Get heads-up access to your digital life.
Last summer, I was one of the millions of people who went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home in the theater. Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker is a tech nerd like his mentor Tony Stark (a.k.a Iron Man) and so it was only fitting that the movie featured a really cool piece of tech — glasses that were equipped with artificial intelligence. The AI was given the nickname E.D.I.T.H., which has access to Stark Industries’ databases. With them, Parker is able to control remote weapons and access unlimited amounts of information from Stark Industries. Like so many superhero and sci-fi movies, I never expect to be able to actually get my hands on the tech right away. Sure, we have the equivalent of Star Trek’s communicators and wireless headsets, but I never thought I would be able to access my digital life through a pair of glasses. Then, I was introduced to North Focals.
Focals by North are custom-made glasses with a heads-up display built it. They connect directly to your smartphone to make all your digital information available in a convenient up-front display. They are the world’s first pair of stylish prescription smart glasses. Notifications pop-up discreetly and only the user can see them. The user is then able to reply to notifications with smart replies, emojis, and even snooze delays. Focals are really designed to help people stay on top of their day. With the glasses, you can manage your calendar and tasks, operate a presentation teleprompter, Slack, and Gmail messages, and smartphone notifications.
- Messages: Get in touch with the people you care about in an instant. Read messages and quickly respond with smart replies, emojis or voice-to-text.
- Go: Search and navigate to your favorite locations or points of interest with turn-by-turn directions. You can also request an Uber directly from your glasses.
- Calendar, Weather, Reminders: Have the peace of mind that you’re on top of your day without getting lost in your phone. Focals give you access to the time and date, your daily calendar, weather, and select notifications. Or you can turn on Do Not Disturb if you want to put it all on pause and focus on the task at hand.
- Amazon Alexa: Focals make Alexa accessible no matter where you are, with responses that are delivered to Focals’ full-color display or via a small speaker that you can turn on or off. With Alexa, you can add to your to-do list, check the weather, control smart home devices and more.
- Proactive Updates: Focals offer proactive updates for the things that matter most. Whether it’s keeping tabs on directions, seeing your grocery list appear while you’re out shopping, or tracking your Uber’s arrival – it’s all shared with you at just the right moment.
Focals feature full-color holographic projections. They are paired with a Loop, which is a simple, elegant control ring with a four-directional joystick. While the Focals come with clear lenses, you do have the option of adding sun clips to your glasses for outdoor use. Focals come with a hard shell protective case that also charges them. Users have the ability to customize their experience by setting preferences within the Focals companion app.
Users have the option to use the Focals Showroom app to gather measurements of your face using the same technology as Apple’s FaceID. Because the app uses the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera, this option is limited to those who have an iPhone X or newer. Otherwise, you have to have an in-person fitting completed.
When I found out that I was going to get my very own “E.D.I.T.H.” glasses I was as happy as a little kid on Christmas morning. I was able to get the sizing done through the app option instead of having to visit a North distributor for an in-person fitting. That was a HUGE plus for me because the nearest distributor to me is about 13 hours away. The process was not difficult, but as it turns out, the first time I went through it, the app incorrectly sized me. I ended up receiving glasses that were too big and a Loop that was too small. No amount of adjusting brought the glasses to where they were supposed to be sitting on my face.
Fortunately, North has amazing Customer Service. I reached out to them and found them extremely easy to work with. Between North’s Customer Service and the Public Relations Rep I was working with, I was able to get a replacement set of Focals sent to me. The new pair ended up fitting correctly and I was able to start using them right away.
I found the Focals to be an interesting option for receiving notifications. The glasses work by utilizing a laser to project mirrored information from your phone onto the right lens of the glasses. The display works similarly to the way a heads-up display does in a vehicle — you can see the information, but be able to look through it. The viewing angle is approximately 15-degrees and it’s about 300×300 pixels in size. The glasses also have a built-in microphone and speaker built into the frame for use with Alexa. Sound can be muted and notifications can also be silenced.
It’s been quite nice for calendars reminders, seeing the time, and being able to use Alexa. On a full charge, the glasses will get up to 18 hours of use so it’s imperative to use their charging case every night to charge them. The frames are made from plastic and they are designed with adjustable nose pads. They are on the heavy side and even after I got the correct size and tried to use the adjustable nose pads, the glasses continue to slide. I am constantly adjusting the glasses to the correct place since they slide to makes sure I can view the screen properly. I actually talked with my eye doctor about the Focals and while he thought the concept was great, he thought the weight/sliding issue could be a problem for people who use them for long periods of time since they are designed to be used with prescription lenses.
Even though I got to use the glasses with a lot of the features, I don’t feel like I am getting the full scope of the product since I’m not a heavy Google user. Some of the features aren’t as useful to me as they probably are to someone in the Google ecosystem. I also found the texting feature to be a little cumbersome. The Focals use a proprietary system for sending text messages with an iPhone so when you view it on your phone, it shows a message like this: This number is your conversation with XXXXX from Focals. In essence, your messages are being run through a server at North and then it’s pushed back to the glasses.
I’m a fan of the Focals by North and while they aren’t exactly the E.D.I.T.H. glasses I hoped they would be, they are certainly the best version of smart glasses I’ve seen so far. In practice, the Focals function a lot like a smartwatch. I think that once some app development has taken shape for them and the glasses are a bit lighter weight, they will be irresistible. I have really enjoyed using them and with the exception of a few small issues, I have not had many problems with them. They function well as smart glasses and I can’t wait to see what North has in store for the next version of them.