I got to play with the Norm Smart Glasses – here are my thoughts
I have always been a huge fan of wearable technology. Many people know that I have been a long time Google Glass owner but my love for wearable technology actually goes back a lot further than that. My first wearable device was the Fossil Wrist PDA that ran PalmOS nearly 15 years ago!. I have since owned over 10 different generations of SmartWatches as well as Google Glass. There have been several smart glasses entering the market over the past year such as North, Vuzix and Norm. While Vuzix, and North have a established brand, the newcomer, Norm has got something special on their hands and I got to spend a few hours playing with it on Sunday. Here are my initial thoughts.
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Update – The Kickstarter is LIVE
WARNING : I got to play with a pre-production model that was mostly functional. Things are subject to change for the better before it hits the market as they continue to iterate. The version I specifically played with was the 6th and 7th iteration of the prototype.
These are my initial impressions, I will be posting more over the next few weeks, I have a lot of things on my mind after playing with these in which I will explain the best I can in this article that may cause me to break it up into a few posts. I am really just regurgitating my thoughts so please excuse me for my lack of structure.
I was skeptical when I first read story’s about the Norm Smart Glasses back with several CES blogs. They were seemingly getting ready to offer a set of smart glasses that don’t look like smart-glasses but at the same time pack an insane amount of technology into an insanely small package that is barely larger than a traditional set of sunglasses that you could buy in the store. Assuming that there was no sorcery involved, I was ready to dismiss it as another kick-starter failure that bit off more than they can chew. Norm reached out to me seeing that I was fairly local to them on a Thursday night and a few days later, I found myself sitting in a Starbucks with the CEO and CMO. I am a very skeptical person and is often overly critical when it comes to technology however if a company can impress me then I will be their biggest fan and boy did they impress me.
I was introduced to the inventor and CEO, Charles and the CMO, Alberto at a Starbucks close to my house. We had a brief discussion about our backgrounds and moved quickly into the demonstration. Charles pulled out a unremarkable eyeglasses case embossed with the Norm Logo and folded neatly inside was the latest prototype. After removing the glasses from the case and handed them to me, I did not know what to think until I put them on for the first time.
I honestly expected Norm to bring a hollow 3D Printed shell with a Raspberry Pi wired to a screen. I had no idea that the prototype I was holding was actually functional! After putting on the glasses, the screen lit up with the Time and Date. There were no wires connecting it to a external computer, in fact Charles and Alberto never even pulled out a laptop. This was real and working. After seeing the functional UI and display, all of my skeptical doubts instantly melted away. My mind was immediately flooded with a endless wave ideas to take advantage of this amazing piece of technology that I had on my face.
They then proceeded to give me a live demonstration of the user interface and when they fired up the video camera, it just worked. The camera on this thing is so small that I honestly though it was decorative but it not only works but it was clearly visible to me. The camera is located in the top right corner of the frames along with other sensors. The camera is a 8 MP shooter that can capture photos and videos at 1080p They then proceeded to play a music video which was handled effortlessly by the glasses – complete with stereo sound. They were controlling the glasses via a companion app that will be released for Android and iOS. If you were a Google Glass owner, you will already be familiar with the remote control functions which were present here as well. In fact, if you were a Glass owner, this entire product will look familiar to you in a good way.
The most remarkable part of the Norm Smart Glasses is that from the outside they look incredibly unremarkable, it is almost impossible to say that there is anything special about these glasses until you put them on. Google Glass was noticeable – I cannot tell you how many times people have come up to me while wearing them. These glasses really live up to the word “Norm”. There is really nothing that makes the Norm smart glasses stand out from a normal pair of eye glasses.
Unlike a normal pair of Glasses, there is a simple fitting process that customers will need to go thorough before purchasing a pair to ensure that the focal distances are correct for each individual person and the glasses are the correct size for your head. The team at Norm is working on a method to allow customers to do this at home in a few minutes. I can tell you that the pair I tested with fitted for someone with a slightly smaller head then mine (likely due to my ego).
From a technical perspective, I will say that the Glasses run Android (although other operating systems such as WebOS were considered at one point). Android made the most sense as it is easy to develop for and there is a very low barrier to entry. The glasses have a crazy number of sensors including a magnetometer, 6 axis gyroscope, light sensor, microphones and compass. The glasses also have a Bluetooth LE and WiFi radio. I did not probe too much into the processor/RAM. To be honest as everything somehow fits into such a tiny space, I am not fully ready to rule out sorcery.
The frames of the glasses are just a bit thicker than normal frames but it is barely noticeable after a few minutes. The glasses are so lightweight that I really thought it was a hollow shell with Charles handed it to me. In total, the glasses weigh less than 40 grams. This is lighter than Google Glass and unlike Google Glass, the weight is evenly distributed rather than being heaver on one side of your face – something that many found annoying. The folks at Norm did assure me that they will be a bit thinner when they move to final production using injection molded parts.
Norm is planning to have several options available for customers when it comes to lenses. While I personally was able to test the Transition Lenses, Norm is planning to add prescription options and even blue-light filtering options. There may even be a “safety glasses” option for those who work in a location where eye protection is required.
The screen is projected into the right eyepiece. It is unnoticeable when you are not actively using the glasses and provides a ghostly overlay when the screen is active. This should be very familiar to Google Glass owners but at the same time the image is very clear and vivid. While I thought this video posted by Norm was a mock-up, this is actually 100% accurate to what I personally saw when I put these on.
One thing that Google Glass and Norm have in common is they both insist on a simple and intuitive interface that anyone should be able to learn with little effort. There are no complicated/nested menus or a lot of text to read. There are three primary forms of navigation:
- The side touchpad (very similar to how Glass)
- Control via the companion application on your phone
Alberto and Charles were also very excited to see the possible third party applications that could be developed for something like this. The SDK will be released and every pair of Norm Glasses will support side-loading and developer tools so there will not be a need for a “Developer Edition”. This is really where the Norm glasses could really shine as the possibilities are almost endless.
This post has a lot of praisefor the Norm Smart Glasses but there are a few things that I would like to see come to the product. We discussed these in detail and they seem to both be receptive and in many cases wee already working on solutions. These include:
- Storage Capacity – I do feel that the current storage limit is a bit small but Charles is looking to offer higher capacities in the form of stretch goals in Kick-starter. The team is also toying with the idea of adding a MicroSD card slot to the unit but this may be problematic for the water resistance. I would love to see 32 GB as the base model with either expandable storage or a 128 GB option.
- Battery Case – One trend with many of the newer Smart Glasses such as the North Glasses and even the Snapchat Spectacles is that they have a charging case that has an internal battery as well to keep your glasses juiced up when out. This will sadly not be available for launch on the Norm Glasses but may come out in the future as an optional add-on. As it stands, charging will be done with POGO pins behind one of the earpieces.
- Battery Life – This is a common problem with wearables in general. Google Glass would last “about a day” but that was with the assumption that you were not using it for much. The battery in the prototype unit of the Norm Glasses is very small and as such does not have the greatest battery life. This is something that will be addressed before it goes to production as Norm is working on a custom battery setup that will exponentially increase the battery capacity.
- POGO Pins – I generally hate having to bring around proprietary power cables to charge my devices so I was slightly disappointed to hear that Norm is using a non-standard charger via POGO pins instead of a USB C port. The answer that I was given does make sense as it is easier to make something water resistant if they seal as many entry points for water as possible so I will give them a pass. Hopefully if they manufacturer the battery case, it will use a Type C connection for charging.
- No style options – I did not mention this to them, this was more of an afterthought. I would love to have other options to customize the frames such as a carbon fiber skin or even different colors – my preference would be a black carbon fiber. Maybe someone like Dbrand may look into skins in the future for this.
- No Windshield Wipers – What gives???? At least a shark mounted laser or X-Ray would be a nice but I would really love to see windshield wipers.
These glasses are really in a position to be sold to multiple demographics. I can see many tech enthusiasts and former glass owners flocking to pre-order a pair but at the same time I also see the average mother of 3 potentially buying a pair as well. There are several use-cases that many people may be able to benefit from Smart Glasses such as interacting with Social Media or even taking that perfect photo of your kids in the park. At the same time, I also see countless opportunities for businesses to benefit from this form factor such as factory workers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers and even field workers. Companies will be write applications for the Norm glasses to make their workers lives easier. Norm also plans to support POV video conferencing to allow you to get in contact with a colleague for a second opinion.
With all of this amazing tech, your wallet may be cringing as I am about to tell you the pricing. While there will be a limited number of heavily discounted pairs available, the final projected retail price will only be $449.99. This is insane as the closest competitor, North will run $700 (or more if you need to travel to one of the 2 cities for fitting) and Google Glass was a eye watering $1500 (although you can get one for ~$800 on eBay). Whats the catch? I honestly have no idea but after speaking with Charles an Alberto, they are not taking any shortcuts when it comes to build quality.
It is pretty safe to say that I will not only be giving this my official stamp of approval but will be the first in line to pre-order these when the Kickstarter page goes live on Tuesday. We did discuss shipping dates but I will not be posting those details here until they are finalized in the crowdfunding campaign. It is incredible what Norm was able to develop and again, I still feel that some sorcery may have been used to cram all of the components into the Glasses and still hit this price-point.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Norm for reaching out to me to arrange this hands on demo. They even drove out to a location less than a mile from my house. They had no knowledge about my long history with wearable technology which made me more critical until I got my hands on the Glasses I really appreciate the open and candid responses to my questions – nothing was really off-limits. The views and opinions in this blog post are mine and mine alone however I did ask the folks at Norm to give it a quick read through to make sure I did not make any obvious mistakes. I was not compensated in any way (I did not even take them up on their offer for a coffee). They turned me from one of the biggest skeptics to a evangelist for their take on Smart Glasses.
The Kickstarter Page can be found here