Mobile / Hands-on Review

Snap Inc. Challenges the Camera Industry with the Stylish Spectacles

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In a surprise move late last year, Snapchat became the latest tech company to reinvent itself. It changed its name to Snap Inc., repositioned itself as a camera company, and then quickly released its first physical product: a pair of sunglasses equipped with a camera that will connect directly to your phone and Snapchat account. These Spectacles are something of a spectacle themselves, requiring potential buyers to locate a roving Snapbot, wait for a long time in line and, then, if you are lucky, you will eventually be able to purchase a pair. With the dramatic changes happening in the camera industry over the past few years, the attention these Spectacles are receiving is something we should watch.

Any time a new camera company joins the scene, we take notice here—normally it is with a more conventional approach, even if the camera itself is loaded with unique technology; take Lytro and its light field cameras, for instance. But what Snap Inc. is doing is completely different, and the manufacturer claims to want to reinvent the camera. Spectacles are not a camera in the normal sense, since they require you to wear them and use the Snapchat app. So why are people putting so much effort into tracking down a pair? Well, the best way to find out is to go get a pair for ourselves.

Luckily for us, until February 19, Snap Inc. has a pop-up shop here in NYC, on 59th Street. So, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to make sure I was among the first people in line, hopefully guaranteeing that I would get a pair. I’m not the type of person to start waiting at midnight for the newest iPhone, but Snapchat did a great job in making this a much more exclusive club, and one that I had to go check out. It was an interesting experience, with all the other people in line visibly excited and many of them sharing the experience on social media, me included. Being a relatively mild winter day, the wait wasn’t too bad and I managed to get a wrist band that would get me in for the earliest time slot.

 

So, I got some breakfast and then went back to purchase the Spectacles and, by this time, the line had ballooned. Eventually I made it into the sparsely decorated room with the Snapbots, where they show off some videos and even have a Snapchat code for “trying on” the glasses virtually via the app. Eventually, I made it to the front and managed to snag a black pair from the high-tech vending machine. They came packaged with a bright yellow charging case, a USB charging cable, and a fun ghost-shaped microfiber cloth. Now to try them out.

My usual reviews always start with a discussion of image quality. This time however, image quality doesn’t matter. The Spectacles don’t provide any specs to pore over and if you ask Snap Inc. (I did), they aren’t talking about them anyway. Frankly, it doesn’t matter and I didn’t care—this is not why you would buy these. This fact alone is what makes the Spectacles special in such a spec-focused industry. We saw this start with camera phones and how people stopped carrying around dedicated cameras, but even these devices fell victim to the numbers game, because the latest phones all boast advanced imaging systems. For users just wanting to pick up something so they can capture what’s happening around them, these are ideal.

To really get into this, we need to talk about the Snapchat app. Originally just a simple way to send photos that would then be immediately deleted, the app has received some serious updates, including a Discover section that opened the doors for serious media producers to show off their content. This tab also enabled Snap Inc. to create crowdsourced Stories, ones that were much more personal than you would get by just reading the news. They can combine shots from users in the middle of the action with their own data and information and then throw in analysis from some professional reporters who are also using the app. It creates a more involved and cohesive story that addresses the big picture and the details simultaneously, and is cool. It shows how Snap Inc.’s focus is telling stories and what its reinterpretation of the camera aims to do.

Anyway, back to the Spectacles. Pairing is super simple—basically, the app brings up Snapchat’s version of a QR code for the glasses to see and instantly pair them up. Now, you can just press the button on the glasses frames and you are rolling. They take 10-second videos with a single press, though you can continue to press the button to add another 10 seconds for up to 30 seconds total. While recording, a circle of lights will show up on one side of the glasses, alerting everyone around that you are recording and avoiding the potential worry people may have otherwise.

In general, I found these things to be awesome and a lot of fun. And they really do let you tell stories from a first-person point of view. The first real experience I had with them was on the weekend when I put them on and made some shortbread. Just following the few Snaps, it is easy to watch and the first-person perspective really draws the user in. I then took them out to a New Year’s party where they got their first real test. I must say it worked well, even though it meant that I was wearing sunglasses at night and mostly inside.

The best part about the video is that it is completely circular and when you are in the app you can rotate your phone to reveal more of the scene as you need or want. This also solves the issue of whether you need to hold your phone vertically or horizontally to watch a video, making it work for any orientation. If you want to save these videos to show your friends or edit on your own, you can export files at 704 x 704 resolution or compilations of the entire day at a more modest 504 x 504 pixels. This is great for sharing on other social networks or sending to a friend who hasn’t joined Snapchat yet.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the Spectacles experience is how few people were bothered that I was recording with them. Unlike Google Glass, which was likely a bit ahead of its time, Snap Inc. developed these with precautions and people are less worried, since their app is known for deleting things quickly. Snap Inc. claims it wants to reinvent the camera, and as more and more images are being taken solely to share experiences and memories with our friends, the Spectacles seem to be a first foray into a brand-new world of social imaging. I am very excited to see what’s to come and where this company takes photography next.

17 Comments

I was surprised you didn't include pivothead in your comparison.

Robert

The final triumph of triviality. Help! I'm being selfied to death by turkeys.

Suggest BH skip this one - it's destined for the joke bin. Disclaimer: I said bottled water would never make it.

My ope when I saw this was you oculd record a lot longer and it would be great for investigative reporting.  I know repsect for privacy and all.  Thirty seconds might not be enoigh to catch police abuse or citizen abuse.

Catching police abuse on camera? Really?  Please don't tell me we have actually sunk into what was predicted by Dr. Francis Schaeffer, back in the early 70's in his series, "How Then Should We Live?, The Rise and Fall of Western Thought and Culture."

Problems is some of us where glasses .....

Obviously you cannot spell where is asking a location, WEAR is what you do with glasses. Not much respect in a review if you do not know the differece

Uhh, maybe he meant, "Where are my glasses so I can read this article." Other pet peeves, your vs you're, there vs their, people overusing "That" as in " He said THAT he saw the accident" and people using "Go" instead of "Said"  as in, "Then she goes, do,you want to get something to eat, and I go, yeah, and she goes, where." 

john Fitz, "you do not know the 'differece' ", now YOU misspelled 'difference'

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAAHHAAHA
 

Hey Matt,

As a fellow glasses wearer I understand the issue with a lot of these wearables (VR headsets and 3D movies being particularly annoying). I'm lucky in that I can live without my glasses if needed, but if you can't the tight fit of the Spectacles makes it quite annoying to try and wear over any regular par of glasses.

I was excited at the possibility of making 3-d photography with headgear like this.

Who's going to create a 3-d monitor?  It's bound to happen.

Funky:  Reminds me of John Lennon - but a journey forward in time to 2017.

 Saw some on a user, and they told me it drains your battery like crazy. As in very fast. What did you find?

Hi Damon,

If you keep checking your phone and transferring files over to it as you shoot, yes it will drain your battery down quickly. I'm not sure about crazy fast, but I was on a relatively new iPhone 7 and didn't have that bad of battery drain throughout the day, though you likely won't make it through an entire day without an extra boost. I think the best option, but not the best to keep your Snapchat Story updated, is to take a few videos and deal with them all at once. Also, if you aren't transferring HD versions you will save a lot of battery life.

I'm sorry...STYLISH??

Hi Keith,

They have a unique, fun look to them, especially when you get into the other colors. They can come off as a little funky looking too (my first impression), but this is always a matter of opinion.

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