Smartglasses and AR are considered the next big breakthrough for wearables that will filter into our daily lives. Putting useful connected features in front of our eyes is a challenge that both startups and major tech players have stepped up try and make a reality.
The concept was thrust into the spotlight with Google Glass, and while Glass lives on in the workplace, it failed to break into the mainstream.
If rumours are to believed, Apple is working on smartglasses and Facebook has already confirmed it plans to launch smartglasses in 2021 and have augmented reality at the heart, merging virtual and physical worlds overlaying data on the world around you.
There's also Google, who bought smartglasses hopeful North, which was working on the second generation of the promising North Focals ‚Äď and has confirmed the company will be stripped for parts and absorbed into the Google hardware team.
- We were promised AR smartglasses: the state of play
- Facebook's AR glasses push: Project Aria explained
What are AR smartglasses?
When we talk about AR or augmented reality smartglasses, we are focusing on eyewear that has the technology on board to merge what you see in the real world with virtual information, usually overlaid on one of the glasses lenses.
That could be recreating the kind of screens and features you'd find on your smartphone like navigation for maps or flashing up notifications.
New smartglasses coming in 2021
There's plenty of innovation coming ‚Äď here's the newest smart glasses tech arriving in 2021.
Ray-Ban Stories (Facebook)
Launch: Buy now | Price: $299
There's no AR here ‚Äď it's a mix of what we've seen on Snap's Spectacles, and a host of audio sunglasses that have surfaced over the last few years. But Zuckerberg has said that the Ray-Ban partnership is destined to yield AR specs in the future, as part of Project Aria.
The Ray-Ban Stories pack in 5-megapixel cameras, which are activated by a button that sits on the side of the frame. A single tap to records up to 30 seconds of video, or tap and hold to snap a picture. There's also hand-free controls letting you make use of onboard microphones to say, 'Hey, Facebook, take a video' if you don't want to reach up to your specs.
All of that tech is being wrapped up in some familiar Ray-Ban frames, which include the iconic Wayfarer, and will apparently only add 5g over a non-smart pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer glasses. There will be 20 style variations, and they will support prescription lenses.
There's also additional Round and Meteor frames available too.
Amazon Echo Frames 2nd Gen
Buy now: Amazon | From $249.99
The Echo Frames are Amazon‚Äôs Alexa-on-your-face play, and put the voice assistant into a regular pair of specs.
Unlike Google Glass they‚Äôre not AR so you don't see anything, but play Alexa feedback via four directional speakers built into each stem. You can talk to Alexa ‚Äď for controlling your smart home, getting notifications, making calls and listening to music ‚Äď without the people around you hearing the responses.
You can get eyewear professionals to get a set of prescription lenses (or sunglasses) so the Frames can replace your existing pair of specs. What's more, in 2021 Amazon has updated the range to include blue light filtering and polarized options.
The glasses themselves are made from carbon fibre and titanium, which should make them a lightweight pair of glasses to wear. They're also rated IPX4 for fending off sweat and water and splash-resistant.
And the glasses have been upgraded since the first generation, which was invite-only. The All-new Echo Frames (as Amazon calls them) can adjust the volume of content and feedback based on the ambient environment.
Battery life has also been upped by 40%. That means roughly about 60 minutes of music, 30 minutes of phone calls and 120 incoming notifications over a 14 hour period. And an auto-off feature that will turn off which the frames when placed upside down for three seconds.
Snap Spectacles AR (4th gen)
Launch: 2021 | Price: Not for general sale
The new Snap Spectacles AR are a different beast to what's gone before, and jump from smartglasses to AR specs for the first time.
The Snap Spectacles aren't going on sale to general customers and are being offered to developers and Snap creators to figure out what they can be used for.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
Launch: 2021 | Price: TBC
Lenovo's latest smart specs were unveiled back in January 2021 and are made to be on the faces of people at work, whether that's in a lab or in a shop.
When connected to a Motorola smartphone, the chunky-looking A3 glasses project stereoscopic 1080p resolution displays and can offer support for working or viewing up to 5 virtual displays. That's all powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR1 platform to deliver that augmented experience.
The frames on the glasses can be modified to make them better suited to working environments where you need a more robust design and it also finds room for an 8-megapixel RGB camera for shooting video. There's a pair of fish-eye cameras to offer 6DOF (six degrees of freedom tracking), which means it can track head movement and rotation. It also offers room-scale tracking here too.
It's still set to go on sale in selected markets in 2021, but there's no details how much the A3 glasses are going to cost just yet.
Best AR smartglasses: Vuzix Blade Upgraded
Buy now: Amazon | $899.99
The Vuzix Blade Upgraded replaces North Focals as our top pick as the latter is no longer available to buy.
The Blade uses waveguide technology to project a full color HD display over the right lens. They are the first pair of really useful commercial AR glasses that actually actually look like a pair of glasses They're not Oakleys or Ray-Bans, but they don't scream "Look at me, I'm technology" like some 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 ‚Äď but there's still work to do.
The new upgraded version sticks to largely the same design but now adds in an 8-megapixel camera, speakers and Vuzix's voice control support.
When we first got to try the standard version out, the Vuzix app store wasn't exactly brimming with apps. We got to try out things like music control, a camera, an image viewer and some games. Since then, some high profile names have turned up. There's now Netflix, Zoom, Amazon Alexa and even support for DJI drones.
The display is really good and even photos look crisp and vibrant. There's also 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 one of the best moves 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 below $1,000, just like it said it would.
Wareable verdict: Vuzix Blade review
Epson Moverio BT-300
Buy now: Amazon | $699
While the Vuzix Blade further up marks the kind of design shift we'd like to see from smartglasses going forward, Epson's BT-300 smartglasses certainly do scream technology.
They do manage to ditch the clunky look of their predecessor, offering a more polished pair of AR smartglasses. The BT-300 is lighter than the previous version and uses a significantly sharper 720p HD resolution OLED display to deliver its digital display.
There's also a 5-megapixel front-facing camera and it's also powered by an Intel Atom quad core processor, with Android covering the software bases.
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Miracast covers connectivity for a wide range of devices with the Moverio apps storefront offers up a handful of apps including Sky Map and an AR flight simulator.
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.
Microsoft HoloLens 2
Buy now: microsoft.com | From $3,500
Microsoft's holographic, augmented reality wearable is more headset than glasses, but it's arguably the one that stirred the most excitement about a bright AR future.
Into its second generation, Microsoft has switched its focus the work place, pairing the visor with large high definition lenses that use a projection system to create multi-dimensional full-color images at up to 2k resolution with low latency.
Field of view is now 43√ó 29 degrees, which is an improvement on the original HoloLens, offering an immersive experience similar to what's offered by the Magic Leap 1 (below).
It's also packed with advanced sensors, like ambient light and four environment sensing cameras, which can figure out what you're doing and what environment you're in. All of that information is processed by the second generation version of its custom HPU (holographic processing unit), mapping everything out in real time and with 6DoF tracking to offer precision room scale tracking.
There's also microphones and cameras to capture video and audio and the tech onboard to track hands and eyes to make offer a fully immersive experience. Microsoft also includes its Mixed Reality Capture feature to take images that capture both augmented and physical worlds in view. Like the first, it's fit to run for 2-3 hours off a single charge.
Over the years Microsoft has showcased a host of different use cases for its high-specced AR headset and we wait to see if it has any intentions to make this one for the masses. Right now, it's one that's fully made for work life.
Magic Leap 1
Buy now: magicleap.com | From $2,291
The startup raised big investor bucks, pulled in high profile investors and after finally launching its Magic Leap 1 AR goggles back in 2018, it's also followed Microsoft in making this one for the enterprise space right now.
At the heart of the Android-based set up is something Magic Leap calls lightfield technology. Similar to what Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens uses, the Leap One glasses can overlay digital 3D graphics onto your view of the real world via a headset with transparent lenses.
Images are displayed at 1280 x 960 resolution per eye with a 40 x 30 degree field of view helping you feel immersed in that augmented world. The AR eyewear also includes four built-in microphones to support spatial audio to blend sounds from virtual objects and real world objects.
The glasses attach to a computer attachment via a wire to a Lightpack that can be clipped to the back of your trousers or slipped into a pocket. Six external cameras are packed in to track your position and movement and a 6 DOF controller offers haptic feedback and the ability to track nine different hand gestures as well tracking finger movement.
There's currently Magic Leap 1, Developer Suite and Enterprise Suite options to pick it up in and unsurprisingly, it doesn't come cheap if you want to spend some time with the AR goggles we initially thought would signal a major breakthrough for consumer-friendly AR specs.
Best AR smartglasses for cycling: Solos
Buy now: Amazon | $499
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 available now.
They'll work with existing fitness 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 elite athletes' seal of approval.
We've tried them, and on the whole we were pleased with what these connected specs offer when you're out riding. They're lightweight and comfortable and have uses beyond cycling too. If you can stomach the price, then the Solos are worth taking a look at.
Wareable verdict: Solos cycling smartglasses review
Buy now: everysight.com | From $649
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 is now working on encouraging developers to build applications for its platform.
They do cost more than the Solos glasses, but they're easy to use, include a great heads-up display and have the nice addition of workout modes to put those connected smarts to good use.
Wareable verdict: Everysight Raptor review
Smartglasses with different smart ideas
The kind of smartglasses we've spoken about above are very much about offering up displays in front of our eyes, but there is also the emergence of other connected specs that have different ideas. Some want to replace your camera or your fitness tracker. Here's the best of the bunch that are doing that right now.
Snap Spectacles 3
Buy now: Snapchat | $380
Yes, there is actually a third-generation pair of Snapchat Spectacles and this time they're packing an all-new design, dual HD cameras and 3D AR features.
The new Specs come in two colors ‚Äď cobalt (black) and mineral (rose gold). There's also a charging case to keep the spectacles powered up in between your shooting.
Unlike previous glasses there's dual HD cameras, allowing you to take advantage of 3D filters, effects and lenses for your footage and photos. These photos will sync automatically to your phone and you can also take 3D photos.
The cameras will record 3D footage at 60fps, with 4GB of onboard storage storing around 100 videos or 1,200 photos. The price has jumped up significantly for the latest Snap Specs, so we'll be intrigued to find out if the added hardware will convince more people to grab a pair.
Buy now: vueglasses.com | From $179
Vue's prescription glasses and sunglasses are the product of a $2m Kickstarter campaign that was aiming to ship the smart glasses by July 2017, but backers had to wait until 2019 to receive them. Now the connected specs are now available in glasses and sunglasses form.
There's no AR here. Instead, using 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 the ability to track basic activity tracking.
Battery life is slated at 5 hours in continuous use and 3 days in standby mode with the option to buy a charging case that will also store the specs.
Vue's new Lite version swaps the bone conduction for directional speakers and comes in cheaper and lighter than the standard Vue glasses.
We were impressed with the music playback when we saw initial prototypes and now it's good to see that the final version is up for grabs for a not so astronomical price.