25 Mar, 24

32°N’s sunglasses transform into reading glasses


Glasses have always been the defining feature of the nerd emoji, but adding a dark tint to the lenses can instantly make both you and the emoji look cool. Glasses with chips are often mockingly referred to as ‘glassholes’, while reading glasses are considered to be exclusively for older people — and as someone over 40, I think we can agree that there’s nothing lamer than that.

So what happens if you combine reading glasses with sunglasses and discreetly place a chip in them, so that no one can even tell?

That’s exactly what Deep Optics has done with their latest 32°N-branded Muir sunglasses, which I have been testing for the past few weeks. A swipe on the frame sends an electrical signal to the two liquid crystal lenses, changing the state of millions of tiny pixels and bringing close objects into focus.

As a result, these 32 Degrees North specs eliminate the need to carry (and lose) both reading glasses and sunglasses — at least, that’s the promise made in exchange for $849 of your hard-earned money.

The Muir sunglasses from 32°N have a unique feature that allows you to adjust the focus by simply swiping on the frame, enabling you to see nearby objects clearly. It’s important to note that these sunglasses are not like transition lenses that change opacity based on sunlight brightness, nor can they correct near or farsightedness. Instead, the lenses from Deep Optics seamlessly transition to reading glasses without any change in opacity. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that the 32°N sunglasses do not come with prescription lenses and my testing was done while wearing contact lenses.

In terms of design, the new Muir frames bear a strong resemblance to the company’s existing Wharton frames, which were originally launched through a Kickstarter campaign in 2021/2022. Both frames are available in chunky black or transparent plastic, but the Muir frame offers a slightly wider and curved fit.

While I found the Muir frames to look good on the few family and friends I asked to model them, they didn’t feel particularly premium in my hands. They reminded me a bit too much of the cheap 3D glasses often given out in theaters. However, if your main interest in purchasing these sunglasses is the ability to read a menu comfortably while sitting at a terrace cafe, then fashion may take a backseat in your decision-making process.

To activate the Bluetooth radio for pairing, simply triple tap on the frame at the right temple of the Muir sunglasses. Setting up the sunglasses through the 32°N phone app is a quick process, and the app provides an excellent video guide that walks you through each step. If you prefer a more personal touch, the company also offers guided one-on-one video onboarding sessions. During the setup, you’ll realize the limitations of the liquid crystal lenses.

Traditional reading glasses typically have magnifiers covering the entire lenses, allowing for clear vision of nearby objects. This is why you often see people in their mid-40s and above constantly taking them on and off. However, with the new Muir frames, a single swipe from the right temple towards the ear doesn’t transition the entire lenses into magnifiers. Instead, it only activates a squared-off section in each lens where the active liquid crystal lens is located. Think of it as a lens within a lens, similar to an on-demand bifocal design.

Inside that squared-off section, there is a narrow sweet spot that provides magnification, while the rest of the area within the square appears blurred when activated. When my head and eyes are properly adjusted, this narrow band of magnification allows me to read approximately five lines of text on a smartphone at the default settings. If I want to read more, I need to move my head accordingly.

Everything outside of the liquid crystal square remains unaltered, creating a “safety zone” without any magnification. This allows for quick glances around without the need to swipe and disable the magnification feature.

A swipe from the temple backward will revert the reading glasses back to sunglasses completely. From an external perspective, the lens change can be observed, but only from certain angles, under specific lighting conditions, and with very close inspection.

In practice, the functionality works, but it takes some time to feel natural because the liquid crystal lens doesn’t focus immediately. Even after several hours of testing, I still find myself adjusting my eyes or head position to find the sweet spot for reading. However, the gestures for swiping became second nature quite quickly.

After swiping for magnification, the lens initially smears before returning to focus within approximately two to three seconds. While it may feel slow, it is significantly faster than having to search for a pair of reading glasses. Reverting back to sunglasses with a swipe is a more seamless and faster process.

A reverse swipe from the ear to the temple allows for toggling between different focal distances for magnification. There are three settings: Watch mode (very close), smartphone (close), and laptop (not so close). The shift in focal distance is subtle but meaningful, based on my experience. I personally set mine to toggle between laptop and phone, as that’s where I spend most of my time reading.

By holding multiple fingers against the temple, you can toggle the lenses into your default reading mode. For example, for me, it would be the smartphone mode. The lenses will stay in this mode for a pre-set delay after the hand is removed, which, in my case, is two seconds. This gesture has proven to be highly useful for quickly checking phone notifications, payment terminals, or any other close-proximity reading needs.

However, the price tag of $849 may seem steep, especially when you can find a decent pair of polarized sunglasses with multi-focal prescription lenses for around $500.

There’s definitely a fascinating aspect to the technology behind the liquid crystal lenses, and the undeniable convenience it offers to aging GenXers who would benefit from only needing to carry and take care of a single pair of glasses. As the first generation to grow up with personal computers, it feels fitting that they are the first to have computerized glasses to aid in reading.

If you’re intrigued by these new Muir adaptive sunglasses, I would recommend trying them out before making a commitment. Fortunately, 32°N offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, allowing you to test them out and see if they meet your expectations.