The concept is outstanding. Imaging having instant access to all the data you normally have to look down at your handlebars or wrist for: speed, pace, distance, power or time. Imagine being able to take a quick snap shot of a great view or some of your riding buddies by pressing a few buttons on your glasses, or being able to keep track of text messages, caller I.D. and social media, so you’ll never miss an emergency at home or an important update from the office.
All that is possible with Recon’s Jet sunglasses that project information to a display that is the equivalent of a 30” screen being viewed from 7 feet away. The system has what Recon calls “Glance Detection technology” which sleeps when you’re not looking down, which reduces the distraction of the screen when you don’t want to see it and provides more battery life. You’re not giving up on any of the performance aspect of your eyewear with the Jet, either – the ear stems and nosepieces are completely adjustable and there are a variety of interchangeable, impact-resistant lens options, including polarized versions, for virtually any condition. For all the hardware that’s inside these things they are remarkably light, too. They feel a tiny bit heavier than a regular pair of performance sunglasses, at just 60 g you really don’t notice the extra weight, even when running.
The system all runs on a “smartphone-class” processor (1 Ghz dual core and 1 GB SDRAM) that has a variety of sensors including GPS and an accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter, barometer and magnetometer. The Jet can also connect to ANT+, Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi enabled devices so you can get pretty much all the information you could ever want from your phone, power meter, cadence monitor or stride sensor. It’s all controlled by an optical touchpad and two-button rocker that is both ingenious and really easy to use once you get used to it, even with gloves on. There’s even a “maps app” that allows you to keep track of where you are.
The camera takes reasonable photos and video, too. You can set things up so that you’re only a button press away from taking a photo, and since the display serves as a viewfinder you’ll always be able to get the shot you’re looking for.
Once you’re all done you can connect the Jet to your computer and use Recon’s Engage software to access all the data from your training session. The software also allows you to customize the dashboard screens (up to six per activity) and send data to your logging program (MapMyFitness, TrainingPeaks, Strava etc.).
If you’re waiting for the “but …” in all of this, there is most definitely one coming. While you get more comfortable using the Jet’s impressive features the more you use them, no matter what you still have to look downwards to see the data. Maybe not as far as you might to look at a handlebar mounted computer or a watch, but you’re still glancing down. (There might be some people who can look down with their right eye while their left is still looking forward, but I’m not one of them.) The housing for the display at the bottom of the right lens is also quite large and really restricts your vision as you try to look back over your right shoulder. Again, the more I used the Jet the more comfortable I got doing this, but I would struggle to recommend the Jet to anyone who does a lot of pack riding and needs to be able to keep track of riders around them. The battery life is also a huge issue. While the advertised battery life is four hours, I struggled to get three out of a charge while running Bluetooth and GPS. (That said, I had the display going for quite a bit of the time I was riding, so you might get more life if you use the glance detection feature.) Yes, you can replace the battery, but who wants to haul another battery along with them for a five or six hour ride?
If you like to be ahead of the curve in terms of technology, the Recon Jet is definitely worth a look. For the most part the folks at Recon have done a great job (and beat Google Glass to the punch) and even Intel thinks they are on track with a great product – earlier this year the processor giant bought the Canadian based Recon. Right now, though, the Recon Jet still feels like it is one or two iterations away from being a must-have addition to your training arsenal, especially at the $879 (US$699 on-line) price tag.