Product Reviews August 17, 2015

Recon Jet 'sunglasses'

A short time ago I was asked by my (now not very) local bike shop to review a pair of sunglasses. These, however, were no ordinary sunglasses – made by technology company Recon Instruments, they were their flagship product – ‘Jet’. John, co-owner of M’s Cycles in Shoreham had his own views but he kept them largely to himself. Would I be prepared to go and test them and see what a ‘road’ cyclist thought of them? Of course. Better find ourselves a road cyclist to test them on then…..

Granted it was not ideal weather conditions to road test a pair of extremely hi-tech sunglasses; per standard British summertime it was grey and threatening rain. So how special can a pair of sunglasses be? There’s a couple of features actually. Apart from their look (and we’ll come onto that in a moment), these shades feature a Head Up Display (HUD) section in the lower right hand lens which is equivalent to reading a 75cm screen from 2 meters away. The sunglasses can be connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone where you can receive SMS messages, caller ID and access to social media shown on the HUD. It also boasts a camera which can be used to take photos and video whilst you’re on the move. What’s more, it includes an array of other sensors including altimeter, accelerometer and gyroscope. It’s powered by swappable lithium batteries and is controlled with a swipe sensor and a two button rocker switch, which are displayed via the menu system via the HUD. Oh yes – and they are sunglasses.

What Recon have done is taken all the useful elements of a smart phone app, added a camera and built them into the frame of a pair of sunglasses. The miniaturisation is amazing, even if the external appearance of the shades make you look like the Terminator. Despite looking considerably more bulky than a standard pair of glasses they don’t weigh that much more – I did not really notice that when I wore them. Clearly bundles of technology have been packed into these glasses but are they any good?

It would be a misrepresentation for me to say that I thoroughly road tested the ‘Jet’. Really I wanted to see whether the technology made a positive mix with the ride experience. I was not sure whether I was going to be distracted by the data available to me and whether that was going to detract from riding my bike. I decided to go up to Mill Hill, so only a 45 minute ride there and bike on the single speed from Shoreham town centre. I figured all I had to do was pedal on the Trek, thus allowing me to concentrate on the gadget on my head.

After an amount of messing around with the display and getting familiar with the way the menu/selection system operated on the right hand arm, I set out. It is possible to move the HUD from side to side and up and down within the right hand lens. I fiddled around with this for some-time, but the combination of my peripheral vision and how the glasses sat on my head meant that I could only ever see about 80% of the display….what I could see was very clear and I liked the type-face used. Speed, duration, distance travelled were all easy to read at a glance. It was handy to have this information literally in-vision, but I could not help thinking whether it was really necessary. Wasn’t this all available on my Garmin? Or @cyclemeter? Moreover, I could imagine receiving SMS messages and phone calls would be even more distracting. When I’m out on the bike, it is a chance to switch off from these day to day distractions and remove myself from the rough and tumble of social media. Using these glasses will keep me connected – yes – but I’m not sure I want to remain so. I want to be ‘off the grid’ sometimes. Indeed, there’s an argument that says as much as wearing these glasses could enhance your riding experience via the technology on tap, they could easily degrade your fresh air experience. I rode on, unsure of what to make of them.

Aside from the on-board tech, there is one practical issue that became quickly evident to me. John had commented on this. The HUD is positioned in the bottom third of the right lens. If grab a quick look over your shoulder to check for cars, the display obscures your view. It does not obstruct it because it’s only a relatively small area, however it does create a blind spot which is exactly in the wrong place (if a blind spot can ever be in the right place?). Some of this can be tweaked by dropping your shoulder and twisting your neck more – but I wasn’t keen on its positioning. Aside from that, you also have the age old issue of the glasses steaming up – either due to the weather or perspiration. I’m not sure I’d want to stuff them in my back pocket or perch them on my helmet if wearing them became unnecessary. And then there’s the cost….riding an expensive bike is one thing, but wearing a pair of sunglasses worth circa £580…..and they don’t even come with a neck cord.

You might think given that I make the odd film or two and take photographs on the go, these glasses would be ideal for me. The photo quality was ok and it was easy to frame photos, since it literally is an example of ‘what you see is what you get’. The video on the other hand suffered from picking up substantial wind noise. This makes it no better than the hand held video camera I currently use. From a user interaction perspective I found the menu hierarchy not at all intuitive. The swipe system worked fine with summer half finger gloves but it would be interesting to see how full winter gloves faired. The toggle switch requires a level of dexterity potentially not offered by UK winter glove wear. These are too expensive not to use for half of the year.

I finished my ride and enjoyed glancing at my stats as I trundled back towards the bike shop. These glasses were a curiosity, but that was all. True, the software is about to get upgraded so it’s Strava segment compliant and can integrate with Apple Health and Google Fit. Recon are also making the architecture available so that 3rd parties can design new apps for the glasses, but for me, this is not what cycling is about. Granted, I do like to know what my stats are at the end of each ride – but that’s it. These glasses are a very intelligent piece of kit and respect to Recon engineers for designing in as many features and the connectivity that it offers. There’s just one problem – I don’t need it. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s the cost. And maybe the thrill of cycling is the same now as it was thirty five odd years ago - and no amount of data will enhance that. 

Thanks to John at M’s Cycles for the loan. 

Words and thumbnail image – bikebritain Ltd

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