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Snapchat's Spectacles Are Overhyped — But Amazing

I waited for five hours to buy Snapchat's $129 camera glasses. I don't regret it.

Posted on November 29, 2016, at 11:18 a.m. ET

If you’ve ever shared a self-destructing photo or video, you probably did so on Snapchat. Two months ago, the company rebranded itself as Snap Inc., “a camera company” (though the app is still called Snapchat). But what’s a camera company without a camera? Enter Spectacles.Snap's new camera–sunglasses hybrid is like a GoPro for hipsters, or maybe like a cuter and less conspicuous Google Glass. While wearing them, you can take photos that automatically upload to your phone, ready for you to add to your Snapchat story. They cost $129 and come in three colors (black, teal, and coral), all in a rounded, slightly cat-eye shape. And their hype is real, thanks in no small part to a genius rollout that's led to artificially scarce supply, super-long lines, and a media story in and of itself. Unless you live in New York City, Spectacles are available only via so-called Snapbots — a cyclops–vending machine combo that's trackable on this map and that has been popping up in places like Big Sur, the Grand Canyon, and Tulsa, Oklahoma (but curiously enough, not bigger cities like Chicago or Philadelphia). Some pairs are already going for two or three times retail price on eBay, and Lumoid is charging $20 to rent a pair for a day.
Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

If you’ve ever shared a self-destructing photo or video, you probably did so on Snapchat. Two months ago, the company rebranded itself as Snap Inc., “a camera company” (though the app is still called Snapchat).

But what’s a camera company without a camera? Enter Spectacles.

Snap's new camera–sunglasses hybrid is like a GoPro for hipsters, or maybe like a cuter and less conspicuous Google Glass. While wearing them, you can take photos that automatically upload to your phone, ready for you to add to your Snapchat story. They cost $129 and come in three colors (black, teal, and coral), all in a rounded, slightly cat-eye shape.

And their hype is real, thanks in no small part to a genius rollout that's led to artificially scarce supply, super-long lines, and a media story in and of itself. Unless you live in New York City, Spectacles are available only via so-called Snapbots — a cyclops–vending machine combo that's trackable on this map and that has been popping up in places like Big Sur, the Grand Canyon, and Tulsa, Oklahoma (but curiously enough, not bigger cities like Chicago or Philadelphia). Some pairs are already going for two or three times retail price on eBay, and Lumoid is charging $20 to rent a pair for a day.

The earliest people to get in line for @Spectacles is 4am. That's some dedication.

The current line for @Spectacles right now. Shot on a Mavic Pro. #thehypeisreal

Total time waiting in the @Spectacles NYC line was 9 hours 45 minutes.

New Yorkers like me have it (relatively) easy: Just go to Snapchat’s pop-up shop on 59th Street and Fifth Ave, though you may have to wait in the cold for 10 hours. The line has spilled into the subway, and attracted travelers from halfway around the world.

After five long hours, I finally got my hands on a pair.

Setting them up was easy: I did it while still inside the New York City store. I was afraid that I’d accidentally connect to someone else’s unit, or that it’d take forever, but the entire process took less than a minute. With Bluetooth on my phone turned on, I pointed my new glasses at a QR code generated by Snapchat on my phone’s screen, held the Spectacles’ button for a few seconds, hit it once more, and I was all paired up.
Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

Setting them up was easy: I did it while still inside the New York City store. I was afraid that I’d accidentally connect to someone else’s unit, or that it’d take forever, but the entire process took less than a minute. With Bluetooth on my phone turned on, I pointed my new glasses at a QR code generated by Snapchat on my phone’s screen, held the Spectacles’ button for a few seconds, hit it once more, and I was all paired up.

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

Snapchat’s Spectacles are reminiscent of the glasses with hidden cameras in old spy movies. The difference here is that it's not a secret: Yellow circles on the face of the shades outline the camera tucked inside. And if that’s not obvious enough, a bright white light will spin, blink, and all but wave when the camera is rolling.

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

Quickly tap the button on the upper left to start recording. Videos are recorded in 10-second chunks. As the timer winds down, another indicator light on the inside of the Spectacles, visible only to the wearer, will start to blink. At this point, you can press the device’s button to extend the clip to 20 seconds and then once more for 30 seconds (the max for a single video clip). Audio is also recorded but I wasn’t too impressed by the sound it picked up. Luckily, you can mute the audio.

You can stop recording by press and holding the record button at any time. But the footage can’t be trimmed, meaning you can’t remove the boring parts. Luckily, like all media on Snapchat, you can add text, drawings, or filters to the video

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

Videos aren't automatically sent to your Snapchat Story, but instead saved to your phone and are ready for upload at any time. You don't need to plug Spectacles into your computer — the wireless video transfer happens automatically, over Bluetooth. You can even use other apps or put the phone to sleep while your device imports the Spectacles' videos. You’ll get a notification from the app when the transfer is complete. Those videos can, of course, be shared to a Story or exported to your phone’s camera roll. Exported videos are, literally, circular. Like these:

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

But when viewed in the Snapchat app, your phone shows the video full screen, and tilting it lets you see more of the entire picture. Think of how you rotate your phone when watching video, except instead of the actual video tilting to accommodate the motion, it stays fixed and offers a wider viewing angle. Like this:

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

After the transfer, you’ll have the option of downloading the high-definition version of the videos. But be warned, these are BIG files —

HD versions of the 10-second videos are about 11MB each. According to Snapchat, Spectacles can hold over 200 of these at once — but your device might not be able to, especially if you have a 16GB iPhone, for example.

It’s worth mentioning that the Spectacles footage you capture and move over to your phone is uploaded to Snapchat's servers. While it won’t be published to your Snapchat Story, you may notice that if you log into your Snapchat account on another device your Spectacles videos will appear on that device, too. It's convenient, not having to transfer over any videos when you change devices, but it also means that Snapchat is likely keeping those recorded videos on their servers. Something to consider if you’re paranoid.

The Spectacles' battery life is terrible, but Snapchat has a good solution for it.

The battery inside Snapchat’s glasses is meek. According to teardowns, it’s only 137mAh, enough to power your iPhone for about 45 minutes before crapping out. But Spectacles battery seems to last forever, and the reason why is tucked away in the included glasses case. Snapchat has taken notes from manufacturers of other small wearable devices. Smart jewelry like Ringly, earbuds like Here One, and Apple’s (unreleased) AirPods make use of carrying cases with built-in lithium-ion batteries — eliminating the need to stuff a big power source into a small product. The Spectacles holds up to four full charges, equivalent to hundreds of snaps. After a full charge, I’ve used them every day for a week, and my Spectacles have yet to crap out on me. While impressed, I’m also dreading the eventual curse of the long-lasting gadget: always assuming it’s charged only to find out it’s dead the moment you need it the most. (I’m side-eyeing you, Kindle. Every freaking bus trip...)
Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

The battery inside Snapchat’s glasses is meek. According to teardowns, it’s only 137mAh, enough to power your iPhone for about 45 minutes before crapping out. But Spectacles battery seems to last forever, and the reason why is tucked away in the included glasses case.

Snapchat has taken notes from manufacturers of other small wearable devices. Smart jewelry like Ringly, earbuds like Here One, and Apple’s (unreleased) AirPods make use of carrying cases with built-in lithium-ion batteries — eliminating the need to stuff a big power source into a small product. The Spectacles holds up to four full charges, equivalent to hundreds of snaps.

After a full charge, I’ve used them every day for a week, and my Spectacles have yet to crap out on me. While impressed, I’m also dreading the eventual curse of the long-lasting gadget: always assuming it’s charged only to find out it’s dead the moment you need it the most. (I’m side-eyeing you, Kindle. Every freaking bus trip...)

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

The included colorful USB cable charges the case, the glasses itself, or both at the same time (when the case is plugged in with the glasses stored inside). The cable has a reversible, magnetic connector that can be yanked away like MagSafe on the MacBook (older* MacBooks, RIP MagSafe). It doesn’t come with a power brick to plug into the wall, but you can probably use the one that came with your phone.

You can check your Spectacles' battery life in the Snapchat app's settings. (Swipe down on the main screen and hit the gear icon.) Additionally, you can check the life of the battery case by hitting the button on the outside of the case near the charging prongs.

The Final Word

Xavier Harding / BuzzFeed News

Hype aside, Snapchat has nailed its first hardware product. The glasses are stylish, using the app is easy, and the hard-shell battery case is a pleasant surprise.

Snapchat users will find the Spectacles dead simple to use: There’s one button to record, and opening the app moves over what you just shot automatically. But with simplicity comes limitation, and a whole bunch of features that could come to Spectacles 2.0 that I wouldn’t mind having right now: support for face-altering Snapchat Lenses, for instance, or livestreaming capabilities. Not to mention additional style options.

At the moment Spectacles’ “simplicity” prevents prescription eyeglass wearers from realizing their true Snapchat potential and doesn't allow users to snap at night.

Right now, Spectacles are for the Snapchat-obsessed. Not every Snapchat user is a die-hard fan of the app, but those who are will definitely want to invest $129 (and some time waiting in line) into upping their snap game. For everyone else, Spectacles aren’t a necessity, but definitely still fun.

CORRECTION

Users can stop recording with the Spectacles at any time and the article has been edited to reflect this. The article previously stated that videos had to be captured in 10-second increments and that recording could not be stopped once it has started.

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