by the Snapchat app when even just viewing the Spectacles footage – my Pixel got hot while watching stories and there was choppy performance from the app when it seemed to get overloaded. This is likely because of the way the footage is interpreted – the Snapchat Spectacles record circular video at a focal length similar to a wide-angle GoPro, but when the app crops the footage for the phone’s screen, it allows for rotation of the phone to see more or less of the perspective. Imagine a rectangle in the middle of a circle, and then rotate the rectangle around. The rectangle is your effective field of view within the possibilities of the circle. This way of viewing the Snaps definitely has a ‘wow’ factor to it, even if certain elements can be cut off due to the orientation.
When extracting the Snaps from the app, the video ends up in a square format with a circular crop. I mentioned in my unboxing and first impressions of the Spectacles that I wished full video could be extracted. What I meant to iterate was I wanted full 16:9 video, even if it was a cropped version of the circular videos that the Spectacles capture. The small 800×800 resolution square with the white outer cut is really distracting, especially if I was going to use these videos in vlogs. The solution is to do basically what the Snapchat app does by zooming and scaling into the video, even if it is sacrificing quality – an 800×800 video getting cropped in and then blown up to 1080p or larger is far from ideal.
As a result, it isn’t really about the quality of the videos, which is decent at best. What matters most is the experience of actually shooting the Snaps. A simple button press makes quite literally anything the wearer is seeing a part of the recorded video, and it is so easy to just keep recording. People can argue that the content of such Snaps is frivolous, but from a storyteller’s perspective, this is the first product aside from GoPros (and we all know how those look on someone’s head) that actually show the person’s perspective. And, I would argue, this is the easiest way to get that perspective and actually share it. It opens up a lot of possibilities for primarily Snapchat sharing, sure, but as the first iteration of its kind, future versions of products like the Spectacles could lead to wearable camera tech that goes above and beyond.
And for now, the people willing to wait in line at the Snapbots are the early adopters. During my few times waiting to get my own pair (and failing), I asked some other people in line why they wanted them. Most said they thought they were cool, but others said they don’t even really use Snapchat and are more intrigued by the fact that they are camera enabled eyewear. I fell into the latter category – and I have to admit that despite my initial thoughts about what I would use the Spectacles for, after the first days of using them, I’ve become a more regular user of Snapchat itself.
To be fair, I still keep my usage of Snapchat pretty spartan – I record the Spectacles footage and extract them when I have the chance, carefully curating which clips I actually want to represent what I’m doing that day. I’m not just uploading anything and everything my Specs record, and even then I send my Snaps mostly to friends. But whereas the narrow view of the smartphone camera showed only a specific view of my experience, the Snapchat Spectacles changed that to the viewpoint of my own eyes. What I go through and experience is actually more immersively shareable in a way not widely available to most storytellers, and that’s probably the most exciting part of this first product by Snap.
And that’s why I enjoy begrudgingly wearing them, because there are no other products (yet) that do quite the same thing. I don’t praise the actual Spectacles themselves – they’re a gaudy looking, low resolution recording, attention seeking means to an end for a videographer like myself. But to the storyteller in me, the Snapchat Spectacles are the first kind of well-executed attempt at giving people the ability to share a unique perspective: literally, their own.
What do you think of the Snapchat Spectacles and do you plan to, or have you bought them? Are you a regular Snapchat user? What do you think of the platform? And if you had wearable camera technology like the Snapchat Spectacles or Google Glasses, how do you think you’d use them? Let us know your views in the commetns below!
Ryan Vergara Photography contributed to some of the photos in this review.