Tech Review: Recon Jet Smart Eyewear
Wearable technology has always felt slightly out of reach for the performance athletic world and sure many companies have tried, but for the most part what we have been left with are trendier GPS watches, fitness trackers, and heart rate monitors. So when Recon Instruments released their Recon Jet smart eyewear, we wrote a quick preview about their potential to disrupt a relatively untapped area of the market, specifically eyewear. Recently, we got our hands on a pair and spent a few solid weeks with them and quite enjoyed the experience of trying out the new tech. We aren’t sure its ready for everyone just yet, but it’s definitely getting really close. It definitely feels like it’s a sign of things to come. So much so that Intel, yeah that Intel, agreed with this statement and acquired Recon earlier this summer. So clearly they definitely have the vision and with that we jump into our hands on.
What is the Recon Jet
First off, to say Recon is facing an uphill battle is an understatement simply because of consumer preconceptions. However, they chose to tackle a very specific piece of gear with a very elegant and compelling solution and in doing this they didn’t try to change the way you already work out. Recon calls them “smart eyewear for your active lifestyle”, but to simplify it a bit they are really glasses that have a GPS and battery included and a small LCD screen that lets you visualize your activity while in progress. The first thing that comes to mind is Google Glass and honestly, the technology is slightly similar in some ways. I will say that the implementation and control with the Recon Jet is much simpler and also more responsive and focused than Glass ever was. It tries to be more functional where Glass was overly clever in its interface and navigation design.
Recon Jet’s goal is to provide you all of your vital information at a glance via a screen that just sits slightly out of your view, in your periphery. It gives you all your vital statistics including GPS data, maps, etc and also connects to other wearables and also to your mobile device as well. The idea is that you get an instant flow of information without the need to look down and interact with some other device. You can also snap photos or take videos as well with just a tap or two, capturing moments from your run with minimal device interaction or pace changes.
It comes in black and white and also has a ton of quick change lens options which gives you a lot of diversity in their use.
Unpacking the Recon Jet
The glasses come in a very nice hard case similar to what you might find noise canceling headphones in. There are pockets for the glasses, additional batteries, cabling, and replacement lenses. Unlike most eyewear packaging, this case you don’t want to get rid of. It’s great for travel and for keeping everything safe and organized. The unit comes in both black and white and in our case we had the black. It also includes clear and grey lenses (yellow and mirror polarized are available as well). It also includes a USB cable and the first thing to do is get things fully charged up which is as simple as removing a rubberized cover and it uses a standard mini-USB to charge.
Running with the Recon Jet
Running with the re-cons that is pretty much the same as running with any other pair of sunglasses. The only difference being you turn them on and put them into the mode that matches your activity. Again very similar to what you might do with a running watch more app on your phone already. After that, you basically just go about your normal activity. The new feature is the small glowing screen in the bottom right of your periphery that provides you with detailed right information including pace, distance, and more.
Slide of your finger allows you to change views and see a real-time map of your location and you can set the screens up to be various cards which again is very similar to most higher end watches. The GPS data is very accurate and when paired with the iPhone app and running at the same time, it’s even better. I’ll go into the app in more detail in the moment, but first let’s talk about the actual experience of wearing.
User Interface Screens
There is an added weight obviously as you have the unit itself plus it’s battery, but it is well-balanced so while it slightly heavier than a normal pair glasses it’s still comfortable. I will say that at distance the weight becomes more noticeable. The unit would definitely slide forward more on our face, but we alleviated this by tightening the ear and nose clips. I think the biggest concern most folks had been the blind spot that would be created by the screen. If you’ve ever used Google Glass or something similar, then you might already be experienced with something like this, but it’s all about placement. The screen is not truly in your normal field of view, but instead located just to the bottom right. This means to use it you need to shift your focus down in that corner in order to see the data. The bottom line being that it’s not intrusive, but when you glance away to focus on it your field of view definitely changes for that split second.
It has some cool additional features like a Map and Music Player as well. The Map is great as you can easily see where you are on an actual city map when you get lost (ahem, it happens). The Music Player is implemented in a so so way, but once you get the music on there it works really well. Note its only a music controller and you can’t hear the music through the Recon Jet and that to me would be a really simple addition and would actually be an amazing accessory play. It kind of just makes sense to integrate the audio and add stereo sound output.
Photos and Videos
I will let the imagery speak for itself, but the net result is that this aspect is fun, but it’s not going to replace your other devices. The following were taken in a variety of lighting conditions, feel free to click on them for the full size image. Note, I can say the video is actually a lot more fun, but the bounce you get during runs can be a little rough.
Specs and Sensors
The Recon Jet has a number of sensors including a 3D accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, pressure sensor, and an IR sensor. From a connectivity perspective it obviously has GPS, but it also has Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-fi (b/g/n), Micro USB, and best of all ANT+ support. The ANT+ is the most interesting to me especially if you are a cyclist because it ties in well to your existing ANT network and can raise information from power meters, cadence sensors, heart rate monitors, etc. This just provides you additional options within the view in terms of what you can expose. This is a really forward-looking list of connectivity protocols, so they definitely thought this out well.
The App Tie-In, Recon Engage
The reason for the Bluetooth is really to tie into their app, Recon Engage. If you are anything like me then you are over all the Fitness apps that are out there, but there is actually a reason to use Engage, it enhances the Jet. Basically, when you are running the app during your exercise it is increasing the granularity of the GPS giving you better tracking abilities. It also lets you get a LiveView of your location and then also see all your historical activities. It’s actually a pretty well designed app, but it lacks a lot of social connectivity and that would be my main knock against it. They created a friends system internally, but in a world where we have Strava, Runkeeper, MapMyX, etc, etc its hard to think an all new app specific model will take off. Here are some screens from the app.
Finishing It Up
To wrap this up, I think its safe to say that Recon Jet definitely represents where the performance apparel and technology market is headed. Its far from perfect, but its a solid solution that is definitely usable and more than functional for most people’s needs. Additionally, for users who are new to tech and fitness it actually provides a massive amount of functionality in a very simple package. I think looking forward we will only see it get slimmer, lighter, and more refined but this is definitely a great first pass and honestly, a lot of fun to play with.
The Recon Jet retails at $499 and is available now.