Snap Spectacles

Snap Spectacles offer a new way to capture video ‘memories’ and never miss a moment, unless of course, it’s been 24 hours and they self-delete from your Snapchat Story.

These video-recording sunglasses from Snap Inc. give you a tiny camera in a plastic frame and send 10-second clips to your iPhone or Android smartphone via the Snapchat app.

The concept isn’t too dissimilar from the now-discontinued Google Glass, and Snap initially made them just as scarce – sending buyers into a frenzy. But that’s where their similarities end.

There are two reasons Spectacles is more successful: they look like normal sunglasses and privacy isn’t as big of an issue. An outward-facing light indicates when you’re recording.

Snap recently positioned itself to become a camera company instead of an app that millennials know how to use and every adult we talk to just doesn’t “get” but is curious to learn about.

This seems like just the first new step for the growing company. They’re inviting you to follow along – if you can find a Snapbot on the map. Is it worth following back? Let’s take a non-expiring view.

Price and release date

The first thing you should know about Spectacles is that they're hard to come by, launching in pop-up locations around the US. But that should change soon, according to Snap’s IPO filing.

An adorable-looking yellow Snapbot vending machine dispenses a limited number of glasses in one spot, so you have to get there extremely fast. They cost $129.99 (about £105, AU$169). 

The bot becomes a lot less adorable when it runs out of glasses and you then have to share an elevator with people, who were in line ahead of you, and are clutching multiple Spectacles in tennis ball-like plastic canisters (thankfully everyone is limited to two).

Snapbots are usually at a landmark or big event like the Rose Bowl, a theme park or CES. Watching the official website’s countdown timer for the next drop location and scrambling to that location ASAP increases your chances. But, remember, everyone else is doing the same. Your best bet to get a pair of

Spectacles has been to visit the temporary New York City location. We missed it multiple times in Los Angeles - even when watching the countdown clock like a hawk and immediately Ubering to the spot - so we resorted to flying across the country to obtain a pair. #dedication

Snap hinted that Spectacles will be sold online in the future. With the semi-permanent Snapbot location closing down on February 19, this may mean the company is readying a wider rollout.

Design and colors

The most important decision Snap made when creating Spectacles was to design them as fairly fashionable sunglasses with a camera, not a camera first that tries to be sunglasses second.

Too many times, I’ve tested geeky-looking, facing-hugging wearables that work backward by attempting to put an entire computer on my head without compromise. This... is not that.

Spectacles resemble today’s trendy shades with round lenses inside of a plastic frame, and they come in three colors: coral, teal and a much more subtle black.

We went for black to make them seem less conspicuous in public, but coral and teal seem more fun and Snapchat appropriate.

All colors sport two “Snapchat yellow” circles on the end pieces, outlining the camera on the left and an LED ring of light on the right. The LED indicates your battery life and recording status.

The “recording in-progress” light ring animation is funky and reassuring. I’ve gotten comments from fellow tech journalists who have said, “If only the yellow circles weren’t so obvious!” 

But hiding the recording status would only serve to make the Spectacles camera a source of contention, like Google Glass. This was the right design decision. We’re Snapchatters, not spies.

The circular-shaped sunglasses offer UV protection, to block harmful sun rays, as well as impact protection, to minimize damage from basic drops. Three months in and ours still look brand new.

You won’t find polarized lenses or an anti-reflecting coating here, but we can also see our phone screen and smartwatch without any distortion, a side effect of some polarized lenses.

Snap doesn’t offer prescription Spectacles, but made it so that you can swap out the lenses with the help of a professional ABO-certified optician. It’s also willing to answer opticians’ questions on its website.

Here’s another way they’re for almost everyone: Spectacles are considered one-size-fits-most and they feel comfortable on my face, enough so that I can wear them all day.

There are few movable parts. I’ve had to tighten the screw on both hinges with a small flathead screwdriver to counteract loosened stems. But that’s the only delicate sunglasses joint, and it’s a fixable issue.

The rubberized nosepads, for example, don’t have a tiny, fragile arm, so there’s no movable part there, and the Spectacles camera button sits almost flush with the top lug near my temple.

The only other way these video-recording sunglasses can get damaged is if you step on them or submerge them in water. They’re not waterproof, warns Snap.

Features and functionality

Spectacles are a brand new way to answer everyone’s favorite small talk question: “What did you do today?”

It’s the first-person visual response to this question, broken up into 10-second increments. In this way, Snap reminds me of a rival to GoPro, another stories-telling camera company.

Only, the Spectacles camera captures bite-sized accounts of my daily life, and it’s not a camera I’m saving for those rare “extreme sports” moments. Like Snapchat, it tells my everyday story.

Spectacles are the hands-free way of better telling my story. It works by pressing in the record button to capture a 10-second memory. You can press it twice more for thirty seconds total.

The video is transferred to your smartphone via the Snapchat app, where you can mark up the clips with text, stickers, geofilters and the usual Snapchat editing tools.

I was able to quickly capture funny family videos during Christmas – videos I would have missed if it weren’t for Spectacles resting on top of my head. Then I was able to make it even funnier by adding text and emoji. Spectacles are now the fastest way to capture ‘Kodak moments.’

What’s great is that you don’t need to have your smartphone on you to record video. You can keep your phone in your pocket, or even leave it behind. Your sunglasses can be your camera now, just like your smartwatch can be your untethered fitness tracker.

Spectacles save about 200 Snaps before they run out of space, twice what the battery allows anyway. But importing videos is challenging at times if you’re trying to get HD clips via Wi-Fi. Standard definition clips automatically arrive via Bluetooth.

Snap has the same issue as everyone else, including DSLR and drone makers: transferring video is one of the biggest hurdles for Spectacles and all devices that rely on Wi-Fi. 

It’s an industry-wide problem. Your phone clings to your home or work Wi-Fi router, so you need to manually drop that connection to pair with the Spectacles Wi-Fi signal – each and every time. Phones really need two Wi-Fi antennas, as more accessories require the all-important connection.

The good news is that once video is transferred over to the app, all of the Snap editing tools that make Snapchat great are at your full disposal. Deciding which to upload to your story or send to your friends is always your choice (no automatic uploads, don’t worry) and they even appear in your Snapchat story in chronological order.

Video quality

What’s novel about Spectacles is that its 115-degree field-of-view video is always captured in a circular shape. It mimics the human eye.

By moving your phone’s screen in portrait and landscape orientations, you can see a bit more of the zoomed-in footage. This makes the video seem bigger than your 16:9 rectangular smartphone screen.

Spectacles video is therefore best viewed through the Snapchat app. Exporting clips can be done rather easily, but they lose that zoom-in novelty, with a full circle video that has ugly white borders. Spectacles really are meant for Snapchat.

To no one’s surprise, the video quality is good, but not great. While it can be surprisingly clear in daylight, not even the HD versions of Spectacles can compare to the quality of your smartphone camera. Low-light video is where everything becomes especially grainy.

That said, videos are always clear enough to get the point of your day across to followers  and the microphone on these sunglasses picks up everything that’s said more clearly than we had expected.

Nothing conveys your day better than hands-free video, and that’s where Spectacles excels more than any other wearable camera we’ve tried. Focusing on megapixel quality misses the point entirely.

Circular video may seem like a strange choice, but remember, Snapchat changed the way we take photos – like it or not – with portrait. Every other app is beholden to landscape mode. Who knows, circular video could be Snap’s next rebellious format.

Battery life

Just like you’ve become good at using the Snapchat app, you’ll have to become efficient at using the Spectacles camera, mainly because its small battery life can be a big concern.

It takes a healthy number of Snaps – 100 videos per charge, according to Snap – but we found that transferring video via Wi-Fi greatly reduced that total by more than half. It’s best to capture what you see in a single take and move on.

That leaves you with about eight minutes of footage per charge. In case that’s not enough to get you through the day, Spectacles comes with a battery-charging case.

The bulky, yellow case charges the Spectacles up to four times before it needs to be recharged. It comes with a priority cable (outraged) that clings to the back of the case magnetically (distracted).

Once that blinking red inner LED light illuminates, it’s pretty easy to throw the glasses into the case and toss the protective case into a bag – if it fits. It’s rather oddly shaped.

We did find it a shame that there’s no slim, non-charging case built for Spectacles. Taking them out at night and slipping them in a pocket would be easier if Snap were to make this a reality.

Spectacles are said to take 90 minutes to fully charge, and we found that to be true in our testing. Because the magnetic contact on the sunglasses is hidden behind the hinge, you can’t charge and wear them at the same time. That’s probably for the best.


Spectacles are the hands-free way of better to telling your Snapchat story. Its 10-second video clips give your friends and followers a first-person account of your last 24 hours, and all of the fun ways to mark up your videos are here.

The fact that these are fairly normal-looking sunglasses – backed by a company that has already established that its GOAT coolness among teens – means its camera isn’t that big of a privacy concern. It rights almost all of the many wrongs of Google Glass.

Should you buy Spectacles when they’re available? That’s a definite yes for Snapchat trophy seekers and score addicts, and anyone bent on being an early adopter. Just know that it won’t cause you to suddenly fall in love with Snapchat if you’ve never been taken with the app before. It is, however, enough to act as a vehicle if you’ve waiting to learn the ins and outs of Snapchat.

Snap has the power to do for first-person video what the front-facing smartphone camera has done for selfies. It’s a Snapchat story worth following.

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