Wearables for the streetwise
While walking to get coffee the other morning, I listened to a podcast, snapped some photos and answered a call from my mum – without touching my phone. Everything was done via my black-rimmed specs: I was wearing the new Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, a collaborative effort by the eyewear giant and Facebook that’s a notable step forward in the bid for hi-tech glasses to become mainstream at last.
Like other smart glasses, the Bluetooth-enabled Ray-Bans allow you to listen to music, talk on the phone, and take videos and photos. They’re operated by voice activation, by pressing buttons on the glasses’ arms, or through a smartphone app (iOS and Android), and you need a Facebook account to use them.
Unlike many of their competitors, they look pretty normal. Things are steaming up in the smart-glasses world with a slew of models now on the market – yet, with their blocky futuristic forms, most look like they’ve been nicked from the Terminator props department. By contrast, the Ray-Bans, for the most part, recall a regular pair of frames. They come as shades or specs in three styles (Round, Wayfarer and Meteor) and can be fitted with prescription lenses. They’re slightly heavier than normal glasses with thick arms that, stylistically I think, make them better suited to sunglasses.
There are two small cameras on the front and, whenever you take a photo or video, a tiny white light gleams. This alerts others to the fact there’s some activity happening and is important in protecting people’s privacy (some critics have complained the light isn’t obvious enough). As a wearer, it made me feel self-conscious – I went from feeling like Clark Kent to a Cyborg – and I stopped taking photos in the presence of others. Ditto the audio features: because the (surprisingly high-quality) sound plays through tiny speakers on the arms, passers-by can hear muffled noise, so you wouldn’t really want to listen to music on a crowded bus.
Instead, the glasses work best when you’re on your own and can forget about your phone, such as while cycling or out for a stroll. They enable you to enjoy your surrounds without needing to shove your smartphone in front of your face whenever you want to capture an Instagrammable moment. Facebook is currently working on glasses with augmented-reality features that will overlay digital information onto the lenses; if they can combine that technology with the dashing looks of these Ray-Bans, they’ll be tough to top. Ray-Ban Stories, from £299
Sport’s new “wonder material”
First isolated in 2004 by researchers at the University of Manchester, graphene has been dubbed a 21st-century “wonder material” owing to its superlative flexibility, lightness, strength and thermal conductivity, among other qualities. And this year it’s become one of the hottest materials in sport, featuring in the uniform of Olympic cycling silver-medallist Annemiek van Vleuten, in the bow of Olympic champion archer Kim Je-deok, and in the trail-running shoes of pioneering British brand Inov-8. Now, Reebok is bringing it to a broader audience with its men’s and women’s workout apparel. The collection of lightweight hoodies, trackpants, leggings and jackets features strategically placed graphene panels that the brand says retain eight to 15 per cent more heat than other parts of the garments (the amount depends on the other materials used in the garment). Heading into winter, they could make those dawn runs bearable. Reebok Thermowarm+Graphene collection, from £55
The Fitbit – take five
This year the Google-owned Fitbit has been paying attention to aesthetics with the adroitness of a cosmetic surgeon. The Fitbit Luxe, launched several months ago, is the brand’s most stylish model yet. And the Fitbit Charge 5, its latest release, is similarly sleek, with a stainless-steel case and a bright AMOLED display. It’s sportier than the Luxe, with all the health and fitness tracking you could want, from heart and breathing rates to sleep quality, blood-oxygen levels and skin temperature. (Two features being added soon include a Daily Readiness Score that takes into account your sleep and exercise activity and advises you on how hard to push yourself that day.) It keeps a record of baseline health levels so you can check if anything seems awry, and has contactless payment and smartphone-notification functions. It’s not perfect – the touchscreen can be slow to respond, the GPS tracking is iffy, and it can’t control music – but as a pure fitness monitor it’s impressive. Fitbit Charge 5, £169
Quick as the Nike Vaporfly?
With its Metaspeed line (a step up from its Metaracer series with new foam technology and larger carbon plates), Asics has created the seemingly impossible: running shoes that keep up with Nike’s lightning-quick Vaporfly and Alphafly models. The market for “super shoes” has intensified but a study by Austin State University comparing leading designs found only the Metaspeed Sky came close to rivalling Nike in propelling runners forward.
The Metaspeed Sky has a sibling, the Edge, which also recently hit the market. They share a sherbert-orange shade and a more understated form than many of the spaceship-like super shoes. Both have grippy rubber outsoles, breathable mesh uppers, and full-length carbon plates for stability. Their special sauce? Asics’ Flytefoam Blast Turbo midsoles, with a remarkably bouncy nylon-based foam to send you soaring towards the finish line. The two models differ in one key way: the Sky is for runners with longer strides while the Edge is aimed at athletes who take lots of short paces. Asics Metaspeed Edge and Metaspeed Sky, both £225