Snap Spectacles 2 review: Boring, but better

Best part: You no longer have to buy them from random pop-up vending machines.

I'll admit it. I was one of those assholes who went out and bought a pair of Snap's Spectacles when they came out. I wore them most places, even at night or when they didn't go with my outfit, on the off chance that I might witness something Snap-worthy. I'd see fellow Specs-wearers at tech events or on the street, and we'd exchange subtle nods acknowledging our mutual super hip-ness. It was good times, but alas they didn't last. After months of being frustrated by the buggy connection between the glasses and my iPhone, I put my Spectacles aside and never wore them again.

That is, until late last month. Snap announced a new generation of the video-recording glasses, promising better-quality footage for a slightly higher price. A wave of nostalgia hit me and I retrieved my Spectacles from their dusty yellow carrying case and charged the bad boys back up to do a quick comparison. As it turns out, for $20 more, the new Spectacles are slightly smaller, lighter with a water-resistant body and a cleaner interface.

For those unfamiliar with the product, here's a quick rundown. Spectacles are sunglasses with embedded cameras that let you record 10-second video clips at the push of a button. On the new version, you can take pictures by long-pressing the button, too.

When I first picked up the new Spectacles, I was surprised how much thinner and lighter they felt. In particular, the parts of the arms that sit at your temple are now thinner and squeeze your face less. The size and weight reduction also go a long way in making them feel more like regular sunglasses. They're still noticeably heavier, especially after long periods of wear. I also like the much smaller charging case, which fits better in my summer purse.

Snap also dropped the yellow rings on either side of the frames, making the new glasses appear classier than before. These look more like shades I'd actually wear, even if they didn't have cameras. The quirky, loud aesthetic of the previous version was something I merely tolerated.

As before, a ring of LEDs on the left eye lights up when you're recording, so people around can tell if they're being creeped on. You can see these lights from your side, too, so you know when a clip starts and stops.

If you don't want to even install Snapchat, this device isn't for you. Pairing to the glasses and downloading your clips requires the app, so there's no way around it. (If you hate Snapchat that much, you probably weren't going to buy this thing anyway.)

Even though you need the app to see your clips, you're not limited to Snapchat when it comes to sharing. Like with the original Spectacles, you can export them to your camera roll, which can then be posted anywhere. Just note that the videos are round, with a white frame encircling them. Only in Snapchat will they appear as fullscreen clips that you can see more of by rotating your phone. On other platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you'll have to make do with the telltale round shape and smaller view.

If you can live with that, you'll enjoy the new Spectacles, which deliver higher-res HD videos, while the old ones offered SD and HD quality. The clarity isn't the only thing I like -- colors are vivid and rich, and thanks to a new dual-mic setup, you can now hear sound from in front of the camera instead of just your voice from behind. My Snap of the green leafy foliage in Prospect Park looked as vivid as it did in real life, as did gorgeous blue skies and mouthwatering sushi. The footage got a bit muddy in low light, but the Spectacles still captured my friends' happy faces at a sushi buffet, and our immense plates of food looked clear, if a tad dull.

The new setup process is much simpler. Instead of pointing Spectacles at a Snapcode and pressing the trigger button on the left arm, all you have to do this time around is press and hold the button until your phone vibrates (about seven seconds) to trigger the Bluetooth connection. Name your Specs, swipe through the quick three-page guide and you're done. Recording footage with the device is largely the same as before. When you see something you want to capture, press the button on the left temple to record a ten-second video. If you want longer clips, press two or three times to trigger 20- or 30-second snaps, respectively.

Spectacles 2.0 also lets you take pictures by pressing and holding the button until you see the light blink. It's all very intuitive and easy, so all it takes to capture even finicky subjects like camera-shy kids or pets is a quick tap on your temple. The LED ring may earn you curious looks, though.

In fact, it's a little too easy to capture stuff with the Spectacles. I placed it in my purse and every time I opened my bag I found Specs recording the exciting developments inside, possibly having been triggered by a rogue lipstick or bumping the button. I also accidentally pressed it when taking the glasses off or putting them on. None of these shared anywhere, but it does drain the battery and chew through the storage. If only there were a way to lock the device.

When you're not accidentally recording the interior of your purse or using the Spectacles much at all, you should get plenty of battery life out of them. Snap estimates you should be able to squeeze about a week's worth of videos and photos with the new Spectacles if you're using them often. That seems generous -- during my testing, I usually had to recharge my glasses after about five days, granted my Specs were frequently triggered by accident.

At one point during my testing, it started to rain, and I panicked because the old Spectacles weren't water-resistant. Then I heaved a sigh of relief when I remembered I was using the new ones. They're rated IPx7 water-resistant, so not ideal for deep underwater excursions, but they'll at least survive light splashes and dips in shallow water.

Transfer speeds on the old Spectacles were slow, so it was nice to see these higher-quality videos and photos make it to my phone much faster than before. Snap changed its import method to use only WiFi this time around, instead of Bluetooth and WiFi like before. The new Spectacles also use upgraded 802.11a/c WiFi chips (older model uses 802.11b ), and this combination of updates resulted in a 4x faster transfer speed, according to Snap. The company saw an improvement in import speeds from 9 second per video on average to less than 3 seconds per video.

In my experience, this was typically true. Sometimes it took only a second or two for the new Spectacles to send clips through, and I'd be surprised to see the video already in my app when I looked at my phone later. Importing larger collections of Snaps took longer, though, and I occasionally had to wait up to two minutes to wait for 15 clips to come through. That's still faster than the older model.

This is good news ... assuming they stay connected. One of my biggest frustrations about the original Spectacles was connectivity. When they were linked to my phone, everything worked beautifully. But when the battery ran out, or when I left Bluetooth range, or even when I simply put it aside to charge, the connection would drop. Re-pairing them always took several annoying minutes of futzing with the settings, sometimes even requiring me to forget the device and set it up all over again.

Three days after I started using the new Specs, I ran into an uncomfortably familiar issue. It started manifesting as minor delays when connecting. Then, the devices couldn't sync up at all -- it's as if the glasses were invisible to my phone. I disabled and re-enabled Bluetooth, restarted the Snapchat app and even went to "forget" the Spectacles so I could set it up anew. It finally took switching on airplane mode and enabling only Bluetooth to get my phone to recognize the glasses. I don't know if it's the Spectacles that had bad Bluetooth signals or my phone or if it was just Bluetooth being awful in general, but I had to take extra care to stay within range. Frankly, that's not something anyone should have to endure, especially after having spent $150 on the thing.

It's been a year-and-a-half since the original Spectacles launched, and there still isn't another product quite like it on the market. Yes, some me-too video-recording eyewear has popped up, and spywear has been around forever, but none have taken off. Still, if you're someone like me who wants a separate camera accessory to capture all the drama of your life, there are some notable options.

Google's Clips camera, for instance, is a standalone camera that uses AI to determine when to automatically capture seven-second videos. Clips isn't meant to be worn on your person, though, and the execution is still kind of wonky -- you're much better off retaining control of the shutter. Plus, it's $100 more.

You could also consider the original Spectacles, which are still available. But they're bulkier and heavier, and honestly, the only possible reason to get them is if you really need to save $20 or somehow prefer that quirky, colorful aesthetic. Going for Spectacles 2.0 over the older model is a no-brainer.

If you want to get closer to capturing your own POV, a GoPro with a shoulder mount is also an option. The new GoPro Hero costs just $199, and is aimed more at a mainstream audience than extreme-sports enthusiasts. We've yet to review that device, so I can't vouch for its performance, but depending on your needs (better water resistance for instance), the Hero could be a strong option.

Ultimately, the new Spectacles are markedly better than their predecessor and well worth the $20 difference. People who want an easy way to quickly capture life's moments will appreciate the simplicity. Those who already own the older model may not want to shell out $150 just for the slight improvements in design, quality and transfer speed, though.

If you don't (and don't want to) use Snapchat, you probably won't find Spectacles useful. In fact, you'll likely find them a symbol of everything you hate about the internet. And, honestly, I don't know why you read this review all the way to the end. But thanks anyway!


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