There is smart versions of EVERYTHING today. Smart scales, smart phones, smart watches, smart glasses from Google, Recon, and add ons from Garmin. But what about smart sunglasses… The Uvex Variotronic has taken a pair of humble sunglasses, and given them a brain, so what is the outcome? Frankenstein or Franken-Genius?
Uvex Variotronic FF Sunglasses Review
I suppose the first question would be, what are smart sunglasses? Well that’s a pair of shades which determine how dark they should be… Hold on, arn’t those transition lenses? A coating applied to a normal lens which darkens upon exposure to UV (and thus until recently didnt work whilst a car)
Yes transition glasses are the old school way of trying to have your cake and eat it when it came to sunglasses. But personally I’ve always had a large dislike for transition coatings. I want to be able to decide when I wear the shades, not merely because the UV index wants to change. Plus transitions have always had a habit of not being ENTIRELY clear when used inside.
Rather than apply a coating to regular glasses, Uvex have gone in the other direction, designing a pair of sunglasses which react to the light. So being dark most of the time, and then flicking in 0.1seconds to clear (well almost) when you go into the dark.
Vex havn’t quite got a full dark to full clear change. The lightest is 16% tint, whilst the full tint is 64%, but that is perhaps for the best given only two options. Going suddenly from full to no tint whilst riding might be a bit disorientating.
So how do they work?
Uvex have applied an LCD layer to a normal clear lens, covering most of the lens.
However the LCD is not applied completely edge to edge, there is still a slight gap around the rim of the glass
Essentially the glasses work like by passing an electric charge through the LCD film applied to the lenses, causing a change in the LCD state, and changing from one level of tint to another. However this is NOT like the e-ink on your Kindle, in spite of being described as “e-Tint”
This is an important point, as when the glasses are on the thinnest tint they are essentially “off” whilst the darker 68% tint is using battery power, hence Uvex advising in the manual to transport them with the 16% tint in effect. The units are good for about 50hrs of battery life – although in 2 weeks of intermittent use (UK summer proving not very summery) they have not needed to recharged again!
The glasses are very much in the Oakley JawBone design school to my mind.
But the Uvex Vaaiotronic are less reflective, and a touch heavier, coming in at 42g vs the JawBones 34g (including for what it is worth thicker prescription lenses)
The glasses are available in a very pro-cyclist look as seen here, but also in a much more real world friendly black carbon (shown on the box)
Speaking of the box: inside you also get a nice foam carry case. Feels very robust, (and frankly given the price point, should be!)
You’ve also got a pair of ear socks to hold the glasses to your face. Cleaning cloth/baggie and a coiled ribbon USB cable.
Personally I quite like the design of the glasses, if not the colour which imbues them with a slight “safety-goggle” feel
Around the glasses themselves, we’ve got the power button/tint toggle button on the LEFT arm
The small square on the side of each arm acts as the sensor to control the LCD tint
If you hold the power button for 3 seconds, the glasses flash briefly, indicating they a have gone into automatic mode. Meaning the tint changes in response to information about brightness from the glasses sensor.
You can however easily over ride the sensor by hitting the side button yourself.
Beside the power button is the USB charge port, to stop your glasses running out of battery (what is the world coming too!!!) The port is protected from dust and sweat by the rubber plug, however there is nothing in the Uvex Variotronic manual about an IPX rating, so lets assume for the best of all worlds these glasses are not going to like getting rained on!
In the middle, we’ve the nicely moulded nose pieces, with a wide range of movement
The arms has the usual segments of rubber grips on the arms to help the glasses stay put, and the holes for the ear socks to attach to
There are no vents on the frames or lenses unlike my Oakleys, however fogging was not a major issue due to the addition of the LCD, which actually did not fog at all. You could get a little fogging on the edges away from the LCD, but none on the actual film.
When you fold the hinges in, you can see the thin band wires which connect the LCD to the screens, which does make me wonder what the longevity of these glasses is likely to be
On a similar note, there is a slightly ominous point in the manual about the battery being non-user replaceable, and to keep the units in “clear tint” when not being used to protect the battery
The changing tint!
Oh yes, I saved the main feature for last. The actual changing of the tint in automatic looks very impressive
HOWEVER I did find that the sensor was not quite a sensitive as I would like. I found that going under trees etc there was not a life changing shift. Most of the time I would find life was easier if I merely changed the tint myself.
The official RRP of the Uvex Variotronic is £299, however Amazon does have them at £250, and occasionally as low as £218. At full retail I think they are exceptionally expensive at I wouldn’t even consider them, however if you can find the £218 price on Amazon, I think that drops them in the expensive cool toy category.
I would prefer if it were possible to get a brown tint as well, rather than just the grey tint, but that is personal preference.
It is interesting to note that Uvex considers the FF (full frame) for mountain biking, and the S versions for road biking. Coupled with the wording in the manual and the visible connections I do wonder about longevity. This is only worsened by no IPX information, but at this point this is merely a personal concern with no actual evidence to suggest they will have any shorter life than your pair of Oakley’s.
The automatic mode wasn’t really sensitive enough for me, but that is easily overcome with the manual buttons.
Verdict – If you can find the lower prices, and you want some cool shades, you want be disappointed