Augmented reality is one of the latest buzz phrases in the world of advanced technology. It’s right up there with “virtual reality”, even though you may not be quite as familiar with it. When trying to determine which are the best augmented reality glasses at this point in time, it’s really worth asking the question: Is there anything worth buying yet?
You can group augmented reality (AR) technology into three areas of interest – enterprise (including business and developer uses), consumer, and specialty. (These are my own designations, so you may not find them elsewhere.) There is some overlap among these groups, but in general, it helps to know which target audience a certain piece of hardware is aimed at and to know whether or not you are in that audience.
Some of the optics discussed below are already available at Amazon. Others you can only get from the manufacturer, and a few, as of this writing, aren’t even available from them yet.
Let’s take a look at what is currently available in each of these groups to see if there’s anything you might be interested in getting – now or in the future.
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Enterprise, Business, and Developer AR Glasses
Entries in this group include familiar names like Google (Glass), Microsoft (HoloLens), and even Epson (Moverio). You may be as surprised as I was to see a brand known for printers expanding into the AR world, but there it is. Epson has actually been working at this for quite some time, and as you will see, has several AR offerings in the market.
Other newer names include ODG and Optinvent, each of whom already have at least a second generation product available.
Update: Much has changed since this article was first written. Most notably, Google Glass is no longer a thing.
Google Glass Enterprise Edition
At this point, you may only be aware of the original Google Glass that so many people made fun of upon its release a few years ago. This Enterprise Edition product is the next generation of that earlier one and is focused on the business world, as opposed to being a broad-based consumer item.
The basic design of each model is similar, but the newer version includes a red light that shines when you are recording video.
You can remove the display, which Google calls a Glass Pod, and transfer it to a different set of glasses, like safety goggles or your own pair of prescription lenses.
As is common with the latest model of anything electronic, this Glass has a better camera, longer battery life, more powerful processor, and faster wi-fi than its predecessor.
You can’t get this at Amazon (yet), but it is available for business use and will currently cost well over $1000. Depending on the business you’re in, this may or may not be a wise purchase at this time and for this price.
Several Epson Moverio models have been around for a few years already. If you haven’t heard of the Moverio until now, that may be because Epson, like Google, is now mostly targeting the workplace instead of the consumer as well.
The Moverio BT-200 (Developer), BT-350 (Multi-User), BT-2000 (Workplace), and BT-2200 – a model that fits over hard hats – are all aimed at business.
Each lens has its own display, instead of just the one Pod of the Glass. The Moverio works out-of-the-box with Bluetooth (and other technology) and most Android apps.
I think one of the main reasons that Epson is going after the business world here is that many consumers just don’t like the looks of these glasses. If the Average Joe isn’t going to buy them, why not push them into the workplace where some of those same folks don’t care how they look as long as this tool helps them do their job better?
If you’ve heard of any other AR set of glasses besides the Google implementation, it’s probably the MS HoloLens.
Details are still a little sketchy, since Microsoft is being stingy with them, but here is what I can tell you so far. There are no cords or wires attached to these glasses. You can connect to others via Skype.
The glasses themselves house multiple cameras, sensors, and an “integrated processing unit” all of which works together to show you HD holographic images. Audio is “spatial”, which I take to mean that you can tell which direction sounds are virtually coming from, just like in the non-AR world.
Though I have not personally tried these on, they are reportedly lightweight, and you can adjust them to fit your (any) head size.
Microsoft is developing the HoloLens with a plethora of applications in mind. Possible areas of use include general education, specific / niche education, gaming, designing, engineering, and much, much more. If this is one of the pieces of hardware that does catch on, you could see it being used pretty much everywhere.
Then again, I guess you could say that about any of these glasses (or future developments).
Currently priced around $3000, this is one of the more expensive AR glasses available, but as we all know, prices on these kinds of things tend to drop dramatically over time.
ODG R-7 Smartglasses System
ODG is the Osterhout Design Group. Their R-7 glasses are not the most recent of their offerings, but it’s the enterprise model I have the most information about. They have since announced a consumer version – the R-8 (see below) – and the R-9, which is probably smaller, faster, and better than the R-7.
The R-7 (and R-9) smartglasses are meant for professionals in areas such as security, transportation, logistics, health care, utilities, and more.
Like the HoloLens, this is an untethered unit. Unlike the HoloLens, it is powered by Android software, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor.
The dual displays feature 720p see-through resolution. This is equivalent to what you can find in some of the better smartphones these days.
The laundry list of other features includes the following.
- Autofocus camera
- Magnetic swappable lenses
- Magnetic stereo earbuds
- Rechargeable dual 650-mAh batteries
- 3GB of RAM
- 64GB storage
The R-7 costs a couple hundred less than the HoloLens. I expect the R-9 would cost more than the R-7.
Another Android device is the Optinvent ORA-2. These glasses look a lot like the Glass, but you can move the display up and down.
To use these in any practical way, you will need a programmer to work with you (assuming you’re not that person yourself). The ORA-2 is the core around which you need to create your own applications. I could see this changing in the future, but for now, that’s the way it is.
You can link the ORA-2 to a smartphone using Bluetooth, or you can connect to a wi-fi network. Since it’s running Android, you can use existing apps, such as Gmail, Maps, and even Skype.
You get pretty much everything (and in some cases, more) that other glasses offer but for about half the price of the Google Glass.
Consumer Grade Augmented Reality Glasses
Next we get to the models of AR glasses that you’re most likely interested in. Epson and ODG make an appearances here too. The others in this space are relatively new to the game.
Epson Moverio BT-100
Here is what Epson tells us about their BT-100 glasses.
“Featuring a head set with micro-projection technology and a compact Android-powered controller, Moverio allows you to privately view video, experience side-by-side 3D content, play games and enjoy content on a ‘floating’ see-through display projected into your environment.”
It seems the main purpose of the BT-100 is currently to bring video from your hand (that is, your phone) to your eye (that is, the projection in the glasses). You use wi-fi connectivity to connect to sites like YouTube and see the content on the equivalent of an 80-inch screen. So it’s basically the same stuff you can see on your phone (or tablet or laptop) only “bigger”.
The rechargeable battery doesn’t quite make it to 6 hours, which is probably less than what you get on your other devices. You do get an AC adapter in the box.
Epson likes to say that you can stay “connected to your world” and at the same time watch video content in your glasses in private. I think you can do pretty much the same with other devices, and they don’t get in each other’s way as could become a problem with the glasses. Sure, the glasses use see-through imaging, but that’s almost beside the point.
Included in the package are an interactive trackpad and smart navigation menus that put content “at your fingertip”. So it’s not all about the glasses, yet. (And maybe it never will be. It’s too soon to tell.)
The BT-100 is showing its age already by claiming support for Flash content. Flash is now generally considered an undesirable thing on most websites.
Sound should be pretty good using either the included earphones or a pair of your own because the Moverio uses Dolby Mobile surround sound.
ODG R-8 Smartglasses System
“With the R-8 smartglasses, ODG is expanding beyond our traditional enterprise customer base and extending the amazing capabilities of mixed reality.”
So the R-8 smartglasses are probably better than the R-7 but not as good as the R-9, right? It’s a little hard to tell because these are targeting a different audience than the others. It’s sort of like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.
ODG also likes to mix their terminology by combining augmented, mixed, and virtual into this package. In the end, that doesn’t really matter that much. One way or another, you’ll be seeing things that aren’t really there physically.
ODG packs a lot into a rather small frame. Check out a few more laundry lists in the table below to see what they have included.
2 730cAh lithium
Adjustable nose bridge
Changeable ear horns
USB Type C
Dual 720p at up
40 degree field of view
16:9 aspect ratio
*GNSS (GPS/GLONASS) – Global Navigation Satellite System is the Russian version of GPS.
As a consumer, these just might be the glasses you’ve been looking for…he said in his best Jedi voice.
Vuzix showed off the Blade at CES 2018 in January, but the last time I checked, the Blade wasn’t actually available to you and me yet. The most recent projected date I could find was summer of 2018. So we’ll see.
Some reviewers think that the Blade is what the Google Glass could have become if Google had continued down the consumer gadget path. I think several companies will get there sooner or later.
The Blade works with your smartphone and runs a version of Android that works with both Android and iOS phones. You control what you see with head movements, a touchpad, or even Amazon’s Alexa.
A key “feature” of these glasses is that you don’t look dorky wearing them. They look pretty much like normal sunglasses.
Vuzix also makes the M100, M300, and Wrap 310XL AR devices, but it’s the Blade that most people are drooling over right now. Hopefully we can stop drooling soon.
Magic Leap One
The Magic Leap One goggles (and these really look like goggles) are also called “Lightwear” from time to time. The Magic Leap site refers to them as “One” though.
This is another AR device due to be released sometime in 2018.
The One connects to a Lightpack you wear on a belt. The Lightpack contains the heavy duty processing equipment.
Magic Leap is keeping quiet about most of the One’s details, but they are aiming their goggles at both consumers and enterprise users.
Some reviewers compare the Meta 2 to the HoloLens saying you can get it for half the price but with a better display and more comfortable design.
A big selling point for the Meta 2 is the haptic (touch) part of its design. Not only will you see things that aren’t there, but you can touch and “feel” them too.
The downside is that the device looks like a hat from Star Wars. (Maybe that’s not really a downside after all.)
To project its holograms, you need the hat with visor, its 9-foot cable, and a Windows 10 computer. From all that you get figures in a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels, which is quite good.
Specialized Augmented Reality Hardware
So far, I see two areas of concentration for AR glasses with specific, niche uses – cycling and flying drones (quadcopters, etc.). I know of three models for cyclists and one for drone operators, but there may be more. And there may be other specialties out there too that I just haven’t found yet.
Garmin Varia Vision
To use the Varia Vision, you need another pair of glasses – sunglasses will work, if you don’t regularly wear prescription glasses.
What you will see in this model is cycling stats and performance data. You can view this information in up to 4 panels.
You control the device with a touchpad that even works if you’re wearing gloves – something a cyclist often does.
The second AR device for cyclists is called Solos. This was originally a crowdfunded project that, as of this writing, you should be able to preorder.
The Solos is a pair of smart sunglasses that tracks stats like your heart rate, calories burned, pedaling cadence, and more. You can connect it to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
The glasses include dual microphones, but I’m not sure what they are used for.
Finally we get to the current cream of the crop for cyclists, the Everysight Raptor. The Raptor does pretty much everything the two devices above do, plus you can use its camera to take photos and video using a touchpad or voice controls.
The Raptor is water-resistant, so it’s safe for the daring rider to use in the rain.
You can currently request an invitation to preorder the Raptor glasses, which will run you about $500.
Epson Moverio BT-300FPV Drone Edition
Epson is back again with yet another version of their Moverio line, the BT-300FPV (First Person View).
With this device, you get to see what the camera on your drone sees and at the same time see your quadcopter itself.
The BT-300FPV comes with the Go app from DJI, a leading manufacturer of drone equipment. The Go app is the software counterpart to the glasses themselves that lets you work with the drone’s camera.
Augmented reality is, or will soon be, very cool.
Some of the products I’ve described are “ready for prime time”, while others seem like they’re a step away from the main stage.
Though there are some really advanced devices here already, I consider this still the infancy stage of the AR industry.
When the industry gets itself all sorted out, any remaining players should have gadgets that will be both affordable for and desired by many people.
I’m looking forward to it.