Smartglasses are hailed as the exciting future of wearables. One day, we'll all have fancy AR smartglasses on our face that will give us directions to Whole Foods and remind us of that 3pm meeting.
But for those of us who need them, glasses simply help us do daily tasks like reading and driving. That's the entire focus of Level, a pair of smartglasses that's smart to serve a purpose.
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When you hit your fitness goals, you redeem free eyewear and eye care for those in need. It's a product of VSP Global, one of the largest vision care providers in the world.
Are the Level smartglasses as altruistic as they seem? Is the fitness tracking too basic to be helpful or interesting? I've spent over a month wearing the Level smartglasses, using them as my daily pair. One thing's for sure: I've never felt more guilty not meeting my fitness goals.
Level smartglasses are definitely made for people who wear glasses, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise because it's made by a vision insurer. They're going to set you back $270, and that's not counting your lenses and eye exam.
You're going to need a current prescription to get a pair, which is exactly what I needed to do before getting Level onto my face. Once you do that, you'll have the usual lens options to choose from (I went with a blue filter because my job requires staring at displays for eight hours a day).
The left arm of the glasses are where all the tech is located. You have Bluetooth to connect your phone and some accelerometers and such to detect your movement. And, of course, there is a battery to keep everything powered. That's about the extent of the tech packed in here.
There doesn't need to be too much because Level doesn't actually track a whole lot of stuff. You'll be able to track how many steps you take in a day, your active time, the calories burned and even miles. We'll get back to this a little later though.
Level looks like any other pair of thick glasses. I got my hands on the Minsky, but there are two other options: Hedy and Nikola. All three are named after important inventors. The Minsky for Marvin Minsky, inventor of the first head-mounted display; Hedy for Hedy Lamarr, Golden Age actress turned inventor of technologies that made Bluetooth possible; Nikola for Nikola Tesla, inventor of AC current.
The Minsky is the frame that you could classify as "hipster". It's a classy rectangle shape that is the "safe" choice in that it would likely look good on most people. Hedy spices that up with a retro keyhole bridge and a sharper, squarer design. Nikola is the most rounded of the three. Each come in black, tortoise, slate and grey tortoise colourways.
Why won't I just carry them along? Who even am I? Am I an asshole?
All three have glossy frames and matte arms, giving them a two-tone look. On first glance, it's pretty difficult to tell that these are all smartglasses. They look good and, more importantly, they feel good. I found them more comfortable to wear than my old pair of "dumb" glasses.
There's enough juice on Level to keep them going for five days, though you can get more depending on your use. I got an entire week out of them while travelling, largely because I ended up not using my glasses a whole bunch – or connecting them to my phone. Charging them takes roughly 30 minutes. Charging them while you sleep isn't a good idea though, as there's a bright purple-ish charging indicator light that can distract you. I instead topped them up while taking a shower or having breakfast if I needed to.
Fitness for those in need
In functionality, Level is no smarter than a basic fitness tracker. As mentioned, the glasses track your steps, miles, active time and calories burned.
All of this is tracked in the Level companion app, which has an annoying but unavoidable feature. In order to be HIPAA compliant, you'll get logged out of the app automatically every 12 hours. I tended to not check my stats every day, because I don't wear my glasses all day long – only while staring at screens or reading – so this was annoying enough to make me forget about the smart features for days at a time.
However, I did feel like a massive asshole whenever I neglected to check my progress. VSP is using its ability as a vision care provider to power its Eyes of Hope initiative. If you hit your daily goals, you earn points. When you get 50 points, you can redeem a pair of glasses and a full eye exam for a veteran, a senior, a child or a homeless person.
In about a month of using Level, I've earned 9 points toward redemption. It'll probably take me around a year to get enough points to actually help someone. Most of that is my daily routine: I usually wear my glasses when I'm sitting and working rather than moving around. And unless I'm headed to work or an event, I don't usually bring them along.
If you do wear your glasses while moving, this a piece of cake. You can set your own targets, and you can even set a stretch goal to earn a couple of extra points toward redemption.
It's not the most advanced tracking or the smartest feature in the world, but it's one of the few that helps you actually care. If look down at my Apple Watch and see that I haven't closed my rings, I'm a tiny bit annoyed, but I move on with my day and don't think about it too much.
When I open up the Level app and see that I haven't earned any points in the past couple of days, I feel genuinely bad. It's not that I'm succumbing to my own laziness, it's more that I feel like I'm letting someone, somewhere down.
I have the power here to help someone get something that could actually help them – but I can't be bothered to take a couple of walks with my glasses. Why won't I just carry them along? Who even am I? Am I an asshole?
Yeah, Level smartglasses are one of the few pairs of glasses that'll have you questioning your self and trying to assess your habits. It's a weird, weird feeling, but it's also a welcome one.
I've had to work at reminding myself to bring my glasses to more places. I wear my glasses while driving now, which I probably should have been doing for the past 12 years when I realised it was difficult to read street name signs – but hey, I guess I am an asshole.
Look, Level smartglasses aren't the smartest glasses you can buy. But if you wear glasses, you understand the power they have. They're vintage pieces of great technology that make it easier to see and read. Level basically puts you in the position to help others get the vision care they need. Sure, it might trigger an existential crisis if you don't hit your goals, but it's worth it.
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