The Future is Here – Review of the Uvex Variotronics Electronic Sunglasses
- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 1 June 2016
The Uvex Variatronics were awarded a Gold Award last year at Eurobike, the worlds’ biggest bike show, and are now introducing electronic tinting for sunglasses to cyclists across the globe. Sports cycling tends to be an early morning activity, but choosing the right eyewear to suit the changing light conditions can be difficult. If it is pitch black when you roll-out but are returning to the bright mid-morning or midday sun, will your glasses provide great clarity and eye-protection for your whole ride?
The Variatronics technology is straight-forward and provides a clear and a tinted lense. You can manually switch between clear and tinted or set the automatic mode and let the glasses detect the light conditions and automatically switch between clear and tinted. A tiny button is cleanly integrated into the left arm to enable manual switching or, by holding it down, it will activate the automatic tinting.
Unboxing and Details
The Uvex Variotronics arrived in a particularly large case and included a small charging cable and the glasses, which were packed in a soft protective pouch.
Considering the technology embedded within them, these glasses appear to be very normal wrap-around sports glasses and not oversized. On closer inspection you can see some of the electronics at the edges of the lenses. It is very cleanly integrated and gives it a high-tech look. The arms of the Variotronics sunglasses cleverly conceal the charging port and button. To recharge, a rubber tab on the under-side opens and the mini-usb charging cable can be connected.
The battery level and charging status is indicated solely through the tint of the lense. As an example, when you charge the unit, the tint of the glasses turns dark and when fully charged it is light. There are no superfluous lights or LEDs, however it is hard to judge the remaining battery.
The e-tint technology was originally developed for military use and comes to Uvex as part of a technology sharing agreement with Ctrl Eyewear. A liquid crystal film, sandwiched between thin polycarbonate films are ‘electrochromatically’ activated when a current passes through; the crystal structure changes and blocks light. When it is off, it is still blocking about 30% of light and when it is on, it blocks 84% of light. All of the nasties: UVA, UVB and UVCs are blocked, regardless of the tint.
The Fit and The View
On my first attempt to wear these, the nose piece was too narrow so they simply wouldn’t fit well. I enquired with the Australian importer who confirmed that the nose piece has a flexible metal inside and can simply be bent to suit and this did the trick for me.
James tests the Uvex Variotronics sunglasses
These wrap around style sunglasses are a comfortable fit, they felt light, and didn’t have any pressure points. The bridge of the glasses rested comfortably against my forehead but I had the impression that, despite the good fit, the glasses were slightly narrow for my face type.
My view through the lenses of the Uvex Variatronic felt uninterrupted and while riding the bridge of the glasses didn’t enter my field of view.
In the clear mode there is still some tinting from the liquid crystal layer. While the clear mode is not crystal clear, I found the Variotronic still suitable for riding in dark conditions. The glasses change from clear to dark in a split second. When tinted, it is noticeably darker (as you would assume) and my eyes are protected from glare, but I still retained good visibility of the environment.
A notable side-effect of the tint mode was that the polarised lense effect was exacerbated by the dark tint and really affected the appearance of certain things. For example, it became very difficult to read my cycle computer screen (which appeared black), a common complaint with polarised lenses. It also made motor-vehicle windows appear in rainbows of dark purple, pink and green while road markings (and repairs) would glisten and appear superimposed.
This effect is called birefringence and it was remarkably pronounced when the tinted mode is selected. I found it distracting as my eyes were focussed on the road surface which had to then compete with shimmering patches and stripes. While I could get used to this visual magic over time, it is a ‘feature’ which I wouldn’t miss if it was excluded in the next generation. A short video of the birefringence effect can be seen here.
On the road with Variotronics
While riding, the tiny button is very easy to locate to quickly change modes. Changing modes is a super cool effect – this futuristic tint-control will make your cycling buddies look twice.
Activating the ‘automatic’ mode is performed by holding down the button for a few seconds; the lens then flashes (dark / light) a few times and then adjusts the tint to suit the light conditions. While the light sensor does a fairly good job of switching the tint to suit, it is a bit abrupt. Without a gradual change, your pupils have to play ‘catch-up’ and when light conditions change rapidly, such as on tree covered roads, it can be very tiring for your eyes and brain. My solution was very practical: the manual mode put me in control and was more natural. My feature-request for the next generation would be a gradual tint so that the transitions are easier on the eyes.
With the bridge of the Uvex sunglasses resting close to my forehead, I anticipated fogging but found that I hardly experienced this. I did get water droplets building-up on the outside of the lenses while descending through cool temperature pockets and fog, though. The water droplets affected visibility and didn’t disperse as easily as on other cycling glasses I wear. I have to admit that my bike was also dripping wet and the back of my gloves (with the built in soft pad for sweat) worked find for clearing the lens.
In practice, the Uvex Variotronics sunglasses with the e-tint technology work very well for changing light conditions. You can overcome the dilema of choosing appropriate cycling sunglasses or lenses for your ride as these look after you in dark and bright light conditions. The Variotronics have some competition from photochromatic lenses, but these tend to have a limited range unless you are looking into prescription lenses such as transitions.
These glasses will retail for $549 in Australia which puts them straight intro a premium price category for non-prescription cycling sunglasses. The importer is planning to introduce these in Australia this year. For further details, visit the Uvex website. You can reach the Australian importer of Uvex Sports products, Emmert Investments on 0417 094 367.