About The Vufine…

So, my progression using the Vufine went from “This is a piece of junk and I wasted my money” on day 1 to “This is amazing and I wish I’d had it my whole life” on day 21. I honestly love this device, and even though it took me a week or two before I was really using it with total effectiveness, even a couple of days in I was in love with it. I still thought it was very flawed at that point, but it turned out I was just still inside the learning curve.

As an evangelist for it, I’d like to help people get past that day 1 feeling as quickly as possible, so this is a blog post that tries to document some of my hard-won experiences as well as answering common questions I’ve received or seen around the internet.

Is The Screen Easy To See?

According to the Vufine people, it’s the equivalent of a four inch screen hovering twelve inches in of front of your face. Which sounds tiny. But, you know, if you put a one inch quarter in front of your face, it can block the moon, which is considerably larger than an inch but much farther away.

The Vufine is neither four inches across nor a foot away from your face, so you know that it’s already relative.

I like lean back from my computer screen, so right now my head is about three feet away from a screen that’s about 28 inches on the diagonal. If I move my head so that the Vufine is lined up with it, it’s lining up with maybe about 75% or 80% of that screen. Not a big screen, not a tiny screen, considering. 

The real issue, size-wise, isn’t the size of the screen but the size of text on it. If you watch videos on the Vufine, it’s going to be beautiful and crisp and seem like a really decent size considering it’s not blocking your view. Kind of like watching a movie or TV show on your phone only it’s weightless and hands free. For anything that’s purely visual, the proximity of the screen to your face will make the size pretty much moot. 

Text is another story. Whatever device you plug into the Vufine, there’s a good chance that neither it nor the apps you’re running on it were optimized for this kind of view. Expect to play with text size settings and view/zoom settings until you find something that’s comfortable for you.

One thing I’ll say is that the longer I use it, the fewer adjustments I need. When I started out using my Pocket PC, I ran it in 800 x 600 resolution with the Vufine in stretch-to-fit mode, and when I was writing in Word I used 200% zoom and web view, which ignores page size and simply reflows the  text to fit the display, like a webpage does. After a week of heavy use, I am mostly using the device’s optimal resolution of 1280 x 720, and keeping the Vufine in normal mode. I can write in Word using print view (which does render page size) and zoom set to text width (which zooms in until the margins disappear).

I don’t know that everybody would find themselves as comfortable with those parameters as I am, but If your goal is to have a portable writing device that you can use sitting, standing, or in repose, and you aren’t picky about how much text is on screen, you can seriously just keep zooming until you can read it easily. Any text editor that reflows text when you zoom and any word processor with a web view mode or the equivalent will let you do this.

Now, as another wrinkle: I use the Vufine mainly with my Pocket PC, and when I use it with my phone, it has a feature called Samsung DeX that lets the phone emulate a desktop experience, which has a lot of the same complications as using the Pocket PC. But when I turn off Dex and just have my phone mirror its screen on the Vufine… well, a phone screen is much more optimized to be viewed as though it were a relatively small screen held relatively close to you. Your phone’s screen is probably more than four inches across, but you probably hold it more than twelve inches away.

So if you’ve got a phone or small tablet that can output to HDMI, the Vufine might give you a more comfortable viewing/reading experience. Of course, your phone is already portable with a screen, so you have to ask yourself what your use case is. I’m not saying there isn’t one. Just that it’s less obvious. Being able to watch things handsfree while retaining my mobility is pretty great. I don’t know that I would have bought the Vufine just for that, but I’ve certainly used it for that, with my phone and with my Pocket PC.

What Do You Even Use this For?

I primarily got it so I could continue to write under a wide variety of circumstances as possible, with as little interruption and discontinuity in my work. I use it to write on the go, or when I’m very not on the go. I have written while walking around in the backyard, pacing in an empty house, standing and waiting for food, riding in a car, riding on a plane, waiting for a plane, sitting on a couch, lying on a couch, lying in bed, lying on the floor.

It was especially great on the airplane. I have never had a better experience with working while on a plane. Trying to use a laptop on the tray table or hold my phone and write on it… both have their drawbacks. Being able to write using my wearable computer rig gives me the best of both of them without the drawbacks, and some added bonuses. The handheld keyboard is better than a phone for writing on while being lighter. The Vufine’s desktop screen not only doesn’t require a free tray table, it’s literally wherever I look, so if I change positions I don’t have to adjust it.

I have also used it to keep up with the news or Twitter or the news on Twitter. We’re having some network connectivity issues around here (some of them have to do with our router and home wifi being bad, some of them are down to our local provider) but if we get them resolved I will finally have a decent solution for watching streams of breaking news, press conferences, hearings, etc., while I’m doing my commentary thing.

I have used it to multitask, like watching videos on the Vufine while I’m sitting at my desktop computer or while I’m doing some kind of household chore. I think the first thing I tweeted about the Vufine was that I was using it to watch ASMR videos while I cleaned out the fridge. I’ve used my headphones to listen to ASMR in order to help manage my anxiety, but now I can have the audio component as well. I have also been using it to do things like watch TV shows that I have always meant to check out but never had time for (hello, Killing Eve), as watching them on the Vufine is way easier than trying to prop a phone or tablet up near my screen as I’m writing.

I have used it for operations that benefit from a second screen or having two computers active at once, like things that require heavy referencing, transcription, etc. Not a lot of that yet, but it’s been working well when I’ve done it, and I’ll be doing more of it in the future.

If you don’t see the appeal of any of this, then neither the Vufine nor my whole wearable computer concept are probably right for you. But on the other hand, you might be looking at this and thinking of uses that fit your needs and lifestyle and not mine.

Whatever use you think of it, I’d say the big benefits are portability and privacy. People might come up and ask you questions about the thing on your eye but they can’t look over your shoulder at what you’re writing, or what you’re searching for on Google (which, for writers, can be almost as uncomfortable as having people watch what you’re writing). They can’t see the video you’re watching, if that’s something you’re concerned about because of reasons.

Does It Impair Your Vision?

I mean, obviously it occupies a portion of your field of vision and attention. The Vufine website notes that whatever your local laws may or may not say, you shouldn’t drive while using it. Whether you can walk around while watching a video or writing or browsing or reading depends a lot on your own personal capabilities.

It doesn’t block much of your view if you have full binocular vision, as your other eye will see most of what it’s blocking for the one it’s over.  How your brain reconciles the image might vary. I find that when my attention is focused on the tiny screen, it seems perfectly solid, and when I’m trying to look at something past it, it recedes into transparency. Just as an example, I have moved my head so that the Vufine is pointed at the computer screen where I’m tying this and I can see what I’m typing “through” my Killing Eve video.

Some people get vertigo, motion sickness, or headaches when their eyes are giving them mismatched inputs, in which case the Vufine might not be for them. I’m looking at another device  (as mentioned in my previous post) that uses both eyes while still promising that you can continue to see your environment. I can’t give any recommendation or review for that as I haven’t tried it. But I could see it being a good alternative for people for whom the Vufine is *almost* right.

How Do I Get It Into Position?

So, the Vufine attaches to your glasses by this little armband thing. You strap the band to the arm of your glasses, and the Vufine clips onto that with a little magnetic post. The post is round so it can swivel in its little socket, letting you adjust it up and down. The part with the viewport and the screen is on a little telescoping neck that lets you adjust it horizontally.

You want to attach the band so that the viewport on the Vufine is attached it’s right in front of the lens of your glasses, in the very center of your eye’s field of vision (i.e., in front of the pupil. Once it’s there you can swivel it up and down a little bit if you for instance don’t want the Vufine screen to fill the center of your view. Right now I’ve got it tipped down a bit so that it looks like I have a second screen below my computer screen, which since I like to sit back from my computer monitor lets me view both of them very comfortably. When I’m walking around and writing, I like to put it up above my field of view so I have to glance up a little bit to see it. This helps me focus on my environment and lets me type without immediately seeing what I’m writing, which I find freeing.

How Do I Get It To STAY In Position?

This is a thing that comes up in negative reviews.

The big thing is to make sure that your cords aren’t just hanging of it. If your cords have got a big slack loop drooping down, the weight of them is going to pull the Vufine out of position, pull your glasses down, etc., as well getting snagged on things. When you figure out how to manage the length and placement of your cords, your experience will improve markedly. I tweeted early on that it’s not worth it trying to keep all four corners of the screen in view, but after 3-4 weeks of use, it just feels like second nature. It’s so easy. And managing the cords is the biggest part of that. 

Do I Need Glasses?

Nope! If you don’t wear glasses, you can use the non-prescription frames that come with the unit, or any non-prescription pair that you like. There’s also an accessory for attaching it to a hat or headband. I haven’t tried that much, to be honest. I was starting to experiment with it because I’d had bad luck keeping the device lined up while it was attached to my glasses, but then I figured out how to make that work.

What Other Pitfalls Have You Encountered?

So, I saw a lot of reviews saying it doesn’t work well in bright natural light and I didn’t know what they were talking about until I went to take the trash out and found the screen was very indistinct. I hadn’t had that problem before… because any time I’m going outside for longer than it takes to put a bag in the bin, I put on a sunhat. So, you know. If you’re going outside, maybe wear a hat. That’s not just a Vufine thing, your skin will thank you.

Not all glasses work equally well with the Vufine. Metal wire frames are especially unsuited, as they’re too thin for the band and may be too lightweight for the Vufine to not make them sort of list to the side. The unit comes with a little adapter bridge thing you’re supposed to be able to clip over the arm to make it thick enough; I have seen reviews saying it doesn’t work well but it’s possible that only people who have bad results think to mention it. I’ve also had a problem with glasses that have arms that are too thick – it’s not that they don’t work, it’s that if the band is stretched too far, it can break if too much strain is put on them, such as by trying to reposition it without undoing it.

On that note, something I should note: the arm mounts that came with the unit seemed poor quality compared to the replacements I ordered. The basic mount seemed to have the strap attached poorly, which I think contributed to it wearing out on my larger pair of glasses. The advanced mount, which has a couple extra points of articulation for more precise placement, had joints that were so loose the weight of the unit even without cords would move it out of position.

I haven’t had those problems with the replacements I ordered. I don’t know if there was a first run production problem or what. I hate to recommend a product that isn’t 100% out of the box, but there really is no competitor in the Vufine’s space that I could give the nod to instead. And while it sucks if they’re shipping a product that isn’t 100%, they seem to be doing better? 

As far as this problem goes, I don’t think you’d have a problem with the basic mount if your glasses don’t have over-sized arms. Some of my frames are basically novelty frames, so I might be an edge case there. I didn’t notice any negative reviews mentioning it; I did see several of them talking about the ball joint on the advanced mount, so I know that’s not just me.

Basically, I would suggest looking at the pictures of the Vufine. The frames pictured are the non-prescription frames that come with it.

The more your glasses look like those, the better it’s going to work just right out of the box. That isn’t to say you have to have identical ones. The glasses I have on right now, that I’ve been using for a couple of weeks with it, have thinner arms, but still plastic, and they’ve been working really well. I’ve also used the pair that I broke the first band on, with one of the replacement bands I ordered, and while I’ve been more cautious about stressing it, it doesn’t show any of the signs of wear and tear. 

The only pair of glasses I’ve tried them on and couldn’t get it to work was a heart-shaped pair from Zenni Optical. Don’t know if the lens has an unusual curvature or what, but I just couldn’t get it lined up.