Smartglasses are getting smarter and augmented reality specs are finally approaching prime time – and plenty of startups are getting into the space.
It's not just about slapping a camera on your face, either. AR, fitness tracking and mixed reality are all powering the next generation of smart eyewear.
Read this: Augmented reality explained
first-person videos and photos to turn-by-turn directions, health-sensing and facial recognition, the invasion of the smartglasses
is very much alive.
We don our future-specs to reveal both the best
smartglasses on the market and the upcoming devices we believe have the potential to take
connected specs mainstream in the next five years – check them out below.
Best AR smartglasses
The first HoloLens is the grandaddy of augmented reality smartglasses, but there were some big problems with it that got worse as alternatives cropped up. It was a bit uncomfortable to wear and the field of view was narrow.
HoloLens 2 has fixed both. The field of view is double the size of the original, and there are now eye-tracking sensors that can be used for both authentication and tuning that AR goodness. There's also better hand gesture support, so that you can do more than just pinch.
Read this:Hands-on with HoloLens 2
It's also 13g lighter than the original, coming in at 566g. There's a flip-up visor to make it easer to pop in and out of, and it's also friendlier to glasses wearers. Battery life is going to come in at about 3 hours.
As far as specs goes, it's running on the Snapdragon 850 Compute Platform with a 5-channel microphone array with built-in spatial audio. However, while some of the other headsets on this list are aimed at consumers, the HoloLens 2 are aimed at businesses and workers – especially workers who can't use laptops and smartphones in the field.
The HoloLens 2 is available to pre-order now on Microsoft's website.
Vuzix Blade Commercial Edge
We're big fans of the Vuzix Blade, which is the first pair of really useful commercial AR glasses. They make AR glasses look better than ever, in more ways than one. First, they actually look like a pair of glasses. They're not Oakley's or Ray-Bans, but they don't scream “Look at me, I'm technology” like other smartglasses.
The best way to describe them is that they're a lot like the first generation of smartwatches. They're a good first step at getting a lot of advanced tech in a decent package – but there's still work to do. There is a next-gen design that's coming with a sleeker look, however.
There are still a number of apps that aren't ready yet. We got to try out things like music control, a camera, an image viewer and some games. Some of the other stuff is available in preview only, and still has work to go. These include the Alexa app. Vuzix is also working on getting streaming services on board, as well as a version of Yelp and mapping.
The display is really good, with even photos looking crisp and vibrant. There's also an 8MP camera on board, with 4GB of storage to fill up with what you want. As for battery life, we were able to get around three to four hours.
The Blade AR is maybe the best move toward mainstream AR glasses we've seen yet. The best bit? Vuzix has worked to lower the price from the original $1,800 down to $1,000, just like it said it would. It also comes with a slight name change: The Vuzix Blade Commercial Edge.
Canadian startup North is taking a more fashion-focused look at AR glasses. Its Focals smartglasses are best described as what would happen if Warby Parker decided to make AR glasses.
It all starts by heading to a North store – there are only two right now, one in Brooklyn, New York and the other in Toronto, Canada. You'll get fitted for your glasses, and North will use special technology to scan your face and get your ideal eye measurements for the best AR. You will also get prescription lenses.
You get a little ring that you can use to move through the Focals menus. It's a little difficult to get used to walking and looking at the same time, but you get used to it. You'll get things like text messages, music and maps. Alexa is also on board to help you do things.
North has something special with the Focals, but its biggest challenge is going to be getting them in the hands of people around the country and the world, not just in two cities. Even better, North has managed to price these things at $1,000.
Solos aims to become a cyclist's best friend. These smartglasses pack in a small heads-up display enabling cyclists to glance at a host of useful data in real time, including speed, cadence, heart rate and power zones. They were supposed to be out in late 2016, but got held up by FCC certifications until recently and are shipping to backers now.
Read this: Trying on the Solos AR cycling glasses
They'll work with existing running apps like Strava and MapMyRide, will offer navigation and they're compatible with Bluetooth and ANT+ devices if you want to pair them with other cycling tracking kit. Solos has already been worn and used by the US Cycling team, so these glasses come with an elite athlete seal of approval.
Like the Solos specs, Israel-based outfit Everysight has taken its years of expertise building heads-up displays for the military and built its own smart AR smartglasses for cyclists.
With smartphone-like internals, the Raptors use an OLED-based projector system to provide the display, which along with a host of onboard sensors can show mapping data, heart rate information and other ride info.
Essential reading: Cycling with Everysight's AR smartglasses
There's also a camera to offer action-cam-style footage and voice commands to use the specs hands-free. Everysight launched the Raptor smartglasses last August and the company is now working on encouraging developers to build applications for the platform.
From $649, everysight.com
ODG R7 AR/R8 and R9
First released back in 2015, ODG's crop of AR glasses is growing. Let's start with the enterprise-focused ODG's R7 AR glasses, which feature 720p lenses that are 80% transparent and can show video at 80fps with a 37 degree FOV. As well as a 4MP camera, there's voice recognition, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a whole bunch of gyroscopes, magnetometers and accelerometers inside. There's also a more durable version, dubbed the R-7HL, which is available for those who need smartglasses in more hazardous conditions.
Read this: ODG ported PokÃ©mon GO to its AR smartglasses
The R8, which isn't available yet and R9, which you can reserve now, are future options offered by the company. They both offer bigger fields of view than the R7 models â 40 degrees for the R8 and 50 degrees for the R9. There's also positional tracking, which is a big deal. Thanks to the Snapdragon 835 processor inside, each also offers higher res images â dual 1080p displays on each of the new specs.
The R8 glasses are the sleeker and lighter of the pair, and more aimed at regular people, with a pair of 1080p cameras that are said to be able to capture 3D video. ODG has managed to get these way down in price too, though they're still not cheap.
$2,749 (R7), $3,499 (R-7HL), $1,999 (R9), TBD (R8) osterhoutgroup.com
Building off the success of Vuzix's M100 smart glasses are the M300s, which are made for enterprise and come with a comfortable yet rugged design.
With an Intel Atom processor powering performance, the M300s run on Android with 2GB RAM, 16GB of internal storage and Wi-Fi connectivity among the more notable specs. There's also a 13-megapixel camera, head tracking support and dual cancelling microphones.
Epson Moverio BT-300
The BT-300 smartglasses ditch the clunky look of their predecessor, returning with a sleeker, more polished pair of AR smartglasses. The BT-300 is lighter than the previous model and not quite as geeky-looking either.
It uses a significantly sharper 720p HD resolution OLED display, and now packs a 5-megapixel front facing camera. It's also powered by an Intel Atom quad core processor with Android Lollipop covering the software bases.
Epson's smartglasses have always been quite business focused, but the BT-300's are a little more fun. There's also a drone edition that you can use to control your DJI drone straight from your specs.
Currently only offered as a developer kit, the smartphone-powered DreamGlass brings a resolution of 2.5K, a 90-degree field of view, 1080p RGB camera and built-in 6 degrees of freedom gesture control. And by offering compatibility with Unity, this is one device that could legitimately become a cost-effective option for developers to build from. It's one to keep an eye on for the future, but for now you can get a better look at what the folks at DreamWorld are cooking by jumping over to our first impressions of DreamGlass.
It's not all about what you can see
Snap Spectacles 2.0
The young person's choice of smartglasses, Snap's second-generation Spectacles improve upon the original in worthy ways. You don't just have to take 10 seconds of video, you can also take photos now. Don't worry about getting them wet either, as the second-gen Specs are water resistant. Of course, you'll only be able to share your photos and video to the Snapchat app, which thankfully has faster data transfer now, though we still wish we could send our snaps straight to the camera roll.
Read this: How Specs changed my vacation
They're cheap, they're cheerful and they handily sidestep privacy concerns â if someone's looking at you with a pair of these bad boys on (and the lights are on), they're probably filming you. If not, then sorry, you're too boring. While they can be pretty useless for everyday activities, they really shine when you're doing something special, like vacationing, and you just want your devices to get out of the way so you can enjoy that beautiful view.
The glasses also charge in a case that's smaller than the first one was. It's all really simple. (FYI Snap is making acquisitions that make a set of AR glasses likely. Imagine your filter game when that happens). There are also two new styles, the Veronica and Nico, that you can get for $50 more.
All in all, Specs have improved over the first generation, but we still aren't entirely convinced they're worth the outlay. Find out why in our full Snap Spectacles 2 review.
From $150, Amazon | spectacles.com
Toronto-based wearable tech company InterAxon has partnered up with the Italian Safilo Group to create the newly named Lowdown Focus, in collaboration with Smith Optics. These are a pair of brain-sensing glasses and/or sunglasses aimed at improving your performance under pressure.
These stylish glasses are packed with sensors that can track brainwaves, eye movement, facial expressions and more. Plus there's a three-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and pressure sensors. It's got real-time biofeedback, brain training exercises and meditation help you get “in the zone”, focus and stay calm when it's showtime. The Focus are no longer available from Smith's site, but you can still get them at Nordstrom.
Vue's prescription glasses and smartglasses are the product of a $2m Kickstarter campaign that was aiming to ship the smart glasses by July 2017. However, after dealing with some technical challenges, they were then been delayed to June 2018. And now they're set to arrive in March 2019.
Again, there's no AR here. Instead, Vue glasses use bone conduction tech so you can use these instead of earphones, as well as a touch interface to control music and calls. They also handle notifications and activity tracking.
We were impressed with the music playback when we saw prototypes last year, and we'll check back with them once they're closer to shipping.
VSP's Level smartglasses aren't the smartest pair of glasses out there. They're essentially light fitness trackers that will give you your step count, miles, calories burned and active time. But they're also nice and stylish, with cute names referencing important inventors that made Level possible.
However, what makes them special is that they use fitness tracking not to help you, but to help others. The companion app will give you a point every time you hit your fitness goal. When you get 50 points, you can redeem them for free eye care and a pair of glasses for a person from one of four groups: Homeless, a child, veterans or seniors.
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