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First Look: SOLOS Gen2 Wearable Sports Heads up Display

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While both Google Glass and Recon Jet have ridden off into the sunset, there are still 2-3 companies working to capture your heads up display glass dollars.  One of them, SOLOS, was back at CES again this year showing off their Gen2 units that that’ll start shipping sometime this spring.

SOLOS first started off a few years ago via a successful Kickstarter campaign, and then ultimately transitioned into an Indiegogo campaign for longer term support.  The glasses were used within the Rio 2016 Olympics by some athletes, but didn’t reach the majority backers till 2017 – quite a delay from their intended arrival date.  Still, the company did ship a functional product that could legitimately be used by real-world athletes (even pros), something that can’t necessarily be said by a lot of crowdfunded sports tech.

Except there was one minor catch: After they fulfilled their crowdfunded orders, they actually didn’t ship out to non-crowdfunded folks.  Instead, they paused retail/sales plans and went straight to working on a Gen 2 unit, which is what we’ve got here.

What’s New:

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The changes to the Gen2 units are fairly well split between hardware and software updates.  For the hardware updates, the majority aren’t hugely obvious at first glance, but rather more evolution than revolution.
For example, the Gen2 units (which weigh 68g) now includes two speakers (one on each side of the glasses), which allows you to listen to music, or the device to give you audio queues.  One can also have a phone conversation (perhaps with a coach in real-time).  Additionally, voice control is possible now for controlling the device.

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As part of the microphone and speakers, the company is enabling live chat between riders in a group scenario.  The plan is to allow up to 10 riders to communicate live with each other.

In addition, from a hardware standpoint, you’ll see the display arm is now double-hinged, so you can get a more precise location of the display.

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Speaking of that ‘display’, it’s non-view blocking like before.  Instead, the tiny (4mm) high micro-display shows your stats in real-time.  This is different than something like Garmin Varia Vision or the Recon Jet [RIP], which have a larger display platform that can block more view (Garmin less so, Recon more so).  This includes data from ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart sensors, as well as GPS data from your phone (or watch).

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Above is exactly what you see as an athlete. It’s a real picture I took behind the hotel.  Taking such pictures of that display to get the focus correct requires the DCR Advanced Sports Tech Photography certification. Else, here’s what it looks like if you don’t take that course:

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Within Gen2 though they’ve extended the unit to being used within running now, so you’ll see pace, cadence, heart rate, and even running power (as well as time, of course).  I thought it was interesting that running power was specifically called out here in various materials.

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Going forward they’re also working on the coaching angle more, with a goal to allow coaches to set performance targets and then the athlete to receive real-time audio and display alerts as they go through the structured workout.

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Another area that’s new here is the ability to pair to an Android Wear 2.0 device to utilize that for GPS data, using the SOLOS app on Android Wear.  This would then replace the need to have a phone with you.  I got a short demo of this, and it seemed well enough…albeit while sitting still.

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The challenge I see though with the Android Wear adoption is the lack of adopting a platform that actually matters for endurance sports athletes.  Realistically, every indication I saw at CES shows Android Wear on its deathbed (with every company I talked with, even those with AW devices, skeptical about its future).  But that’s actually not the issue.  The issue is simply adoption: Apple Watch would have been a far better platform to attach to.

But even better than that, would have been just building a Connect IQ app for Garmin devices.  Solos has to realize their target market is basically Garmin users today.  Sure, there’s the occasional Apple Watch wearer, but since Solos is specifically positioning itself as a secondary device, and specifically for endurance athletes (primarily cyclists), the market-share is overwhelmingly Garmin.

And, Garmin even made it easy for them.  It’s not well-known, but Varia Vision (Garmin’s technically less capable heads up display), is basically just a ‘second screen’.  It blindly repeats whatever it’s told by a head unit or watch.  But more importantly, that’s actually now an established ANT+ standard (Remote Display Device Profile).  Any company can use it, and in fact, others are – such as ProShift.  Solos could allow Garmin users (almost any recent device) to pair directly to the Solos, and then show their information there, ensuring everything matches.

To me – that’s the correct market alignment for now.  It gives them the greatest compatibility, along with the 90-95% current market share potential that Garmin has in cycling and running devices.  Usage of Android Wear devices today in endurance sports? My guess is well under 1% or so (To demonstrate this, go through all Shane Miller’s Strava stats videos and see if you can find one).

None of which takes away from the work SOLOS has done with the Gen2 device.  I appreciate that instead of rushing into widespread production on a Gen1 device, they decided to make some tweaks to it.  Of course, that might not sit super well with Gen1 buyers.  But in many ways, that’s the tech industry – always moving forward.  The Gen2 units are expected to ship here in Q1 2018, for a price of $499USD.

Going forward:

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Now the trick for SOLOS going forward will really be the same as for most heads up display companies: Convincing users that a heads up display is worthwhile of the additional cost and logistical overhead.  In many ways, most of these companies aren’t yet at the stage (by their own admission) of being able to replace a dedicated cycling computer or running watch.  As such, they’ve got to find good reason for you to buy their product at a $500 premium, atop of the spend you have for a $250-$600 watch/bike computer.  And all of that ignores the hassle of charging yet one more thing.

And for some, these devices may do that.  Both SOLOS, and its primary competitor Everysight, do offer unique value, at least in terms of keeping your eyes on the road.  And with SOLOS, the audio commands and related could be useful as well once matured a bit more.  Additionally, for those who want music (primarily in running I’d hope), this would fill that gap.

Still, I remain skeptical that this generation of devices (by all manufacturers) is going to be the winning one.  I think these companies will get there – I have no doubt about that.  But it’s going to take even lighter and more barely noticeable units, followed by a big jump in software.  Frankly, until these units can 100% replace your bike computer (everything from navigation to workouts to data field selection), it’s going to be a really tough sell.

One could look at the pull-back/discontinuation by Intel of the Recon Jet, but I wouldn’t blame the product as much there.  That was Intel shutting down anything and everything wearable (the whole and massive wearables division was shut down), and Recon simply happened to be collateral damage. Had the company remained independent, I think we’d have seen a very compelling V2 option, especially considering it already had an HD camera, GPS, and more in their (albeit bulky) V1 device.  Unfortunately, that’s a vision we won’t ever get to see.

In any case, once SOLOS starts shipping their Gen2 units, I look forward to giving it a poke out on the road and seeing if perhaps this unit will be the one that changes my mind.

With that – thanks for reading!

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38 Comments

  1. Pavel

    Hi Ray,
    two questions:
    1) why you mark Recon Jet is RIP?
    2) Can we also expect reviews of Everysight Raptor and Oakley Pace?

    • 1) Recon was shutdown back in August. It was/is owned by Intel, and they shutdown basically the entire wearables division (which at one point numbered 800 people and had a variety of Intel owned brands such as Recon and Basis, as well as externally supported brands like the New Balance watch).
      2A) Everysight: Once they actually ship to consumers. I’m hearing mixed things, it’s always ‘just a few months away’. That said, a long while ago I actually rode with the product and generally liked it.
      2B) Oakley: Same story as Recon. That division is now gone within Intel (which ran the project), as such, so is the product.

  2. Giles Roadnight

    Interesting… Like you I don’t think that this unit is the solution but it is a step along the path to what will be a success.

    A few typos:

    something that can’t necessarily be said by a lot crowd funded sports tech

    The plan will up to 10 riders to communicate live with each other.

    And all that ignores the hassle of charging yet more more thing.

  3. ReHMn

    Sorry for the (not quite)offtopic, but it seems, there are strange things going on at Intel.
    No wonder, they’ve been criticized on high levels… link to lkml.org

    • Fred Lee

      Linus is a bright dude but he has a short fuse and rants without giving much prior thought to what he’s saying.

      I wouldn’t take a random Linus Torvalds rant about an esoteric microarchitectural detail as a meaningful indictment against a $200B company. That would be like taking a DCR rant about the update frequency of a heart-rate field on a Garmin 520 as an indictment of Garmin as a whole.

      That said, I completely agree that Intel’s history with wearables is very unfortunate. As a cyclist I’ve more than once been excited by a product, only to see Intel shut it down. This is of course a pattern with many large companies. Throw cash at a hole in their product portfolio, then realize that the TAM for that product is minimal relative to their cash cow. Google’s done it, Intel’s done it, Apple’s done it, Microsoft has done it.

    • Mike Richie

      Although Linus does like to rant, this is not an esoteric micro architectural detail. This is about the Meltdown/Spectre patches from Intel, their effect on performance and what they reveal about how this issue is being dealt with in future CPUs. This is actually, a pretty big deal that is under-reported because everyone thinks it is about “esoteric micro architectural details”. (I have no idea whether his rant is warranted, however.)

  4. Derek Chan

    The arm seems to create a rather large blind spot unless the display is further out to the corner of your eye?

  5. usr

    No word on runtime, which makes it almost by definition irrelevant for The Great Timesink Of Endurance Sports, cycling. I don’t think that many cyclists would want to spend a lot of money on gear that would not make it through their most epic ride.

    To make it interesting for cycling you would have to bite the bullet and wire it to a beefy battery pack in the jersey pocket, absolutely no point trying to squeeze out some more minutes using today’s technology (and 2030’s won’t be that much better), just keep a tiny battery/cap for battery swaps or short connection issues. Bonus points for generating additional revenue from branded batteries in different sizes and leveraging that “body area grid”, once established, for lights and the like.

    Once power delivery is generously solved, you would be free to add GPS, maps and everything else that is missing to make it a full, self contained bike computer and you are done. The smartphone connection would only be required for connectivity and configuration/setup/route creation, just like on an elemnt/bolt.

    Some other thing cyclists would absolutely want:

    Clear lenses, because riding tinted in foul weather or even at night is just stupid, an expensive piece of electronics should not entice you to do stupid things. In fact I see little excuse for not going fully electrochromatic (like Uvex variotronic) in smartglasses.

    Some form of ventilation control, because few riders finish a Pyrenees climb in summer with their glasses still on. I have no idea how this would be solved, maybe this is what will eternally condemn cycling HMD to be nothing more than a gimmick add-on.

  6. Alberto Anzola

    I was looking skeptically to this very niche a few months ago, when the opportunity arose to buy a like new Recon Jet for peanuts ( not Ray’s, of course!) and I jumped on it. A few workouts later ( running and cycling), I do believe it was the best solution:
    – Interchangeable lenses ( but no photochromatic version)
    – Good adaptability to different morfology of faces and sights ( I have presbioby, and I can read the figures quite well)
    – Great sensor connectivity
    – It’s a completely autonomous system ( except for metrics sensors – HR, cadence, power), so if you are accostumed to riding /running with a tracker, be it a phone or a fitness watch, you have basically a backup device at your disposal.

    The Recon hasn’t got a great battery life, but I found out that (given that the recharge port is on the back of the CPU pod, near the ear) I can wire it to a powerbank in my jersey’s back pocket, with a MicroUSB cable running under my jacket, and it works very well.
    I’m talking road biking, of course: I do believe that in a mountain bike scenario, I would not deem acceptable the slight field-of-view obscuring caused by the display, right near your front wheel. But in MTB, I seldom feel the need to be so up-to-date with my metrics: I can bear to look on my handlebar to a cycling computer.

    So yes, I felt a real shame that this very mature product fell under the axe of corporate cost-cutting.

    I mean that a somehow autonomous system, with GPS, BTLe, ANT and maybe some audio capabilities ( that the Recon lacks) for me is the best solution.
    Only gripe I have to report about the Recon is the platform: the Engage portal is still up and running, but I don’t know what will be of my glasses once the plug will be pulled also on this, since the system (AFAIK) relies on the portal for everything, from copying maps on the device to cleaning it’s memory from past workouts data, so freeing up space for the days to come.

    • fiatlux

      Reminds me that I also bought a Recon Jet on sale. I can’t say that I am thrilled with it – I only found it barely usable on a road bicycle and even then, I found the display to be too much on the side to comfortably focus on it while cycling and still too much in the way to have a clear view of the road ahead.

      I’m not sure what problem it solves better than a bike computer or GPS watch… oh well, it was only 140€ or so 😉

    • Lberto Anzola

      Should you decide to sell it, just let me know… 😉

  7. I sent you an email about a possible typo involving the word “Intel”. I realise now that I was wrong.

    You refer to the product from Everysight. I see that you refer to them as early as January 2016 but I’m not sure that they have any product available so far although their latest message seems to be that there will be something on sale in April.

    Have you got any other information on this? I keep on getting hit by a barrage of marketing emails and the most recent message was that if I didn’t recommend a friend for their product then I would be put on their purchase list!

    I told them that I was fed up and to go and do one. They responded that I shouldn’t worry and that I will be kept on the list anyway.

    Is this a real product or some kind of VapourWear?

    • “… wouldn’t be put ..”

    • It’s very much real, at least in terms of functional product. The question is a shipping product. I ultimately didn’t write about it because we disagreed on what I could write. They flew to Paris, I did a demo ride, and took a pile of photos (respecting one specific area they didn’t want photographed). Then afterwards they basically said I couldn’t use any photos. The the entire post (which they’ve never seen), still sits unpublished on my server – photos and text fully complete.

      These days, that post is no doubt obsolete. But it’s also a bit of a clear message to them and others that I don’t play games with changing rules. At the time they can get me a unit in my hands that I can do as I please, I’m more than excited to write about it. Till then though, I’m treating it as vapourware on an extended media demo tour.

  8. Chris

    Is the Varia HUD dead as well or do you think there will be a v2 of that as well?

    • I don’t think it’s dead. But I’m not sure on what their longer term thinking is either. I think it’s one of those curiosity projects Garmin does, where it may blossom into something else, or maybe not. They keep expanding support for it in various units though.

    • S. Savkar

      I had the Varia HUD and used it all of two times after which it sad in a drawer for a year till I sold it off. Kind of cool, but also kind of awkward. And at times downright distracting.

      Think things have a way to go before these types of HUD displays really integrate in a way that are more helpful than just another gadget to have to constantly pay attention to.

      Plus started becoming a burden to think of all the devices I had where i had to charge or change batteries before I rode!

  9. Marc Simkin

    Hi Ray, a question and a correction.

    The correction, when discussing the speakers, you state that they can be used for “audio queues”, shouldn’t that be “audio cues”?

    The question, do you know if Solo or any of the others will work with prescription lens?

    Thanks

    marc

    • Mr T

      I’ve only come across the Varia Vision. Which is fine for cycling, but very mixed reviews for running.

      I completely agree with the suggestion that this should play with Garmin. The endurance crowd are generally willing to throw down the money to have a bit more convenience, particularly if it comes in a light enough package. I’d like to see a good solution for running though – when I’m tired during a long run or towards the effort of an effort session, and when I’m running on more technical terrain I either can’t be arsed looking at my watch or don’t want to take my eyes off the trail.

  10. Thomas

    I believe HUD glasses are targeting the wrong market. I understanding running and biking are the biggest market but it’s pretty hard to justify another $300-500 investment when a bike computer or a running watch is more than sufficient for the task.

    I feel like the target market should be water sport (SUP, Hawaiian OC, Tahitian Va’a, C1, K1, rowing, War Canoe and even sailing), basically, any sport that require both hands to be occupied the entire time. It’s not so easy to look a wrist watch while you are paddling or rowing without disturbing your stroke rhythm. Also boats are usually shared between different people that are part of a club, it’s not so easy to have standard mounting options like you can with a personal bike.

  11. stuart myatt

    I think im the only person who actually like the Garmin Varia Vision.

    it does what I need. to show me whats on the Garmin head unit.

    the everysite looks clunky and awkward.

    only wish Garmin would open it up to other manufacturers as its locked to the Garmin range at the moment.

    • Peter

      Indeed. Sometimes it is a bit tricky to get a reliable position, but not a big deal.
      It would be nice if it allowed showing the next 1-2 turns – like Everysight does.

    • Adam Kwiecien

      You are definitely not the only person.
      I love it and am lost without it.
      I have my current readings on the HUD and my totals on the head unit.

    • I actually like the execution on Varia Vision, for cycling anyway. It doesn’t work well for running (for me).

      It’s just that for me for cycling, I haven’t found much of a reason why I specifically care to remember to charge it (meaning, the ROI on that is super low).

    • Steven

      If they supported connectIQ fields on the vision (v2), then it’d be hard to pass up. Xert, Best Bike Split, etc… fields would be worth something. The fields most of these show don’t really help too much.

  12. Cody L Custis

    “Another area that’s new here is the ability to pair to an Android Wear 2.0 device to utilize that for GPS data, using the SOLOS app on Android Wear.”

    What is the logic for not just building GPS data into the glasses in the first place?

  13. Tim Johnson

    Enjoyed the article. Question have you seen anything like this for swim goggles?

    • Su-Chong Lim

      It might be too optimistic to hope for effective miniaturization and waterproofing in future to get a HUD (or rather not needing to look up with your head out of the water) video display on your goggles; but if it could be achieved, you could get a forward-looking video camera mounted on the back of your head, and this would solve the sighting problem in Triathlon or other open water between pylon events. Just keep your head down between breaths, and if you have a reasonably steady head you can see where you’re heading.

  14. Matt

    Hi Ray,

    In terms of a pair of sunglasses replacing a head unit, I think there are other issues that would also need to be overcome for example using them at night / low light, steaming up on long hot climbs etc. I know there are solutions to all of these things (interchangeable lenses for example) but I cannot recall a company in this space really talking about these kinds of things.

  15. Georges T.

    DCR Advanced Sports Tech Photography certification?!?!?
    Is that offered at Trump University?

    🙂

  16. Sean

    I really like the idea of a HUD but… One thing that I think makes developing this technology difficult is reinventing the wheel as it were. So many of us have multiple devices that can and do record all the data points and more. I’m not keen to buy another one that does it all again. As an early adopter you already pay a premium but buying all those features along with that is off putting from a financial perspective. Plus the more features that get packed into the device the bulkier it gets which also means it needs more power then the battery gets bigger/heavier.

    I think maybe something less ambitious might be better specially for gen 1 and 2 devices. How about good glasses (as we also buy lots of sunglasses for our sports) that do the HUD but is just an extension of the data points sent from one of our many devices. Then the unit can be smaller, lighter and cheaper. As more mature generations appear they could add features as the other features technology advance as a result of the other fields (like the battery).

    Side note the addition of speakers seems kind of old tech wise. I would have thought bone inducting speakers would have made more sense now that they’re appearing in a few different glasses and helmets?

  17. Stuart

    This is a non starter for me. I get what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it that way. But I wear glasses; I’ve tried contact lenses in the past, and they don’t work particularly well for me (mostly because I’m lazy, but there are other issues on race day that make me wary, mostly to do with salt water and what happens if it gets underneath the lens…)

    I’m not shelling out $500+ for another pair of glasses that will only see use when I’m cycling and/or running, even if they do make them available with corrective lenses (my prescription is fairly mild, with very little astigmatism, so off the shelf lenses are workable for me.) If they decide to make a kit that will hook onto prescription sunglasses, then I’ll look at it, but as it stands… sorry, guys.

  18. There was an Everysight tour a month or so ago, and I got to try it out. I’ve purchased a unit, and am waiting for its delivery (last update was I should see it next month). Also has audio cues… and video recording.

    link to dropbox.com

    So, definitely NOT vapor. But I’m awaiting its first shipments!

  19. Fredrik Tjernstrom

    Ray, another great article!

    I got invited to order the Everysight Raptor this morning, which I did, and they mentioned an April 30 expected delivery date. Hope they keep it!