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First impressions of the new Focals by North

I am on my third Fitbit device. The first one I got was their very first release. I wanted to try it out and so I put in a pre-order. It was pretty cool, but it wasn’t yet great. So I eventually stopped using it. The second one I got was better, but I somehow lost it, possibly at a bar. Its whereabouts are still unconfirmed to this day.

The FitBit Inspire, which is what I am using now, has really stuck with me. I bought it for the heart rate monitor and for sleep tracking, which is why an Apple Watch wasn’t for me. But the ability to read incoming text messages on my wrist has, surprisingly, also proven to be a feature that I like.

Up until a few months ago, this was the only wearable tech that I owned. However, this spring I was given a pair of smart glasses: the new Focals by North. They are a much better and sexier version of Google Glass. (You can read about my Focals fitting, here.)

The premise behind Focals is that they are the next step toward conflating real life and tech. In other words, instead of pulling out your phone or looking at your wrist, now you can remain engaged and get the information you want by looking straight ahead. The objective is to help you stay present. And they certainly help with that.

Focals are the opposite of Snap’s Spectacles in that the former allows you to consume information, whereas the latter is all about narrow types of content creation. With Focals, you can read and respond to texts, get directions, talk to Alexa (there’s a microphone), see your appointments (and the weather), and even get speaker notes when you’re giving a presentation.

Now that I’ve had some time to test them out, here’s what I would tell you.

Because I don’t wear glasses anymore (I got laser eye surgery so that I could avoid things on my face), it was a bit of an adjustment. While very well designed, they do have some heft. The arms are thicker than normal glasses. So I found myself using them more as sunglasses (they come with great clip-ons). Perhaps I would feel differently if I still wore glasses.

I’m also not a huge fan of the Loop (pictured above), which is the 4-directional joystick that you wear as a ring and use to control the glasses. For me, it simply feels like a bit too much tech to wear on a regular basis. Though I will say that, for what it is, it is well designed and easy to use inconspicuously. The other input mechanism for the glasses is your voice.

With all that said, Focals by North are exceedingly cool. The Canadian company is creating a new category and the glasses do feel like a hint of what’s to come next in the world of wearable technologies. In the same way that I was surprised by just how useful (some) notifications on my wrist could be, I am impressed by the ability to see notifications right in front of me.

North has also been consistent with rolling out software updates and new features. Similar to my experience with Fitbit, the product keeps getting better. Over the last month, they announced conversation awareness (notifications are delayed if the glasses think you’re busy talking), as well as integrations with Google Fit and Google Slide.

Sometimes all you need is one really strong use case for a product or service to work and I think presentations could be one of them for Focals. Having presentation notes float in front of you means you’re not looking down at your notes and away from your audience. And being able to move from slide to slide with your thumb transforms the Loop into now a pretty slick clicker.

I am looking forward to seeing this space develop and I am excited that a Canadian company has jumped out in front. If you’d like to check out Focals for yourself, there are permanent showrooms in Toronto and Brooklyn, as well as pop-ups all across North America.

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