There’s no question: Snap’s third-generation Spectacles are the company’s most advanced yet. That’s not necessarily saying a ton, considering last year’s Spectacles 2 didn’t add many new capabilities, but if you love Snapchat and you’re excited about augmented reality tech, Spectacles 3 open up some pretty cool possibilities.
The bad news is that many of these advancements still feel experimental at best. And $380 feels like too steep a price to pay for an experiment.
A toy no more
Spectacles 3 is the first big redesign for Snap’s camera glasses. While the first two generations featured an all-plastic design that looked more like toys, the company clearly tried for a different kind of look.
The neon yellow case has been replaced with black leather, and the glasses are now made of steel instead of plastic. The result of this is a set of frames that are meant to be sleeker and more fashion forward, though I preferred the previous generation’s style.
At the same time, the cameras feel more obvious than ever. The lenses are no longer flush with the sides of the frames, so both lenses stick out noticeably, though the glasses are a bit slimmer overall.
Like previous versions, Spectacles 3 charge in the case, which can provide a few additional charges. The case, which now folds flat, charges with USB instead of the proprietary magnetic connector Snap used in years past.
Spectacles 3 are also no longer waterproof, which is kind of a bummer. While Spectacles 2 never became my everyday glasses, the fact that they were waterproof made them a fun addition to my beach bag, since it mean I could take photos without worrying about my phone.
Snapping in 3D
However you feel about their design, the main appeal of Spectacles 3 is the cameras. The new dual-camera setup means that Spectacles 3 can now capture depth data. In practice, this means you can shoot 3D photos or add a new type of 3D augmented reality effect to your videos.
At first, it seems like a subtle change compared with older versions of Spectacles. You still use physical shutter buttons to either snap a video (a single tap records a 10-second video) or take a photo (hold down on the button for a single image).
It’s when you import your photos and videos back into the Snapchat app that you really get a feel for what Spectacles 3 can do. Still images can be rendered as 3D photos, similar to what Facebook did with portrait mode photos last year.
Snapchat is also introducing a new type of AR effect, 3D lenses, which can map to the contents of your photos or videos. So AR balloons will “pop” on objects in the frame, or neon arches will spring out of the sidewalk as you walk down the street. While all this is the result of a fair bit of impressive engineering, I’m not sure most people will be able to distinguish these new 3D effects from Snap’s other extensive AR lenses.
And though I had some fun experimenting with these new effects, it all still feels very much like a work in progress. The Snapchat app was often extremely slow to load 3D effects in the app, even when I was on very fast Wi-Fi, and video quality was inconsistent. Some videos were sharp and clear, while other appeared a bit distorted. One video seemed to experience some kind of glitch that briefly inverted all the colors for no apparent reason.
You can see one of the glitchy videos in the clip below.
And while I can forgive some early bugs, those issues aren’t the main reason why I have trouble recommending Spectacles 3.
My main issue is that I’ve been using Spectacles 3 for a week now and I’m still not really sure who this product is for. While previous versions were basically a glorified Snapchat camera you could wear, the price point (at $129 and $149) at least sort of made sense. They weren’t for everyone, but it was easy to see why the most dedicated Snapchat users would be excited for them.
I can’t say the same for Spectacles 3. At $380, they’re prohibitively expensive for most of Snapchat’s core demographic. And though the the 3D capabilities have some promise, it doesn’t yet feel fully baked.
At a time when speculation about augmented reality glasses is rampant, Spectacles does feel like an important step toward something. I’m just not quite sure what.