Smartglasses 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 and Facebook are both working on smartglasses projects that have augmented reality at the heart, merging virtual and physical worlds overlaying data on the world around you.
And Google has bought smartglasses hopeful North, which was working on the second generation of the promising North Focals – and has confirmed the company will be stripped for parts and absorbed into the Google hardware team.
Life after Google Glass
While the big guns seemingly wait in the wings not yet read to show their cards, startups are not waiting to bring connected eyewear to the masses.
It’s also not just about slapping a camera on your face. We are getting the ability to track fitness, tune into audio without headphones and activate smart assistants. There’s also smartglasses that just want to letting you take more memorable photos and video.
If you’re ready to don smart specs now or you want to know what you might be wearing in the not too distant future, we’ve picked out the best smartglasses you can buy now that we’ve tried and what’s hopefully coming down the line.
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.
Best AR smartglasses: Vuzix Blade
Buy now: Amazon | $799
The Vuzix Blade replaces North Focals (more on those later) 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 – but there’s still work to do.
When we first got to try them 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 an 8-megapixel camera on board, with 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 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.
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 – 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 | $299
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, 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.
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, though for a big price.
Buy now: leveltechnology.com | $328
These smartglasses are all about tracking your fitness through a eyewear that looks like a regular pair of specs.
The Android and iOS-friendly options have the sensor on board to track steps, distance covered, overall active minutes and calories burned. You can also add a little motivation seeing how you fare against fellow Level owners.
The companion app will give you a point every time you hit your fitness goal. When you get 50 points, you can redeem them for free eye care and a pair of glasses for a person from one of four groups: the homeless, children, veterans or seniors.
Away from its fitness tracking features, there’s also a Find My Glasses mode and a 30-minute charge will give you up to 5 days of battery life.
The fitness tracker specs come in three different frames and are currently only available in the US if you want to get yourself a pair.
Smartglasses on the way
Amazon Echo Frames
Buy now: Amazon | From $180
Probably the biggest news in smartglasses right now is Amazon’s Echo Frames, which marks another major tech company after Google to get into this space.
Unlike Google though, Amazon has designed its glasses to bring its smart assistant Alexa to, well, your face.
Made from carbon fibre and titanium and carrying an IPX4 water and splash-resistant rating, Frames uses mics and four directional speakers that let you talk to its smart assistant without others around you hearing responses.
The support will let wearers hear notifications read out, play music, take phone calls and even control smart home devices.
They’re being rolled out slowly, through a discounted invitation-only system at first and will only be compatible with Android phones with no details on whether iOS support will be added.
Amazon will let you head to eyewear professionals to get prescription lenses for them too, so they could end up replacing your current pair of specs.