Smart glasses are getting smarter – and the dark days of Google Glass are finally behind us. Augmented reality specs are finally approaching prime time, and plenty of startups are getting into the space.
It's not just about dropping a camera on your face either. AR, fitness tracking and mixed reality are all powering the next generation of smart eyewear.
Read this: AR v VR – Which is the future?
From first-person videos and photos to turn-by-turn directions, health sensing, and facial recognition of the people you meet, the invasion of the smartglasses is (still) 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…
Best AR smartglasses
Vuzix Blade AR
We were absolutely smitten with the Vuzix Blade smartglasses when we tried them out at CES this year. They make AR glasses look better than ever, in more ways than one. First, they actually look good. Not exactly Oakley's, but they don't scream "Look at me, I'm technology!"
They're not totally consumer-focused, but Vuzix is hoping that it's a large step in that direction. Alexa is on board to help you out with all your smart assistant needs, and you've also got things like turn-by-turn navigation, location based alerts (think Yelp reviews) and messages.
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 have you. As for battery life, you can expect around 2 to 2 and a half hours.
The Blade AR is maybe the best move toward mainstream AR glasses we've seen yet, and while the dev kit will be available for $1,800, the company thinks that could go down to about $1,000 in due time.
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 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 that provides the display that 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 working on opening the platform to encourage developers to build applications in time for when the shades land in February.
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 features 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 Pokémon GO to its AR smartglasses
The R8, dropping at the end of 2018, and R9, which is now shipping in limited quantities, are also options offered by the company. They both offer bigger field of views than the R7 models – 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 – dual 1080p displays on each of the new specs.
The R8 glasses are the sleeker and lighter of the two, 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.
$2,750 (R7), $3500 (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.
While Epson's smart glasses have always been quite business-focused, it has teased the prospect of using them in the gym to race in virtual environments – and there's also a drone edition so you can use them to control your DJi drone straight from your specs.
Sony released the essential tools to allow developers to start coding applications for its Google Glass rival way back in 2014, but the SmartEyeGlass hardware seems to be stuck in dev phase.
The SmartEyeGlass includes a bunch of features, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor and built-in camera. However, the monochrome screen is likely to put off consumers, if Sony chooses to release it beyond the business world.
Sony SmartEyeGlass Attach
But you don't actually need to stick a full Sony headset on your bonce; the Attach accessory was unveiled back in 2015 and the company used the smart accessory for its AR talks at SXSW 2016.
Sony SmartEyeGlass Attach features a 0.23-inch OLED single lens microdisplay, with a 640 x 400 resolution and a control board which contains an ARM processor, sensor hub, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. The display module is just 40g, and there's a 400mAh battery to power the whole thing. Sadly, it's still – STILL – just a concept at this point and there's no indication from Sony as to how much it might cost.
It's not all about augmented reality
The young person's choice of smartglasses, Snap's Spectacles keep things simple and stylish. The smartglasses record 10 seconds of circular video at a time, which can then be shared to Snapchat and on other social media like Twitter. That's it. They charge in the case, 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).
Read this: How Specs changed my vacation
They're cheap, they're cheerful and they handily sidestep privacy concerns – 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.
Toronto-based wearable tech company InterAxon and Italian Safilo Group have partnered up to create the newly named Lockdown 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 3-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.
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've now been delayed to March 2018.
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 around with them once they're closer to shipping.
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