A quick look at Gunnar's glasses for computer junkies


— 11:46 AM on November 18, 2011

Quick poll: everyone who regularly squints at a computer monitor or television at least eight hours a day, raise your hand. Do I hear nine hours? Ten? Twelve? Depressingly, you'll still find my hand waving timidly in the air.

A long time ago at a corner desk far, far away... I came to the realization that my eyeballs are constantly fixated on the same glowing rectangle well beyond any time frame that could be considered healthy. Working alongside others who share the same fate, I've noticed that everybody has their own techniques for combating the inevitable symptoms of visual fatigue. Some of my colleagues take regular breaks to refuel on coffee or to plant a Nerf dart in someone's back, while others print their work and turn off their monitors for a period of time. Recently, a new trend has crept into the office: Gunnar computer glasses.

It didn't take long to succumb to my cat-like curiosity and snag a pair of my own. Anything that might assuage the eye-strain-induced headaches I've lived with over my many years as a relentless computer junkie would be a welcomed addition to my daily routine. If the glasses could provide even half the purported functionality of their marketing bravado, I figured the somewhat steep entry price could be rationalized. After all, I don't hesitate to shell out extra dough for high-quality keyboards and mice that enhance the tactile link to my computers. Why not invest a few bucks in the outbound interface between the computer's monitor and my eyes, as well?

The glasses will run anywhere from $79 to $189 depending on the style and retailer. My particular model, the Phenom, is listed at $99 online. With a little comparison shopping and coupon code-clipping, I was able to get the final price down to $85.

People rocking a pair of Gunnars are easily singled out in a crowd, thanks to the distinctive yellow-tinted lenses. The amber tint is only one ingredient in the secret sauce that Gunnar terms i-AMP lens technology. i-AMP is made up of four obnoxiously named (and trademarked) components: diAMIX lens material, iONik lens tints, fRACTYL lens geometry, and i-FI lens coatings—I promise the caps lock key is not acting up.

Ignoring the awkward capitalization for now, these four technologies are intended to mesh together to offer the wearer better contrast, a warmer color spectrum that's easier on the eyes, a protective barrier that keeps eyes moist, and a dose of anti-glare properties. The lens material was designed to cut the harsh light emitted by the backlit displays and fluorescent tubes commonly found in the average workplace.

Do these face-huggers actually work? In short, yes! Having been blessed with 20/20 vision, I am not accustomed to wearing anything beyond cheapo sunglasses outdoors, so it took about half an hour or so for my eyes to relax upon donning the Gunnars for the first time. Part of that time was spent getting used to the small amount of magnification provided by the lenses. Once my eyes calmed down and my brain had time to adjust its internal white balance to compensate for the yellow tint, the improvement was evident.

The glasses seem to work best for long-haul computing or gaming sessions. Despite using them every day for the past couple of weeks, my eyes still need a little bit of time to adjust each time I put them on. Short bursts of emailing or perusing the news over lunch don't give my eyeballs enough time to fully relax before taking the Gunnars off again. As a general rule of thumb, I'll slap them on for pixel stare-downs lasting 30 minutes or longer.

So far, the thing that's impressed me the most about these glasses is their ability to make on-screen motion less painful. The motion doesn't necessarily look more fluid, but my eyes can follow it with less effort. The eye strain I feel with constant scrolling has been reduced substantially, and I find it easier to track specific lines of text while traversing endless pages of code.

The Gunnars have had a significant impact on my gaming stamina as well. The ability to quickly acquire and track a target with one's eyes is essential in most 3D games, but that task gets tiring after a while. Even in casual games, animations and repeated motion can wear down your eyeballs. As a Minecraft addict, I sometimes lose all track of time; five or six hours later, my head pays the price. If I'm wearing the Gunnars during these sessions, my brain and eyes feel less exhausted, allowing me to refocus on the real world a little bit faster.

Gunnar claims the glasses lock in moisture in by blocking outside drafts and promoting natural blinking. Apparently, we tend to blink more when our eyes are relaxed than when we're squinting, which keeps our peepers naturally watered down. I never noticed any issues with dryness prior to wearing the Gunnars, so it's hard to tell if they make a difference. Some unscientific experimentation showed that I can stare at a single point without blinking quite a bit longer with the glasses on. However, this claim feels like marketing exploiting a phenomenon that occurs behind the lenses of most glasses.

Despite my current infatuation with these spectacles, they do have some drawbacks. First, and perhaps foremost, the yellow tint is counterproductive when working with images or projects where color accuracy is important. For programming, productivity applications, web-browsing, and even gaming, absolute color accuracy is often an afterthought. However, as soon as Photoshop launches on my PC, the glasses have to come off. Thankfully, the vast majority of what I do on a computer makes no demands for color purity. For die-hard graphic designers and the like, Gunnar does offer a clear "CRySTALLINE" lens that sports the same anti-glare coating and moisture protection without the shift to warmer colors.

Another point of frustration for me is the fact that Gunnar felt the need to print its name in the upper corner of the left lens, similar to Ray-Ban shades. Unfortunately, this corner is well within my peripheral view, and I constantly see a slight blur from the lettering in my field of vision. Why create a product whose sole purpose is to reduce eye strain and then introduce a permanent blurry spot into the equation? Part of the initial adjustment period my eyes require with these glasses can be attributed to attempts to focus on and then compensate for the blur. Gunnar, if you're listening, please ditch the lettering on the lens itself. Your name is already printed in two other places on the frame in case I forget.

Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by the Gunnars, which have become an integral part of my work day and play time. I was somewhat skeptical at first, despite positive testimonials from co-workers, but am glad I took a gamble on this product. Although I am satisfied, the opportunity to test-drive a pair before proceeding to checkout would have been nice. If you know somebody who uses these glasses, ask to borrow them for an hour or so before passing final judgement. If they do seem beneficial, a wide variety of frames exists to suit most stylistic persuasions. The only target market seemingly excluded from the lineup is the affluent monocle crowd. For shame.

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