When it comes to wearables, it’s been dominated by smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch and fitness trackers such as Fitbits. But over the last year, a new type of wearable has emerged with smart glasses like the North Focals.
I’ve been using North Focals for a little while and while it’s great, it does have a few issues.
Design & Hardware
The North Focals are made from a metal body to help make the device feel more premium. Most of the internals to power the holographic display are on the sides of the glasses.
While that’s better than having the glasses hooked up to an external computing pack, the North Focals can seem a bit chunky. The right side is where the projector for 110 x 110 holographic display is.
The glasses’ built-in projector displays the OS onto the right glasses lens. This is where some issues arise if you don’t wear the Focals just right, the images of the projector can seem fuzzy.
The nice part about the North Focals is that they’re available with or without prescription lenses. North says they support Single Vision Rx Support of -4 to +2 SPH & 0 to -2 CYL. If you choose to go without prescription lenses, then you can use contact lenses instead.
Because of the highly customized nature of the North Focals, there’s a whole process to go through when you set up an appointment at one of North’s showrooms (in Toronto, ON and Brooklyn, NY) or pop-up showrooms.
Each appointment takes about an hour and they’ll measure your eyes and a 3D scan of your head and face. You’ll also be able to choose which colour frames you want and Loop size.
You can read more about North’s sizing appointments here.
After that, your order is submitted to North’s manufacturing facility in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON. It can take a little while to get your Focals, at least a couple of weeks due to the highly-customized nature.
The lenses have multiple premium coatings including scratch-resistant, anti-reflective, water-resistant and UV protection. North does include a pair of sun clips to use with your Focals.
The North Focals come with a battery case that charges over USB-C. It takes up to four hours to fully charge the battery case and up to two hours for the Focals and the Loop. The battery case holds up to 3 full charges for your Focals.
In terms of battery life, there’s a 700mAh battery and you can expect up to around a full-day of usage (around 18 hours or) and the Loop has up to 3 days of battery life. The Focals connect to the battery case using magnetic charging contacts.
As of July 2020, the North Focals (1st Gen) no longer work since the company has been acquired by Google. Their upcoming Focals 2.0 has been cancelled.
The 1st Gen North Focals are no longer available for purchase but they did cost $799 CAD ($599 USD) for the non-prescription version and the prescription variant costing an additional $200 CAD ($200 USD).
Just like smartwatches, the North Focals can act as an extension of your phone, so you can notifications, control your music and more.
The North Focals can connect to Android devices running 5.0 or later and the iPhone 5S and later with iOS 11 and up.
To set up the North Focals, you’ll need the Focals app for Android or iOS. The app lets you change settings of the Focals and more.
The main homescreen of the Focals app shows you the currently connected pair of Focals, the battery status and a few different options. These include Alignment which helps adjust the glasses’ projection, Showcase to show you what it can do and Lenscast to show off the Focals’ UI.
Lenscast lets your project what your Focals are displaying on your phone.
Just below that is the info about the Loop for your Focals including stuff like battery life etc. Pressing the menu button (the three lines in the top left) gives you access to more settings for your Focals.
- Amazon Alexa
- Screenshot Share
Abilities are like your sort-of app store for the Focals and lets you enable different services such as Google Fit, Pushbullet, Slack, Spotify, Drink Water reminders, Evernote, Focals Todoist, Google Tasks, Microsoft OneNote and Twitter.
The abilities work for the most part but the Spotify ability does let you control music playback from your phone but this ability is in beta and sometimes doesn’t work.
Notifications allow you to select which app notifications from your phone you want to show up on your Focals. Messages give you the option to select five or so contacts to send messages to and see canned replies.
Places allow you to set your Home and Work addresses when you are using directions on the Focals via Here maps. Directions only work for walking and public transit. You can’t use your Focals to get driving directions and the glasses can actually detect when you’re driving.
Amazon Alexa lets you link your Amazon account to use Alexa’s voice controls. The Alexa voice controls on the Focals work great but you’ll need to make sure your phone has a good internet connection. To ask Alexa a question, hold down the Loop’s joystick button and Alexa will pop-up.
Responses from Alexa will be heard from the Focals’ built-in speakers and you’ll also see a visual response too. For example, if you ask Alexa the weather, she’ll speak it to you and see the upcoming forecast on your screen.
Uber is pretty self-explanatory, you can connect your account to hail Ubers. Screenshot Share lets you show what’s on your Focals’ screen.
The Focals’ OS can show your phone notifications such as texts and you can reply to them using your voice or set canned replies. You can also check the weather, talk to Amazon Alexa and turn-by-turn walking or transit directions.
Navigating the Focals is fairly simple, using the Loop, move the joystick to the left or right to cycle through different experiences such as weather, music control, notifications and more. Moving the Loop up or down will let you explore more into the selected experience.
Overall, the North Focals is a great attempt at a new type of wearable that will only continually get better with each version.
- The interface is easy to use
- Available with or without a prescription
- Acts like a smartwatch for your face
- All-day battery life
- Sleek design
- Amazon Alexa voice commands work well
- Fairly expensive
- Wearing them slightly off can throw the projection
- Sides of Focals can get slightly warm when using them