Not Dead: Android-based Smart Glass Round-Up — What’s New at CES 2016
While smart glasses aren’t really the coolest kid on the block anymore, they’ve come a long way since their humble beginnings. Prices are dropping, the app ecosystem is evolving, and with more companies investing heavily into VR (Virtual Reality, think the Oculus Rift/Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive), AR (Augmented Reality) seems poised to make a comeback by piggybacking off the renewed VR craze. While we have yet to see commercial Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens devices, many smaller companies are hoping to become the next Oculus Rift and capture the AR market by storm. At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, we took a look at some of the latest AR smart glass offerings that are based on some form of Android.
Certainly innovative in the AR space, the ORA-X by Optinvent combines the smart glass with the headphone so you can watch videos, listen to podcasts, or listen to music and do more on to go. Sure, you can certainly do the same on the Google Glass, but even if you buy the earbud accessory the sound quality just won’t be the same. And thanks to the likes of Beats by Dr. Dre, the social stigma against wearing headphones in public has pretty much disappeared (audiophiles, please don’t hurt me!)
Unlike Google’s Glass, which runs a modified version of Android, the ORA-X runs a full version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat (though the team states it may be updated once the product launches). You’re essentially walking around with an Android tablet around your head, where you’ll have full access to the entire gamut of compatible apps on the Google Play Store. The headset/glass hybrid even has the standard Android navigation buttons on the side so you won’t have much trouble browsing the user interface. If tapping the side of your headphone isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll also be able to use voice commands to perform actions on the device.
On the hardware side, the device comes packed with a wide range of features that will satisfy any casual user. It features a sizable 2,000 mAh battery, which the company promises will last you between 6-8 hours of continuous use (though much like the Google Glass, certain intensive tasks such as video recording will eat up your battery life). The device also packs 2GBs of RAM, which seems low when compared to the 4GB flagship phones launching this year but should be okay given that multitasking isn’t really something most people would do while wearing one of these. ORA-X also features a trackpad and 9-axis position sensor, enabling you to do some light gaming while on the go. Combine that with 8GB of ROM and you’ll find plenty of room for most basic apps and games (though you might have trouble running Grand Theft Auto III).
The device has recently been funded thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo and is expected to launch sometime during the summer of 2016. At retail, the device will set you back $600, which is less than half the price of the current Google Glass Explorer Edition (though to be fair, we have no idea what the final consumer version of Glass will cost, if and when it comes). Overall, when you compare the ORA-X to the second generation Google Glass, the hardware is definitely up to par, but the fact that the ORA-X runs a full version of Android gives you more freedom in the kinds of apps you want to run.
As a Tokyo-based start-up, Telepathy Japan, Inc. is an AR device primarily aimed at gaming. Following the launch of the company’s first wearable product in Japan, the Telepathy Jumper, the Telepathy Walker is planned to be released internationally in the summer of 2016 for about $700 following a crowd-funding campaign that starts sometime in February. Details on the device are sparse, but I’ve pieced together as much information as I could after speaking with the company’s marketing manager at CES.
Telepathy Japan’s Walker, like the ORA-X, runs a full version of Android 4.4 KitKat. However, the device apparently has some issues displaying apps not designed for its landscape interface, so in order to improve the user experience they plan on creating an app store of their own to feature compatible apps. The company’s Jumper product also pushes for third-party developer support, so this is not unexpected for the product. Telepathy includes a few VR apps via its partners, and promises support for additional VR apps and games such as Ingress when it launches.
As for the hardware, the Walker is probably the smallest smart glass product I’ve seen yet. The company’s push for really making it a device you’ll actually walk around with in public seems to work. The Walker is light, sleek, and connects magnetically to a light headband that rests on your ears in order to hold the device up. Technical specifications were not made available at the time, but it’s safe to assume that the device features most of the standard sensors and functionality you would expect in an AR smart glass product. We know from the company’s press release that the device has WiFi and bluetooth functionality, a 960×540 resolution display, and an unspecified 5MP camera, so it doesn’t seem to have a glaring lack of any crucial features. However, the battery life only lasts 2 hours at this time according to the marketing manager, which is a bit disappointing for a device you’re supposed to walk around with all day. The company has said they will work on improving it, which they definitely have time to do so before its launch.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach your dog to get better at doing old tricks, right? Okay, I will admit that was bad, but my point is that unlike the other players on the block, Vuzix is no stranger to the AR space. They were the pioneers in the industry, and have already launched several successful AR products primarily aimed at the enterprise market. Vuzix is beefing up their product line this year with a slew of powerful new products. In particular, the M300 Smart Glasses and the 3000 Series, launching this summer and fall respectively, will introduce new ways for enterprise users to enhance their workflow.
Wearing a smart glass so far hasn’t really felt like you were wearing a pair of glasses. That’s mainly because, while the devices do rest on your ear and can fit snugly over your glasses, the device itself doesn’t really look like the lens of an actual pair of glasses. Vuzix is trying to change that with their new product, the M3000, featuring 1.4mm thick lenses. The company leverages its optical technology to create a pair of truly see-through smart glass lens, allowing you to see both the augmented reality without restricting your view of the real world. The company has provided a full list of specifications on their website, but some interesting things to note are that both the M300/M3000 are running a full version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow on an Intel Atom CPU with 2GBs of RAM and 16GBs of ROM. Although the devices feature only a 100 mAh onboard battery, they mostly operate off of a hot-swappable 5,000 mAh external battery pack. Given that these devices are aimed for enterprise use, it makes sense for them to focus on providing external battery power rather than stuffing a larger, but bulkier internal battery inside the devices. Indeed, the company’s goal to capture the enterprise market is reflected in its curated app store (which features a mix of enterprise and consumer apps) as well as in the company’s M100/M300 Migration Package which allows owners of the M100 to upgrade to the M300 at a reduced price. On a hardware basis and software basis, it already seems like the M300/M3000 is ahead of the pack. The M300 and M3000 are aimed at a summer 2016 commercial launch, however you can pre-order the M300 starting on February 1st on the Vuzix website.
If you would rather wait for an actual pair of smart glasses though, then you’ll be happy to know that Vuzix’s 3000 Series will be launching a few months after the M300/M3000 sometime during the fall of 2016. Fewer technical details are revealed in the product’s technical page, but we know that the device is based off of the same waveguide optics technology that allows the M3000 smart glass lens to be see-through. Combined with the company’s “Cobra” display-engine, Vuzix claims the device is “almost indistinguishable from regular sports sunglasses.” We know from the page that these glasses also run off on Marshmallow, but we do not yet know exactly what processor, storage capacity, battery, and sensors the 3000 series will pack. There are three models in this series, with two of them aimed at watching videos and one aimed for AR. The VidWear B3000 models allow you to watch videos from an HDMI video input (seriously) or wirelessly via bluetooth/WiFi, depending on which model you buy. As with the M300/M3000 smart glasses, the 3000 series will operate primarily off of an external, hot-swappable battery pack. We will be following news on this device as additional details are revealed by the company, but for now, the 3000 series is a cool glimpse into the future intersection between smart glasses and real eyewear.
We hope you’re as excited as us for the future of Android on wearable technologies. Let us know what you think of these devices in the comments below!