No Shade Here: Snapchat's New Spectacles Seem Tailor-Made for Music Festival Season

Courtesy of Snapchat
Snap Inc.'s updated Spectacles, a wearable, hands-free photo and video camera.

No one wants to be that person at the concert.

You know the one: shoving their phone over everyone’s head, flash on, as they crane their neck to capture each chorus, guest appearance and dance move onstage for social media followers to envy. That person is obstructive, obnoxious and often flat-out rude -- and inevitably (let's admit it), that person has once been you. As festival season approaches, the updated Spectacles wearable camera from Snapchat helps social media lovers avoid this dilemma -- though you may end up trading one concert taboo for another.

The sequel version of the product -- which Snap Inc. first launched in late 2016 and sold through vending machines -- look and function like normal shades, save for a tiny photo and video recording device embedded above the right lens. Along with tech updates like faster glasses-to-app transfer, the revised Specs feature a slimmed-down design meant to feel more natural to users who were hesitant to don the initial toy-like version in public, no matter how well the technology worked.

Those improvements hold up, for the most part. At least that's what I -- yes, a millennial -- found testing the product recently at Brooklyn venue Rough Trade, where Norwegian pop queen Dagny took the stage Wednesday night (April 25). While mere mortals fumbled in purses and pockets for their phones, I, an intellectual, merely pressed a button atop the left lens to begin my first 10-second recording, which could easily be extended up to 30 seconds with another tap. Each snap transferred automatically to my Snapchat app through Specs’ internal Wi-Fi in less than three seconds (more than half the old version's nine-second transfer time), where they awaited my editing and posting in the "Memories" section.

The process was effortless, as promised. I was feeling myself in my cool new glasses -- maybe a little too much. Because that's when I noticed the side-eyed glances from a few skeptical strangers and suddenly felt very, very awkward. If wearing sunglasses to a 9 p.m. indoor event didn't instantly make me the concert dweeb, the circle of LED lights that blink around the camera when recording surely did. And while I was no longer the jerk parading my iPhone in the air, I was still the know-it-all with a lit-up screen on my face. "I'm testing the Snapchat Spectacles," I explained, only half-bragging, to a friend, feeling like the human embodiment of shruggy man.

(I should add that many others didn't seem to care or notice -- including a grown man wearing a light-up crown two feet away. But then again, that's New York.)

Still, the Specs had notable upsides for concertgoers. Since Specs capture exactly what you see, I was never caught between watching Dagny strut onstage IRL and watching the same scene from my iPhone screen while perfecting my recording. Though my photos came out blurry (as expected from a live concert), my videos were crystal-clear and had a first-hand-view, GoPro-esque quality no phone camera could offer. And when I noticed my iPhone battery was down to 21 percent, I wasn't forced to choose between shooting more precious #content or saving enough juice to call an Uber home -- Spectacles can record up to 70 10-second videos (or three to four times that in photos) per charge, and the case (which is 20 percent tinier than the previous version's) can recharge the glasses up to four times.

Overall, it wasn't hard for me to imagine how the ease of using Spectacles at one concert (minus the minor embarrassment) could translate to a whole festival, allowing music lovers to snap away spontaneously without sacrificing enjoyment of the performances themselves. And concert filming aside, there are way more creative possibilities for Snapchat obsessives when you go hands-free: Why not ride a bike, go rock climbing, play with a kitten?

Now for the Spectacle specs: Each pair, including a charging case, will set you back $149.99 -- $20 more than the previous model and around the same cost as a pair of Ray-Bans. Spectacles are available in three colors (Onyx, Ruby and Sapphire) and two lens styles (one slightly mirrored), all far more approachable (might I even say... stylish?) than the last version's fluorescent palette. The yellow rings that perched atop the old version are gone, replaced by LED lights; the outward-facing lights tell others that you're recording, while an inward-facing light lets you know when a snap is finishing up. The whole thing is far slimmer and more lightweight than version one.

Finally, it's important to note that you can have fun with Spectacles even if you rarely use Snapchat. All you need is a free Snapchat account to download your videos, and though Snap Inc. would hope that you post them to their own app, there's nothing stopping you from simply saving them to your camera roll and sharing anywhere else. The only difference is how your snaps will appear: photos and videos fit to the screen when viewed on the app, but take the shape of a circle when saved elsewhere.

If you've followed Snapchat's Spectacles endeavor thus far, you'll know that all these enhancements are crucial. It's no secret that Snap Inc. was forced to write off nearly $40 million in excess inventory from the original 2016 version -- and that's not to mention the $800 million blow to stock value the company suffered after an insensitive third-party ad on the app involving Rihanna went viral last month. You have to give them props for listening to customer feedback and giving the Specs another try.

As wearable tech grows more commonplace (consider the popularity of Apple Watches or Fitbits), Snap Inc. seems headed in the right direction. But it's hard to predict how many Snapchat users will buy into the fun and ease of Spectacles and how many would rather avoid the stigma that still surrounds the product. I found Spectacles to be a solid bet for making the festivalgoing days ahead stress-free, and the truth is, I really enjoyed using them. But perhaps more telling of the product's fate? I almost don't want to admit it.

Festivals 2018