Regardless of how you feel about Snapchat’s new camera-equipped glasses, one thing is certain: Snapchat’s marketing team is genius.
The glasses, called Spectacles, are exclusive, hard to come by, and one of the most innovative products of the year. So of course, we all have to have them.
But since Snapchat — which recently renamed itself to Snap Inc. — has only been selling them in obscure locations, Business Insider is just now getting our hands on a pair, thanks to our good friends at Cheddar, who kindly lent us theirs.
My first reaction? Wow.
From the first moment of opening the lid to pairing the Spectacles with my phone, they were everything I hoped they’d be: well-designed, stylish, fun, and easy to use. Walking around New York City with them, I felt like part of an exclusive club, and was simultaneously worried someone would snatch them off my face.
For the company’s first hardware product, the glasses, which cost $130 and are only sold out of vending machines, can certifiably be called a hit.
But there’s one problem with the Spectacles: the novelty wears off quickly.
Subtle and stylish
Arguably the best part about the Spectacles is that they’re subtle. We tested out a black pair and they look just like regular sunglasses at first glance. Walking down the street in them, I didn’t feel like I was wearing a nerdy tech product on my face.
The only ways you can tell that there’s something different about the glasses are the yellow circles around the lens and the light on either side of the frame, and the fact that the hinges are quite thick — that’s where the charging port is and where all the technology is housed.
While the teal and coral versions of the Spectacles look more like toys or gadgets, the black pair is by far the most subtle of the three shades.
And although some people — men especially — complained about the fit of the Spectacles, they fit comfortably on the bridge of my nose. There are two rubber pads on either side of the nose bridge that help them fit snugly, and the shape of the frames complemented most face shapes. In fact, they looked good on nearly everyone who tried them on. Clearly, Snap paid close attention to trends in glasses and sunglasses and chose a shape that probably won’t go out of style anytime soon, but still looks modern.
Oddly, Snap doesn’t say anywhere on the Spectacles website whether the glasses offer 100% UVA and UVB protection, as most sunglasses do.
Video capture made easy — some of the time
Spectacles come in a plastic tube that houses the case, the glasses, and the other accessories, including a ghost-shaped cleaning cloth and a charging cable. While the case is a bit bulky — it’s prism-shaped, so it doesn’t fit in pockets or small purses — it’s a clever design that charges the glasses when they’re snapped into place.
Setting up the glasses to work with your phone is easy and straightforward, and Snapchat includes step-by-step instructions inside the package (for more on how to set them up, click here). Once they’re paired with your phone, you can begin shooting videos that will upload directly to your phone and are housed inside the Memories folders.
It took me a little while to adjust to shooting video with the glasses. I spent years shooting video on DSLRs and I now constantly shoot video on my iPhone, but this is a totally new and mostly incomparable experience — the glasses are literally seeing what you’re seeing.
The most challenging part of recording video was how easily the lens could be obstructed. Being outside on a windy day caused strands of my hair to fly in front of the lens, ruining a perfectly nice video of the Flatiron Building. And since you can only guess at whether the glasses are still recording — you can kind of see the light flashing out of the corner of your eye — I often would take them off too soon and accidentally cover the lens with my hand.
This is all part of a larger problem with the Spectacles: You can’t see what you’re recording in real time.
With basically any other camera, you can watch the video as you’re recording it, ensuring that you’re capturing what you intend to. But with Spectacles, it’s basically a guess. Because the lens has a fish-eye effect, it was hard to tell what would be in the frame and what would get cut off. While it might somewhat defeat the purpose of the Spectacles, I would have loved if I could watch my videos in real-time on my phone screen.
And if you were hoping to record video with the Spectacles at nighttime, good luck: While Snap hasn’t released the specs of the camera, the lens does not perform well in low-light scenarios.
A clunky app experience
There’s one other major problem with Spectacles: It’s actually a hassle to view the videos after they’re done recording. While the shooting part is easy, the entire experience after the fact is clunky and time-consuming.
The videos are buried in your Memories folder, which most people likely never even open but was clearly created to house Spectacles videos. You have to watch through every single video in order, so you can’t just select your most recent video and look at it — all the videos you’ve created play back much like a Snap story.
You can speed things along by clicking the button that says “Edit & Send,” which shifts the videos into a carousel view that you can scroll though, but it still puts them in chronological order. Anyone trying to view a specific shot will quickly be frustrated by how long it takes to get to your most recent video.
But there’s one feature of Spectacles that arguably makes it one of the coolest products I’ve used in a while: When you play back the video, it shifts around when you move your phone, much like 360 video. You can look around the entire image of what the Spectacles just by turning your phone. When you add a caption and upload the video to you Snapstory, the caption moves along with the video. That feature alone makes filming videos with the Spectacles incredibly fun to use.
My first instinct was to use the Spectacles to shoot beautiful, first-person videos, but it was clear very quickly that this product is not designed to do that. In trying to shoot a nice video walking up to the Chrysler Building at night, I realised after playing it back that it pretty much just looked like I had shot it with my phone.
The Spectacles seem designed for experiences where there’s a lot of movement and a lot to look at — an experience that’s best represented POV-style. When I started really testing out the glasses, I felt like they were wasted on my jaunts around New York City. The glasses would be better put to use in situations like concerts, big parties, sporting events, or anything outdoors — which means that if you’re buying them for everyday use, you might be disappointed.
The other downside is the videos don’t upload to your phone in HD. Instead, you get a somewhat blurry SD version first, and can opt to upload the HD videos after. But that requires connecting to the WiFi inside the Spectacles, which again is a clunky and time-consuming process, and it’s difficult to select an individual video to upload in HD.
For Snap’s first iteration of the glasses, they’re a total success — as long as you’re not looking at them as a tech product.
If you think about the Spectacles as a fashion product that happens to be tech-enabled, they’re fantastic: They look good, it’s easy to record video, and they’re fun to use. Owning them puts you in an exclusive club, but not in the same vein as the Silicon Valley techies who flocked around Google Glass.
Instead, the Spectacles are aimed at a different crowd: Snapchat users who want to take their game to the next level; people who travel and explore and don’t want to do so with a GoPro strapped to their heads; and millennials who are eager to be inspired by a tech product again and want to be the first to own the next big thing — in essence, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel himself.
Are the glasses perfect? Not even close. The app’s capabilities haven’t caught up to what the Spectacles are trying to accomplish, the camera is below-average, and after only a few hours of using them, the novelty completely wore off. Right now, their allure mostly lies in how difficult they are to obtain, evidenced by the fact that everyone at Business Insider and all of my friends who tried them on immediately uploaded a selfie while wearing them, but didn’t actually record any video with them.
For $130, the product seems worth the money, and would be fun to have on-hand for the few days a year you’re at a music festival or taking a road trip with friends. But don’t be surprised if, after a few selfies and a couple fun POV videos, your Spectacles start to gather dust.