At CES today, one of the most significant bits of 2017 hardware was officially announced and unveiled. The Snapdragon 835 is the next top-of-the-line system-on-a-chip from Qualcomm, the company dominating mobile processors outside of Apple’s iPhone and iPad realm. This 10nm chip is 35 percent smaller than its predecessor, shaving 3mm off each side, and its new thumbnail size makes it viable to embed into things like augmented reality glasses. And the first product featuring the Snapdragon 835 is exactly that, coming courtesy of ODG’s R-8 and R-9 AR glasses. Only problem is they’re still too bulky and clunky to be called glasses.
Okay, there’s another problem: the units Qualcomm had to show off at its event weren’t working, so there’s no telling how well the supposedly holographic images superimposed on your vision actually work. But I couldn’t get far enough to care about the image quality, because the headset itself is simply not comfortable enough. Maybe if you judge it by the standards of VR headsets, it might merit adjectives like "compact" and "portable," but if I try to stash ODG’s glasses away like a regular pair, say in a shirt pocket, they protrude a good couple of inches in front of me. And they don’t look any less conspicuous when they’re on my head, either.
Whether it’s headphones, glasses, watches, fitness bands, or health-tracking T-shirts, the first rule of creating a new piece of wearable technology is to ensure the wearer’s comfort. If you can’t clear that hurdle correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have a full server farm’s worth of processing power contained within your new gadget. What’s worse, ODG’s plans include modularity on the R-9 that invite partner companies to attach extra modules to the glasses and make them even less comfortable.
If you think I’m being harsh on these new glasses, just keep in mind that the cheaper of the two models will cost a little less than $1,000. The heavier and higher-specced R-9 — which is the device that I tried here at CES and whose weight and comfort I did not enjoy — is closer to $1,800. For that sort of money, we should be expecting more than awkwardly fitting chunks of compromised technology.
I’m sure the Snapdragon 835 will feature in a lot of exciting new devices this year, and I have faith that standalone AR glasses of this kind can one day become a widely popular and useful thing. But let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that that dream is anywhere near being realized, fancy new processor or not.