Tech

Snap's new glasses let you add crazy effects to your Snapchat videos, but are insanely expensive

Key Points
  • Snapchat's third version of Spectacles are fun and let you add new 3D and augmented reality (AR) effects to your Snap videos and photos.
  • But they're expensive. They cost $380, and are targeted at affluent creators and artists, not normal people.
  • They show the taste of the AR future that Snapchat envisions.
Spectacles 3
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Snap's Spectacles 3 launch on Tuesday for $380. They let you record video and snap pictures, apply new 3D effects to them and then post that content to Snapchat or other social networks.

Unlike the previous two versions of Spectacles, the Spectacles 3 introduce new augmented reality and 3D features with the aid of a new depth sensor. Thanks to this tech, you can make it look like you're walking down a rainbow hallway, that heart-shaped balloons are floating in a park around you, or that a cartoon phoenix is following you around on a walk. Or you can take pictures and convert them into tilting 3D images and GIFs that can bring your adventures to life.

Snap Spectacles 3
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It's kind of cool.

But Spectacles 3 aren't meant for mass consumption the way earlier models might have been. (Snapchat wrote off nearly $40 million in losses when the first model flopped.) Instead, Spectacles 3 are aimed at wealthier influencers and creators who want to add special effects to their Snapchat posts. That's a relatively small audience.

At $380, they're not exactly priced for mass consumption anyway. Given Snapchat reaches 90% of 13- to 24-year olds, they're also probably too expensive for most of the younger buyers.

Snap is in the race to put computers in our faces, and Spectacles 3 is a stepping stone to get there. In October, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said more than 500,000 AR lenses are available on Snapchat. Developers and partners will soon be able to build them for Spectacles 3 too. And in 10 years, Spiegel said that consumers will widely adopt augmented-reality glasses.

"We're working toward that future," he said during the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in October. "Rather than go in a hole or an R&D center or something and try to make something people like and show them 10 years later, we create a relationship with our community and build that future together."

According to a report from The Information on Monday, Snapchat is already working on a fourth version of Spectacles that will have AR built-in, allowing users to potentially view their creations right through the glasses themselves, instead of later on a phone.

Here's what you need to know about Spectacles 3, Snap's next step toward that future.

What's good

My friend Nick wearing Spectacles 3.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Spectacles 3 are made out of metal, instead of cheaper plastic like some of the earlier models. They look a bit more premium than before, but they're not necessarily as luxurious as what you'd find among similarly priced glasses made by fashion brands. They're not very comfortable either. (More on that in the next section.)

It's really easy to connect Spectacles 3 to your phone. I added them inside the Snapchat app and was ready to start recording in just a couple of minutes. There are two buttons you can tap to record video or snap 3D pictures, with one placed on each side of the frames and always within easy reach.

There are buttons on either side that can be used for snapping pictures or photos.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Besides the design, this is what's new: Since there's a depth sensor, the glasses know where trees, rocks, other people and objects are. That means filters that have bubbles or other floating objects that you apply can react to these things. Balloons will pop if they hit an object. Some objects might float behind street lamps, or 3D pictures give new depth to a photo of a person, by allowing you to tilt the picture side to side to see more.

The glasses otherwise are like normal sunglasses, though, just with two cameras on them and a metal bar that connects across them. That bar looks silly, but it's required to make sure the cameras are shooting evenly. It's a shame the lenses aren't polarized, which you normally find in glasses at this price point.

These blobs just appear in the real world around objects.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You don't have to do anything different when you're recording, except maybe think about framing, and what might make the scenes your filming look cooler. There's a filter that overlays a phoenix bird into the real world, for example, which works best if you're walking down a pathway. And you might want to record in a field where there are trees or other objects if you want the effects of balloons popping against objects. There's another one that changes the entire world to look like it's covered in a rainbow, with certain colors applied to nearby objects and others to distant objects.

A trippy rainbow effect added in AR.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

All of this means your snaps just look a lot more fun. Instead of just overlaying stickers and other things, you can spice them up with filters that apply to the actual world around you. And Snapchat's partners and developers can build new filters, which means there will always be more to try, similar to the way Snapchat's fun masks currently work.

I found it was pretty fun, especially when I took a walk in Central Park to try them out. Instead of just sending out short clips of walking around the park, I was able to send short clips with lots of effects in them. My friends asked what sort of gadget I was using to create them because they thought it looked cooler than the sorts of videos you can capture with Snapchat on a phone or even Instagram.

Heart balloons in AR applied to my Spectacles video.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You apply the effects after you record the video. I opened the Snapchat app, downloaded about eight videos in just a few seconds. Then, I just opened a single video, tapped the menu button and tapped "edit." Snapchat will recognize it's a 3D video and will let you flip through about six AR filters. (More are coming very soon and will continue to be added by the community of developers.) If you shot a 3D picture, you just tap the 3D button on it to apply the 3D effect.

These hearts pop when they hit real objects, like the tree or ground.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

(The results are really clear, though in this story I've converted several to GIFs, which makes them a little blurry online.)

Speaking of Instagram, you can download these clips, either the video files or the photos, and post them wherever you want. So, I could upload the videos with AR effects I shot from Spectacles 3 right to Instagram, the platform most of my friends use anyway.

A phoenix can lead the way along your path, avoiding obstacles as it flies.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Spectacles 3 also ship with a VR viewer that lets you relive the moments you shot as if you're back there walking in the same place. It's just like Google Cardboard, so you slide your phone in and then look at the stereoscopic images through the viewfinder. You can upload videos to YouTube VR180 so anyone with a VR headset can view them.

An example of what a 3D image looks like (the animation was applied and exported to a GIF for example.)
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Finally, I like that the Spectacles 3 come with a premium leather case. There's a magnetic charger inside that automatically juices up the glasses if their battery runs low, and it keeps them charged when you're not using them. The case uses a modern USB-C cable to charge up, so you can use the cable you might already have for other gadgets that also use USB-C.

The Spectacles magnetically attach and charge inside the case. The lights show how much charge is left.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

What's bad

A circle around the camera lights up to show you're recording or taking pictures.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Spectacles 3 were not very comfortable. They grip a little tight on the side of my head, so much so that I can feel the arms at all times, and the nose bridge is also a little tight. I also don't like that the lenses sit a little too far away from my eyes, which means they aren't very good at keeping out sunlight on the sides of my face. They're neat for recording, but not great as just regular sunglasses. I always just wore my Ray Bans while driving.

Like previous models, Spectacles 3 are still a little silly looking -- the two cameras on the sides look kind of goofy. Snap told me this was by design because it wants others to know the cameras are there, and for people to get comfortable with them. In fact, like earlier models, there's a spinning LED that goes off while you're recording, which I like. This eliminates fears that you might be recording somebody on the sly.

Also, the Spectacles 3 have a small inward-facing LED so you know when you're filming, too. It's kind of hard to see, though. You can set it to change colors so you get an alert when others send you snaps, but I wish that Snapchat added support for showing me alerts for all sorts of things, like when I got a new text message, too.

At $380 they're also just too expensive for most folks. Only diehard Snapchat fans who want to add augmented reality effects will want these. Good thing that's the target audience.

Should you buy Snapchat Spectacles 3?

New Snapchat spectacles.
Snapchat

No, but it isn't really because they're bad, it's just that they're not for normal people like me. I'm not cool enough for Spectacles 3. I'm not the sort of creator they're targeting, and I wouldn't spend $380 for a pair of sunglasses, even if they can record AR.

But I get Snapchat's idea, and I will be interested in future products that start to show augmented reality when I look through the glasses. That may be a few years away, but I like where it's heading.

VIDEO1:0301:03
Snapchat unveils Spectacles 3 sunglasses

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Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap.

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Snapchat reaches 90% of 13- to 24-year olds.