Can These Smart Glasses Do What Google Couldn’t?

I have big news, everyone: I got new glasses. Do you like them? Great, thank you. The neat thing is that these are actually smart glasses, and they have a tiny little laser that’s in here that allows me to check my notifications, check the weather, talk to Alexa, get walking directions,and even call an Uber. (uplifting music) The Focals remind me of the Vaunt glasses, and North actually ended up buying Intel’s IP late last year. Unlike those glasses, though, which were a big idea with no plan to come to people like us, the Focals are on sale now, and the company has storefronts in the US and Canada for people to get fitted. They start at $599, with the price going up depending on if you get different frames or prescription lenses. The implementation and app support isn’t all here yet, especially if you use an iOS device, but the fact that these glasses exist at all shows how far we’ve come from products like Google Glass.

Before we get to all that, though, let me explain how they work and what comes in the box. As I mentioned, there’s a laser in the right arm of the glasses that functions kind of like a heads-up display in a car. It’s the same effect in thatthe information projects in front of you, and you can look straight through it. You might also notice the spot on the right lens, which could catch someone’s eye if the light shines just right. It’s a photo polymer material that allows the laser to broadcast an image and be seen. The projection bounces off that material and hits your eye, creating a 15-degree viewing area that’s about 300 x 300 pixels. It doesn’t take up your full view, and it isn’t huge. Beyond the glasses, you’ll need this ring called the Loop to control what you see.

It’s a button and a joystick, so you click down to wake up the glasses, hold down for Alexa, and move it around to access different menus. The glasses have a microphone and a speaker inside, so you can talk to Alexaor dictate a text message. The speaker will chirp when you get a notification, and Alexa will respond to your commands aloud. You can always mute this, by the way, or silence the notifications, which you’ll definitely want to do if you wear these to a movie, like me, or if you’re in a serious workflow and can’t be distracted. The glasses mirror your phone notifications, so any time I get a text,email, dating app notification, or any other push, it pops up in front of my eyes. It’s a lot, especially during the work day, and you don’t realize how many pointless pushes you get until you see every single one in front of your face all the time.

I weirdly didn’t find this to be too distracting and actually kind of appreciated being able to evaluate every message as it came in. I even checked my phone less because of the glasses. I didn’t look at Instagram for six hours one day. Don’t judge me. Because I wasn’t checking my phone for notifications and then getting distracted by the Instagram app icon. Now, the glasses require a special charging case to charge, and that case, which is huge, needs a USB-C connection for power. If you wear these regularly, you’ll definitely need to charge them every night. North says they should last about 18 hours. I might’ve gotten more like 15. My glasses died a few times because I didn’t charge them regularly and didn’t keep them in my case in an accessible place.

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I want to talk about the apps a bit more, but before I do, let me tell you about the fit. They’re plastic frames but have adjustable nose pads, presumably to keep them from slipping down. I’m used to plastic frames, so I found these nose pads super uncomfortable. The glasses are also heavier than I’m used to, especially when you clip on the sunglasses, which you’ll need if you want to use the Focals outside. The projection is nearly impossible to see in daylight, but the glasses are splash-proof, which might make me a little nervous in a heavy rainstorm, and the ring is water-resistant, so I wore it when  I washed my hands or dishes. So, onto the apps. Immediately, when you click the glasses on, you’ll see the home screen with the time.

This was a really helpful screen for me because I’m always running late, and I’m on the subway and needing to know the time. Now, I don’t have to take my phone out of my bag just to get that information. If you push over to the left, you’ll see all of your recent notifications, which you can clear, and if you go to the right, you’ll see your text messages,which you can respond to, either through voice or prewritten messages. But because I’m on aniPhone and using iMessage, the glasses can’t us emy real phone number. So, it takes my messages I receive, puts them on North’s servers, comes up with potential responses, and then allows me to send an SMS message back. That response doesn’t come from my phone number. Instead, North has given me a number, which is extremely confusing for my friends and family because it forces us to start a new thread. Now, if you keep swiping over to the right, you’ll see your calendar, then your location and the option to map.

Within the Focals’ companion smartphone app, you can set your home and work locations. So those are available by default. Right now, the glasses can only provide walking directions through a service called Map box, which I didn’t have the best luck with. It often told me it lost internet connection, which made no sense, and then when I did successfully input an address, its directions were totally off. I mapped home from my local grocery store down the block, and it suggested a route that took me way out of my way. Transit directions would be helpful, but North hasn’t said when we can expect those. You can also call an Uber from that screen, but you can only call an UberX. It’ll show the fare on the map screen and call it as soon as you click. So, don’t just click for fun because an Uber will show up at your door. So, yeah, the app support…it’s not all here yet.

I would like to be able to control my music through the glasses. That’d be neat. It’d be huge for me, actually, because it’s really the only reason I check my phone when I commute. Phone calls might be nice, too. But more than anything else, this texting solution just is not viable. The actual technology, yeah, it’s cool and futuristic, and I grew to enjoy having notifications in front of me and being able to see what was happening on my phone without having to actually pick it up. Functionally, though, it’s pretty much the same as wearing a smartwatch, which also doesn’t require you to take out your phone, and is way less expensive. Still, they’re unlike any other smart glasses I’ve ever tried, and as far as the technology and ideas go, again, they feel like the future. No one can see my display when they look at me, and most people have no idea I’m wearing smart glasses. I kind of feel like a spy. But some of the problems,particularly with texting, aren’t North’s fault. Coupled with the mapping issues, though, it makes the entire experience feel insufficient. I want my seamless texting,music playback, and mapping. Then, I’d be set. Thanks for watching this review. If you liked what you saw and you want more content from The Verge, make sure you go to youtube.com / The Verge and subscribe! Okay, bye!

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