We’ve been waxing lyrical (and critical) about Apple’s Vision Pro here at TechCrunch this week – but, of course, there are other things happening in the world of wearable tech, as well. Sol Reader raised a $5 million seed round with a headset that doesn’t promise to do more. In fact, it is trying to do just the opposite: Focus your attention on just the book at hand. Or book on the face, as it were.
“I’m excited to see Apple’s demonstration of the future of general AR/VR for the masses. However, even if it’s eventually affordable and in a much smaller form factor, we’re still left with the haunting question: Do I really need more time with my smart devices,” said Ben Chelf, CEO at Sol. “At Sol, we’re less concerned with spatial computing or augmented and virtual realities and more interested in how our personal devices can encourage us to spend our time wisely. We are building the Sol Reader specifically for a single important use case — reading. And while Big Tech surely will improve specs and reduce cost over time, we can now provide a time-well-spent option at 10% of the cost of Apple’s Vision.”
The device is simple: It slips over your eyes like a pair of glasses and blocks all distractions while reading. Even as I’m typing that, I’m sensing some sadness: I have wanted this product to exist for many years – I was basically raised by books, and lost my ability to focus on reading over the past few years. Something broke in me during the pandemic – I was checking my phone every 10 seconds to see what Trump had done now and how close we were to a COVID-19-powered abyss. Suffice it to say, my mental health wasn’t at its finest – and I can’t praise the idea of Sol Reader enough. The idea of being able to set a timer and put a book on my face is extremely attractive to me.
The $350 device is currently on pre-order, comes in a handful of colors, and contains a pair of side-lit, e-ink displays, much like the Kindle does. The glasses come with a remote (I wish my Kindle had a remote!) and a charger. A full battery gets you around 25 hours of reading. That may not sound like a lot, but if you have an average adult reading speed of around 200 words per minute, you can finish the 577,608-word tome Infinite Jest in about 48 hours. That means you need at least one charging break, but then, if you are trying to read Infinite Jest in a single sitting, you’re a bigger book nerd than most.
The product has a diopter adjustment built in, so glasses- and contacts-wearers can use the glasses without wearing additional vision correction (up to a point – the company doesn’t specify the exact adjustment range). The displays are 1.3-inch, e-ink displays with 256×256 per-eye resolution. The glasses have 64MB of storage, which should hold plenty of books for even the longest of escapist holidays.
The company’s $5 million funding round was led by Garry Tan (Initialized, Y Combinator) and closed about a year ago. Today, the company is shipping the ‘advanced copy’ (read: private beta) of the glasses to a small number of early access testers. The company is tight-lipped on when its full production batches will start shipping, and customers are currently advised to join the waiting list if they want to get their mittens on a pair of Sols.
The reader in me wants these things really badly. My inner CFO is swearing his little heart out at the idea of spending $350 on a pair of reading glasses (pun sort of intended). And the environmentalist in me is curious whether a single-use device only for reading is a reasonable use of the planet’s resources when I already have a VR headset, a phone, a kindle and a shelf full of books I have yet to read.