Snapchat, for the completely uninitiated, is the disappearing photo and video app that's been making Facebook seem clumsy and antiquated by comparison. It's been particularly popular with young users, and Spectacles are an attempt by parent company Snap to move into the hardware game. They're designed to work specifically with Snapchat, though you can export footage to other apps if you like.
The idea is you capture moments from your life (in 10-second bursts) very naturally and seamlessly, without the awkward delay of pulling your phone out and framing a shot. They're like Google Glass or the Narrative camera in that respect, aiming to make your social networking more frictionless than ever.
And we can report that Snapchat Spectacles are a lot of fun. Setup inside Snapchat is quick and easy, recording is done with a push of a button, and the "one-size-fits-many" shades are comfortable and lightweight to wear, at least for us. The specs (available in black, coral red, or teal blue) feel a little cheap, but they're sturdy, and we could easily go a whole day wearing them.
You can extend the recording time to 30 seconds, but it's always split up into 10-second clips on your phone. The glasses light up when you're recording too, so you know when you're rolling, and so you can't spy on people without them being aware. The specs provide a generous 115-degree field of view, and when viewed back in Snapchat, you can rotate your phone from portrait to landscape to see more of the shot (if you export the video somewhere like YouTube, it actually appears circular, though not spherical).
The HD, 1080p video quality is more than good enough for Snapchat sharing, and so is the audio, which also gets recorded (though it can be muted). Although you wouldn't confuse these clips for footage taken with the cameras built into the latest flagship smartphones, it looks and sounds perfectly fine when viewed in Snapchat, which is quite an achievement considering the size of these specs.
Up to 200 clips can be stored on the glasses themselves, which then get synced back to your phone via Bluetooth (low quality) and Wi-Fi (HD), appearing in the Memories section of Snapchat ready for sharing. Snap says the battery life is good for 100 videos, which we found to be about right, and the case doubles as a portable charger. Both the Spectacles and the case can be charged up using the supplied USB cable.
We had an enjoyable time capturing some frisbee action in the park, as well as the amazed reactions of friends who hadn't heard of Snapchat, let alone Snapchat Spectacles. Even humdrum moments like driving home seem a little bit more interesting when viewed through Spectacles, and they're definitely more convenient than using a phone in terms of speed and operation. They're basically a Snapchat-using, life-logger's dream.
It's all fun, simple, and easy to use. Everything works as advertised, and you get first-person views of whatever you happen to be doing with your life, split up into 10-second segments (there's no photo option unfortunately). On those criteria alone, we'd give Snapchat Spectacles a big thumbs up ... but there are some caveats.
Firstly, as with Google Glass, while the idea of effortless, frictionless capturing sounds good in theory, in practice it still feels a bit creepy and a bit uncomfortable to be wearing spy glasses when you're out and about. They're going to attract attention when that recording light comes on, especially on cloudy days when you've got no business wearing shades. Fine for dog walks and inside the confines of your own home, maybe, but otherwise you're going to get some strange glances.
If you're going skiing down a mountain, then great. In fact, Snapchat Spectacles really prove their worth in any situation where you might normally strap a GoPro to yourself. For everything else, not so much – are you really going to wear your Snapchat spy glasses all the way through your next birthday party rather than just take a couple of shots on your phone? Probably not.
Secondly, the price of US$129.99 is a lot to pay for a device that's a bit more convenient to use than your phone in certain situations, even if it's pretty cheap for a wearable camera. It's probably social media brand managers rather than Snapchatting teens that are going to go out and buy these, while extreme sports fans will probably just stick with a GoPro.
If you think you'll make good use of Snapchat Spectacles and can afford them, then by all means splash out on a pair, because you won't be disappointed with their features, form or functionality. On the other hand, we're still not sure the world is ready for wearable video cameras yet – that's not Snap's fault, and it probably sees this device as an experiment anyway, but it might put a lot of people off a purchase.Product page: