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Testing Tens, the Glasses That Promise to Make Life Look Like Instagram

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
June 16, 2014

Maybe you’re among the millions who have become hopelessly addicted to the filters on Instagram and other digital-photo services, apps, and tools.

And maybe, as a result, you’ve come to feel that the real world, as seen via your actual eyes, just doesn’t measure up anymore. It’s so bland! The colors are so flat! The sharpness so predictable!

A product called Tens, launched on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo in May, addresses this issue by attempting to serve as a sort of physical-world photo filter. Tens are essentially sunglasses, but with lenses specially designed to mimic the warm image-enhancement common to tweaked digital imagery, especially on Instagram.

The creators are three young men with backgrounds in filmmaking, the events business, and marketing. And as one puts it in the pitch video: “What if there was a way we could filter everything that we see, whilst being disconnected from technology?”

Evidently, a lot of people wanted to find out. The Edinburgh-based campaign set out raise the equivalent of about $15,000 — and has attracted well over $50,000. (The campaign closes July 5.) Along the way, a slew of gadget-press coverage has already exhausted every possible “rose-colored glasses” joke.

From the Tens Indiegogo pitch.

But do they actually work? Despite the images and promises offered up on the Indiegogo page, I was skeptical. I figured the only way to know for sure would be to try a pair in, you know, real life.

Happily the good people of Tens obliged. As you can see, the packaging is quite impressive. As well it should be: Even at the launch-discount price of about $77 a pair, Tens are not cheap.

The actual product doesn’t feel quite so much like a luxury item — the frames are made of “a durable, adventure-proof acetate” — but they do feel a bit more impressive than the cheap drugstore shades I’m used to.

I began my rigorous testing procedure: I put them on and looked out the window.

I took them off. I put them back on. Then I put on regular sunglasses, and undertook a similar procedure. Then I went back to the Tens. I won’t bore you with the details, but this procedure carried on for well over two minutes.

And you know what? They actually kinda work! The view really did take on a photo-filter quality, and it really was distinct from what I saw through traditional shades. The colors on the dilapidated roof of the house across from my office really popped. A weird orangey glow brought out the highlights in its crumble-cracked paint job.

I’d say the Instagram filter it most closely mimics is Kelvin.

Tens as filtered through Kelvin.

And this of course suggests a limitation of Tens, as measured against digital filters, anyway: You can’t change it. If the Tens tint isn’t to your aesthetic liking, well, you’re out of luck.

Yes, that’s an unfair criticism, but if you’re going to compare your product to the magic of technology, you can’t complain when someone points out that — yet again — tech trumps reality.

A more troubling problem emerged in the final phase of my extensive research, when I convened a selective focus group (my wife) to evaluate Tens as an object on my face.

Her assessment got under way with a short burst of involuntary laughter. Then she suggested that they resembled glasses worn by an older person with some sort of eye condition that required particularly aggressive coverage of the face.

Meanwhile, the benefit of a filtered view of the world eluded her. “People who are paying for those,” she concluded, “are getting exactly what they deserve.”

Well, let’s just say that tastes and styles differ, and the good-looking young folks on the Tens pitch page all look reasonably fashionable (and even better when I look at the page through a pair of Tens!).

I continued to wear my Tens over the weekend, while walking the dog, running errands, or just puttering in the back yard. (“Looking good, Ace,” my wife heckled on one of the latter occasions.)

I remained impressed with the filtering. A typical dog walk involves covering territory I’ve experienced a thousand times, but the glasses made me notice flora, signage details, and sweaty joggers in a new way. The makers suggest it works best in bright sunlight. It’s definitely true that the effect is muted when the skies are overcast, but Tens are most interesting when the sun is just risen or soon setting, when the natural light is already contrasty.

By the end of the weekend, however, the novelty had largely faded: The filtered world had become familiar. And I really do look silly in them.

So if you crave a Kelvin-ized view enough to shell out $77, I wouldn’t try to stop you. But it’s time for me to get back to my regular sun-filtering gear:

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalkerRSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.