If you want a pair of Focals smartglasses, be prepared to go through a process

north focals fitting popup 5
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

It was a rainy morning in Seattle when I stepped inside a trailer not far from Amazon’s Spheres to try on North’s Focals, smart glasses that show notifications, the weather, and connect with Alexa. The pop-up store’s location in high-tech downtown Seattle was no accident. When I was getting fitted for the glasses, a man wandered up and started asking about how the app he’s developing could possibly pair with the unique wearables. The frames start at $600 — without a prescription — so they’re definitely aimed at techies with money to burn.

North has retail locations in Toronto, Canada and Brooklyn, New York, but it’s taking the trailer on a tour of the West Coast. Although the plastic frames resemble something you might find at Warby Parker, there’s no try-at-home option. You need to see them in person not once, but twice. The first time, North will create a 3D model of your head (using a bunch of cameras) to get your Focals to fit your face. The second time, when the glasses are ready — approximately 10 weeks later — an optician will make sure everything’s perfectly aligned and the display is crisp and clear.

“It’s so precise in terms of the display that it’s really needed,” said Adam Hackney, North’s team lead, about the second fitting. “But it also helps and really supports that whole idea of them being super customized for you.”

The refitting process may not be that unusual for people who normally wear glasses, but it wasn’t until recently that Focals even offered a prescription version ($200 extra, which can be submitted to a vision insurance for reimbursement). Also, waiting several weeks to get prescription glasses is probably a deal-breaker for some. Hackney didn’t have definitive details on how people who were ordering Focals at the trailer that day would actually get their glasses — maybe a second pop-up trailer would swing through Seattle in the coming months? — but he seemed confident they would.

“The fitting also helps and really supports that whole idea of them being super customized for you.”

When I was trying on the tortoise shell Focals ($100 extra), I had to lean close to a mirror to see how the frames looked. “These aren’t just for show,” I said, pointing to my actual glasses. Maybe that’s why I had do some heavy squinting to see the info projected onto the lens (there’s a projected embedded into the right arm). Using a ring with a toggle, I scrolled through message notifications and the weather, and attempted to find a coffee place nearby. Unfortunately, there was a connection issue, so the last part didn’t work.

You can only control the Focals through a combination of the ring and voice commands, and some functions are limited, particular those that require typing. When a text message pops up, there are some automatic prompts that you can use to reply, if you don’t want to use speech-to-text — similar to using CarPlay while driving. There are ways to customize how many alerts you get on your Focals so you aren’t overloaded. (Even though the display is fairly unobtrusive, I’d sooner throw them in the trash than connect them to my Slack notifications, for example.)

north focals fitting popup 4
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

At some point during the demo, one member of the North team started talking about reviews of a nearby coffee shop. I automatically turned to follow her gaze. Of course, what she was looking at, I couldn’t see. The information was on her glasses. It was a bit like when you answer, “What?” to someone who turns out to be talking on a Bluetooth earpiece.

It took Warby Parker several years to get retail stores all over the country, but there’s obviously a reason the company felt it was necessary. There are some things people prefer to buy (and try on) in person. Glasses — even if you’re just wearing them for fashion  — often need adjusting by a professional. In the case of Focals, that adjustment is mandatory, and because you won’t find Focals as easily as a LensCrafters, fittings and maintenance could be an issue.

Watching someone use the glasses is a bit like answering, “What?” to someone using a Bluetooth earpiece.

Since my visit, North has hit a couple big problems. First, it laid off 150 employees in February, which is a significant cut to its workforce. Then, in response, the Canadian government, which provided $18 million as part of the country’s Strategic Innovation Fund, announced it would be pulling its investment. This puts both product and company’s longevity into question.

The customization process and limited retail options, not to mention price, mean if you get Focals now, you’ll likely be the only one of your friends to have them. If you’re excited about smart glasses, by all means, go and check them out. Just don’t expect to walk away with your pair anytime soon.

Read Digital Trends’ full review of North Focals.

Product Review

The Division 2 brings the most fun we've ever had to Washington, D.C.

After 55 hours with The Division 2, it’s clear that Ubisoft has improved on the original in almost every way. The world is richly detailed, the story missions are wonderful, gunplay and enemy design are great, and the endgame content is…
Wearables

Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks to get started with your new smartwatch

Got your hands on a Fitbit Versa Lite? The smartwatch may be the pared down version of the more expensive Fitbit Versa, but there's still plenty for you to tweak in the settings. Here are our Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks.
Product Review

There’s almost nothing bad to say about the Mi Mix 3, but you still shouldn’t buy it

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is good-looking, really well made, packed with features, and is a powerful, modern, desirable smartphone. But you probably shouldn’t buy it. Why? Nothing wrong with the device itself, but Xiaomi itself is mostly to…
Product Review

Sony's Xperia 10 falls frustratingly short of budget brilliance

Better know for premium products, Sony does also have a budget smartphone range, but can the Sony Xperia 10 compete with great cheap phones from Nokia and Motorola? We put it through its paces to find out how it measures up.
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Wearables

The Tacs Nato-Lens is a watch for those who live life through a camera lens

Not all watches have to be round, or connect to your phone. The Tacs Nato-Lens is a stylish piece of wristwear with a design inspired by classic SLR cameras, making it a geeky timepiece for the camera and watch fan.
Mobile

This is the easiest way to save your iPhone data to your computer

Living in fear of losing your contacts, photos, messages, and notes on your iPhone? Fear no more -- in this guide, we'll break down exactly how to back up your iPhone to your computer using Apple's iTunes or to the cloud with iCloud.
Mobile

HMD Global admits Nokia 7 Plus handsets sent user data to China

Nokia could be in some hot water. According to recent reports, Nokia 7 models may be secretly sending data to China without the user knowing about it. Nokia says that the issue was a software bug and that it has been fixed.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Mobile

24 must-have apps for rooted Android phones and tablets

Rooting your Android device opens up a world of possibilities, along with a few apps. Here are 24 of our favorites, so you can make the most of your rooted device and unleash the true power of Android.
Mobile

Wring the most out of iOS with the best commands for Siri

You may not know all the things you can say to Siri -- after all, Apple never released an official list of commands for its virtual assistant. Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the best Siri commands to help you out.
Product Review

The new iPad Mini isn’t a beauty, but it performs like a beast

Apple’s new iPad Mini has beastly performance, fluid iOS 12 software, and good battery life. It also looks like it came straight out of 2015, because the design hasn’t been changed. Here's our review of Apple’s 7.9-inch tablet.
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.