New York City-based spy shop, Spy Tec, decided to enter the field of ‘spy glasses’ and build their own, the Inventio-HD video sunglasses. Here’s our detailed review.
The Inventio-HD glasses appear to be mid-ranged plastic-framed sunglasses in the style that you might see a mountain biker or perhaps a golfer or skier wearing, but not quite as stylish. But style is not the primary function of this gadget. You’ll notice the arms and frames are distinctly thicker than most sunglasses you’ll find today, but the electronics has to hide somewhere. On the bright side, they are not as ridiculously thick as the original MP3 sunglasses that Oakley put out years ago.
On the underside of one of the arms is a micro USB port and on the side of that same arm is a multi-function button that turns it on and off and stops and starts video recording. There’s no button on the other side, but given the symmetry, there could easily be one in the future, and I’m all for splitting up functions especially when a single button requires more complex sequences.
Fit, Weight and Lenses
I’ll go over the feel, fit and lenses quickly. They fit my small head comfortably without being too snug. There’s a little bit of outward flex for the bigger faces out there, and the overall weight is good, so you can quickly forget you’re wearing them. Made of a tough plastic, they feel like you can toss them around without them suffering too much damage.
On the down side, the lenses are not on par with decent $150 sunglasses from a well-known lens maker. It’s fairly obvious the second you put them on. But remember that you’re not buying these because they’re great sunglasses! Another note on the lenses: I got dark lenses in my sample, not the amber ones featured on Amazon and Spy Tec’s site. You can optionally get polarized blue or clear lenses for $12 a pair.
Video and Audio Quality
Video quality was easily the aspect of the Inventio that I was most interested in. I was not expecting much at all, having been disappointed in the past with other gadgets that fell into the spy cam category. I was pleasantly surprised. No, you’re not going to use this footage to win an Oscar, but you’re going to get some surprisingly steady 30 fps video at a nice resolution (720p). Spy Tec describes the Inventio as having advanced video stabilization and a high ISO to reduce video shaking, so those aren’t idle boasts.
For example, take a look at this video I shot where I was riding shotgun for a small stretch of road, and trust me, I was not trying very hard to keep my head still, yet you don’t feel too seasick after watching this, right? I cut out the audio, because the engine noise just created a low rumble that drowned out what we were saying, plus it was just mundane family chatter!
On the audio front, I found the audio (mono) more than satisfactory for any conversation occurring near the sunglasses. What the mic picked up fell off quickly the further away you were.
Software and Other Features
I didn’t bother testing the included software, and although there was a driver on there for Windows, my XP system figured out the hardware well enough for me to just open up an Explorer window and copy/play the AVI videos directly. Nothing complex in there.
As a side note, there is just so many hardware vendors out there making video products and then creating their own software to go along with them. Typically that software is sub-par. I feel a better idea would be to work with the better open-source video software projects. Help make those applications kick butt, and bundle those with your products.
The Inventio does have one additional feature above and beyond merely recording video and that is playback to a TV or other monitor with RCA AV jacks without needing a computer. I tested it out and found what seems to be a bug where it would start playing and stop after about 8 seconds. I really like this feature, but this bug needs fixing and it also needs some buttons to allow you to do things like pause, and skip backwards and forwards (what if you had a few dozen videos?).
One thing that’s sorely needed are audio cues (sounds or strings of beeps) so you’ll know what mode you just entered. For example, to start or stop recording, you need to press and hold the side button and watch for changes in the indicator LED light (color and/or flashes). That means taking the sunglasses off to watch the LED light that’s on the inside of one of the arms. What would be better and enable you to take better video that doesn’t require as much editing at the starts and ends of videos, is to have audio cues so you don’t have to take the glasses off.
Spy Tec did tell me that their next version will have a toggle switch instead of the red/green LED, so they’re already aware and working on this.
On the storage front, let’s say you’re out on that weekend warrior bike ride and manage to get past an hour of riding without falling over, then that 8 GB of storage isn’t going to seem very large. I have 3 suggestions for that – increase the onboard storage, include a micro SD card and provide an option for changing the video format. I found that the AVI video captured took up approximately 270 MB for 2 minutes of video.
To be a true spy cam, the camera itself needs to be better hidden. It’s pretty obvious there’s a hole right smack in the center of the sunglasses!
To be honest, I’m always skeptical of these James Bond-esque type devices, but I found the Inventio’s video quality to be excellent given the usage, and let’s be honest, that is its most important feature. I can also see some neat non-spy applications, like say recording my kid playing a soccer game without having to lug and hold a videocam.
The Inventio is $130, and that is comparable to other spy cam type devices that I’ve seen that don’t compare in the video quality department. I feel that if Spy Tec continues to work on this product, you could very soon have a a tough time deciding between this and traditional ~$100 videocams (like the Flip, etc.).
(The standard disclaimer: Gizmos for Geeks received a complimentary review copy of this product, but has no fiduciary relationship with the vendor.)