Google Glass the CgLife 2 ($150) is not. In fact, it isn’t even a poor man’s version of it. You can call it wearable tech, but there’s no computer or cell phone connection to be found. What these sunglasses are is a semi-new take on the point-of-view action camcorder. Embedded in the bridge between the polarized lenses is a camera that can record up to 1920 x 1080 resolution at 25 frames per second and snap 15-megapixel still images.
We know what you’re thinking: Why would anybody want a pair of sunglasses that doubles as a camera? Just because cameras have now gotten so small, do we really need to put them into everything? Initially, we felt the same way – after all, it’s a bit of a departure from the traditional cameras and camcorders we’re used to – but after using it for a while and giving it some more thought about the concept, we can see its appeal for some people. Think about it: It’s super easy to mount (on your face), a cinch to control (one button), unobtrusive if you’re wearing sunglasses anyway, and you get Full HD video capture.
So, are these the coolest sunglasses ever? Well, as a concept the CgLife 2 has potential, but unfortunately there are also some first-gen flaws that we think the company needs to work out – otherwise, it remains kind of gimmicky as is. The company has launched a crowdfunding campaign via Fundable, with the hope of advancing the product. But let’s don a pair of the currently available CgLife 2 and take a closer look.
Where did it come from?
Cyclops Gear, the company behind the CgLife 2, was founded by Mark Krause, an action sports type who saw an unaddressed niche: a camcorder that lets you record the action without missing the experience. Making comparisons to smartphones, traditional cameras, and action camcorders like GoPro, the CgLife 2 was designed to be something that’s easy to operate and carry, so that you can spend less time fussing with tech and more time focusing on the activity. (Cyclops Gear also offers other variants, such as 720p sunglasses and goggles.)
The idea of putting a camera in a pair of sunglasses isn’t new, but the CgLife 2 is the first to use a high-resolution video-capable camera that we are aware of, although we have found goggles with 1080p cameras. While you’ll find sunglasses with 2-megapixel still cameras on Amazon, the CgLife 2 is designed to be on par with more sophisticated cams.
Let’s first talk about the CgLife 2 as sunglasses. While we wouldn’t describe it as fashionable, it looks like typical sports sunglasses you’ll find at the mall. The polarized lenses are UV 400 protected. You’ll notice that the rubberized arms are fairly large. That’s because they contain the electrical components for the camera, and unfortunately they don’t fold all the way in like the arms of regular glasses would. This design actually makes it hard to carry in your hands or hooked onto a shirt collar or pocket. While the CgLife 2 isn’t heavy, there’s a bit of heft to them. At times the glasses feel fragile; a bulky case is provided to protect them when not in use. After some use, we noticed the rubber seal over the USB port had become very loose and some discoloration on the inside of the arms had occurred.
Although it isn’t a fashion piece, we felt really self-conscious wearing it in the city.
From a design standpoint, there’s one thing that bothered us, and it’s actually the camera lens. Because it’s so prominent like a Cyclops’ eye (see where the name comes from?), we felt really self-conscious wearing it. When we tested the glasses in a state park it didn’t matter, as there were few people around. But walking down the streets of New York City, we noticed that some people took a double-take – they may not know that it’s a camera inside the glasses, but they know that something isn’t right. The camera was also the first thing our friends noticed when they tagged along for the day. Not that we want to spy on others, but we wish the 1080p camera was more inconspicuous like Cyclops Gear’s 720p camera – we assume this is because of hardware limitations.
If you aren’t as embarrassed, then, by all means, wear them out to the clubs. Of course, Cyclops Gear isn’t selling the CgLife 2 as a fashion piece. It’s designed for activities like biking, mountain climbing, hunting, snowboarding, etc., where you aren’t too concerned about looking stylish. However, the CgLife 2 isn’t waterproof, and the Micro SD card slot is exposed, so be careful if you’re participating in anything involving water. We think the shades are great for a bike ride, a drive in the car, or any low-level activity, but definitely take extra precaution when wearing them during anything more intensive.
If you examine the left arm closely, you’ll notice a button that’s nicely hidden near the logo. On the bottom you’ll find a rubber cover that hides the Mini USB port and Micro SD slot (the CgLife 2 comes with a 4GB card, but it supports cards up to 32GB, and you should use Class 10). Inside the arm you’ll find a small red light that’s the only indicator of what the camera is doing. As much grief as we just gave Cyclogs Gear for design, it has kept the techie side of things to a minimal, and there’s only one button to push. But from a usability standpoint, we do have issues with this approach, which we’ll talk about more below.
The CgLife 2 has a CMOS sensor that’s capable of recording Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 25 fps (in the AVI format) and 15-megapixel JPEG stills, but you can change the video setting down to 1280 x 720 at 50 fps or 1440 x 1080 at 30 fps. Unfortunately, to change the setting you have to do a bit of work. You have to create a TXT document with 0, 1, or 2 in the body – indicating from high to low – and then copy the file to the root folder of the memory card (the same process is done if you want to remove the time/date stamp). Unlike regular cameras where you can drill through the menus to change settings, it’s not an option here, making it very inconvenience when you’re out in the field.
Like many small action camcorders, the CgLife 2 has a wide-angle fisheye-style lens that offers a 142-degree view. There’s no image stabilization, however, so if you’re recording while engaging in some activity, it’s going to look super bouncy when you play it back.
The battery is built into the glasses and recharges via the USB port, and Cyclops Gear rates a two-hour recording time before recharge.
Performance and use
Designed to be easy to use, the CgLife 2 is operated by a single button. There are no complicated menus to go through. To turn on, push the button once and it starts recording video right away. Push the button again to stop, and push it once more for about two seconds to start a new recording. To take a photo, press the button once during standby (solid red, although the lag time between shots is a bit long). The camera turns off on its own when it’s in standby mode, after several minutes of inactivity.
The only way you can tell what the camera is doing is through a small red status light on the inside of the left arm. A solid red means it’s in standby; a flashing red means it’s recording video; and a single flash means it just snapped a photo.
Unfortunately, this simple approach is one of the CgLife 2’s biggest problems. Because the small indicator light is on the inside, there’s no way to know what the camera is doing when you have the glasses on. Oftentimes, we had to take the glasses off, check the light to make sure it’s in the mode we want, and then put them back on – which, in our opinion, defeats the ease-of-use design. We found ourselves recording unwanted video; not recording or photographing what we wanted; and usually not knowing what mode we were in. Many times, when we thought we were recording video, the camera had actually gone to sleep.
The experience reminds us of the old Oakley sunglasses with built-in MP3 players. But those had several tactile buttons and music is easier to control. With video and photos, however, it’s a different beast that’s harder to tackle.
Another issue we encountered is that, as mentioned, when you turn the camera on, it begins to record video. Unbeknownst to us at the beginning – we thought the flashing red light meant standby – the camera was recording video that ended up maxing out the card. And the only way to clear the card is through your computer.
In terms of image quality, it’s not bad, but videos aren’t as sharp or detailed as those from dedicated action cameras, especially when you view it on a big screen. The videos we shot were quite smooth, although the colors weren’t always accurate – blues sometimes tended to look more purple. In a lower-light situation inside a bar, our video had predictable noise, but still useable. Although the camera can record audio, we had less success with that, picking up mostly wind noise. Still photos, however, came out looking nice, although there were issues with coloring in some of our images. But, considering that it isn’t a traditional camera, image quality isn’t awful and it’s fine for playing back for your friends the footage you shot while biking or cross-country skiing, but we wouldn’t make a movie using it.
One thing we noticed about our videos is that they’re usually tilted to the right. The funny thing is, that’s due to our neck and head’s normal position. Even though we were standing upright and looking straight ahead, with the glasses properly worn, this slight tilt of our body affected our videos. This is no fault of the camera, and it’s something you’ll encounter with all cameras when mounted to your body.
What we would like to see improved is the instruction manual. It’s not as in-depth as it could be, and some illustrations or an online support component would be nice.
As we mentioned, Cyclops Gear has launched a Fundable crowdfunding campaign to help it move the CgLife 2 to the next level. This includes implementing Wi-Fi and developing an app for iOS and Android. With the app, you can do live view, control the camera, change settings, preview content, and download videos and photos straight to your smart device – all the things we wish we could do with the current-generation CgLife 2. It’s as if Cyclops Gear read our minds, and we think this feature alone could boost the CgLife 2 into something very useful. We hope that Cyclops Gear will fix the status indicator (perhaps adding a second green light that’s visible) and improve the camera, too.
When we first received the CgLife 2 glasses, we thought it was a bit hokey. When you compare it to standalone cameras and camcorders, it sort of is. It’s too limited in its functionality, too hard to use despite the simplistic design, and image quality isn’t the most spectacular. But we realized that’s the problem: You just can’t compare the CgLife 2 to traditional POV camcorders, otherwise you’ll be disappointed.
Instead, think of the CgLife 2 as a lifelogging camera. It’s right there when you need to capture a particular moment as it happens – no need to whip out the cell phone. It’s then reliving the experience that matters, not the image quality. It’s not for everybody, but we can see plenty of folks like hunters, bikers, athletes, etc. who’d like it. At $150, it’s not outrageously overpriced, and you get a nice pair of shades with it.
As a camera, there are definitely plenty of first-generation teething issues – ones the developers are well aware of. We hope Cyclops Gear gets the funding to help it do what it needs to, and look forward to seeing the second iteration of this unique POV niche Cyclops Gear is in. If you’d like to help the company meet its development goals, go fund them.
- Comfortable to wear
- Simplistic operation
- Decent image quality
- Video quality could be sharper
- Issues with color
- Difficult to know what you are recording