You have to give Snap credit for giving hardware another try. Its first attempt, the face-camera called Spectacles, fell short of spectacular. From a cultural perspective, the toy-like sunglasses appeared almost entirely on the faces of influencers, early adopters, and people who just got back from Coachella. From a practical perspective, Snap didn’t manage its inventory very well (hardware is hard).
But the company is committed to hardware—in fact, it says it envisions that in a decade or so, its hardware efforts will align with its software efforts in “a way that defines the company.” And it’s been working on the second version of Spectacles since it launched the first pair. Which is what I’ve been wearing for the past day and a half: Spectacles, part deux.
Few of the significant changes in the new Spectacles are visible to the eye. They’re buried in the acetate frames, a bunch of fixes so crucial that it makes you wonder why the first Specs weren’t built this way. But there are some aesthetic changes that nudge these glasses a little more towards mainstream. The question is how close to the mainstream these will get, especially when, at $150, they're even pricier than the original pair.
If you were familiar with the original Spectacles, the first thing you'll notice about the new pair is that the yellow rings around the lenses are gone. The company made the determination that the LED lights, which still appear when you’re recording, are enough of a heads up to people that you’re capturing something. It’s a big assumption, for sure, but it also makes the glasses a little less toy-like. The temples of the glasses are noticeably thinner. Put it this way: I felt like I could wear them into a coffee shop, or even just walking down the street, without it being completely obvious that they were “Snapchat glasses.”
They’re shipping in new colors, too, with two variations on the mirrored lenses. And Snap is teaming up with Lensabl.com to let people order prescription and polarized versions of Spectacles–sunglasses, not clear lenses.
The rest of the feature updates are a veritable checklist of all the things people griped about after the first Spectacles launched. The glasses now record and transfer footage in HD by default; the original Spectacles captured footage in both SD and HD and then forced you to select one or the other in the Snapchat app. This data transfer still happens over WiFi, but Snap says a new WiFi chip should make this faster (it did feel faster on the new Specs).
There’s also a new image sensor, a redesigned set of lenses, and other improvements to the “image processing pipeline,” though Snap declined to go into more detail. And you can now capture and transfer still images with the glasses—both the new pair and the original pair, thanks to a firmware update Snap is pushing today.
I’m guessing that still photo-taking was one of the most requested features from early users, and it’s a fun one to have. It also creates a user experience that is the exact opposite of how a lot of photo apps work: On Spectacles, you hold down the physical button to take a photo, and you quick-press the button to capture a ten-second video. I asked Snap about this, and the company says it sees Spectacles as a “video-first” product and decided to keep it that way.
Overall the improvement in image quality is really noticeable. The few low-light videos and photos I took weren’t quite as impressive, something that the first pair of glasses got knocked for, but I haven’t had the days or nights to really test that yet. The Specs capture crisp audio, too, something I wished wasn’t the case when I was screaming on a roller coaster yesterday, part of a WIRED hazing ritual. Just kidding! We took the glasses to an amusement park in Silicon Valley to give them a dry run.
Also, a wet run. The new Spectacles are water-resistant, up to one meter for 30 minutes. This doesn’t mean you should go deep-sea diving with them, but you can hang out by the pool and not worry that they’re going to be destroyed. The new Spectacles have a smaller battery, but Snap insists you should get the same battery life as before, which it's now quantifying as 70 snaps and transfers, not just snaps. Previously, the company had said you could take 100 snaps on a single charge.
Really, it’s not any single feature update that stands out with these new Spectacles. It’s more the collective sum of features that makes these, in my opinion, a more appealing product than the first pair of glasses; from their smaller frame to better components to water-proofing. Even the goofy yellow charging case has shrunk. Yes, hardware is hard, but tech that you’re supposed to wear on your body for hours at a clip is even harder. Snap has made something that’s more comfortable for the wearer, even if it’s still not a comfortable proposition for the people on the other side of the frames.
My biggest gripe? Snap’s proprietary video format. The recorded imagery looks great as wide-angle footage in the Snapchat app, but still appears in a circle in any application that isn’t Snapchat. A tech company using its own hardware to prioritize its platform is not a new concept, but those round thumbnails are a good reminder that if you’re buying Spectacles, you’re buying into the Snapchat world. And Snapchat’s world still feels fleeting, both by design, and not.