Snap Inc, announced earlier this year that it had created a pair of video-recording sunglasses which they have been developing since the platform was launched.
These are called Spectacles, it was a little hard to get a handle on just what the end result would be. Snap was new to the hardware game, and more ambitious wearables like Google Glass had been expensive, niche failures. But yesterday a limited number of Spectacles went on sale, offered through a yellow pop-up vending machine near the company’s original headquarters in Venice, California — and we finally got a chance to see what the company had come up with.
That vending machine (Snapbots) gambit sets up a core ideal — Spectacles are supposed to be whimsical and fun — and that principle carries through all the way to the design and execution of the product. Spectacles are packaged in a clear tube roughly the size of three tennis balls, which holds the recharging case, the glasses themselves, a USB cable for the case, and a glasses cleaning cloth — cut in the shape of the Snapchat ghost (pretty cool).
The Spectacles themselves come in three different colors: black, teal, and coral (in person, the coral option looked more like a plain orange, though I ended up with the classic black, myself). Design-wise, they’re plastic glasses that look like a Ray-Ban riff you’d expect Warby Parker to come up with.
Spectacles work with both Android and iOS devices — The user simply looks at the scannable Snapchat ghost icon in the app with the Spectacles, presses the single button on the top left, and the process handles itself magically from there.
Snapping video with the Spectacles is equally simple: the user presses the same button (it’s the only one on the device) to kick off a 10-second video recording. That can be extended twice with additional presses of the button, for up to 30 seconds in total (they’re saved as three discrete 10-second snaps, but once uploaded into a Snapchat Story they more or less play as a continuous clip). A small light inside the glasses blinks to notify the user when recording begins and ends. To let those around you know you’re shooting, a tiny ring of LEDs on the front left of the glasses swirls during recording. The whirl is a whimsical touch, replacing the usual red “recording” light people may be familiar with from video cameras with something more engaging and playful — and far less intimidating.
Getting Spectacle snaps onto your phone — and up onto Snapchat itself — is not quite as smooth. Snapchat’s never had the most intuitive interface, and it’s grown increasingly complex as the app has layered on new features. Videos taken with Spectacles sync via Bluetooth when the Snapchat app is open, and show up as grouped stories in a new “Specs” tab in the Memories section of the app. From there, videos can be tweaked, filters can be added, and clips can then be sent to friends, posted to your ongoing Story, or shared on different social platforms.
The Bluetooth syncing is rather slow, and while Spectacles do take advantage of Wi-Fi syncing for higher-definition versions of clips, that implementation involves the extremely clunky step of jumping to your iPhone’s settings app and changing your Wi-Fi network to a hotspot generated by the Spectacles themselves.
Now, the actual camera in the Spectacles won’t match what you get with your iPhone or Samsung phone, and the low-light level performance can be straight-up bad by modern standards. But measuring this device against those kind of benchmarks almost seems to miss the point (also: wearing sunglasses at night is creepy).
Given that this is Snap, Inc.’s first foray into real hardware, it’s also worth noting just how fully realized Spectacles seem as a device. The glasses smoothly snap into place in the charging case, for example — it can hold enough power to recharge a pair of Spectacles four times, which will be useful as I found syncing HD clips to be a huge battery drain — and for recharging the case itself, a matching yellow-and-black magnetic charging cable smoothly locks into place on the rear of the case. These are small details, but they’re also thoughtful refinements that make Spectacles feel thought out from an experiential perspective, something that can be hard even for long-standing hardware companies to pull off, much less newcomers.
Snapchat Spectacles will ultimately live or die by the way users play with them, and given that it is easy to understand why Snapchat is being so unorthodox in its rollout.
But for now, Snapchat spectacles are unfortunately not available in the UK as far as we know. And according to the “Find Bot” page on the official Snapchat website, they appear to be sold out everywhere at the moment. So if you do want to get your hands on a pair of these, we recommend regularly checking the snapchat website here for the latest Snapbot locations.