[Note to previous readers: see latest updates at the end of this review just above the comment section. Note to new readers: the review has been updated to reflect the current “production run” version of the product available as of June, 2015. Click here to read the updated review.]
Good news to those who had been following my SuperFocus story: CustomFocuss by Adlens is now available. I am working on obtaining a pair and will review them here.
As with the previously posted review of the now defunct SuperFocus technology, this will be a “living post” documenting my experiences with the Adlens Focuss product, being marketed and sold as Lenscrafters CustomFocuss.
[Note: This is no longer true. The product is not currently sold by Lenscrafters, but rather has a network of independent optometrist shops that can be searched on their web site.]
This article will be of interest to you if you wear prescription eyeglasses. Like SuperFocus before it, the Focuss product line from Adlens (hereafter using the Lenscrafters name CustomFocuss or CF for short) is an evolutionary step in eyewear. In brief, one pair of CustomFocuss glasses replaces multiple pairs of single vision, progressive, and bifocal glasses. This is accomplished by matching a standard vision prescription with a variable focusing mechanism, allowing full field vision at all distances. Where with conventional eyewear you may need reading glasses, computer glasses, distance / driving glasses, and perhaps progressive / bifocals, all of these purposes can be served by a single pair of CustomFocuss glasses.
We know that this concept can work well, as proven previously by SuperFocus. The SuperFocus technology was quirky in many ways and had some technical problems, but certainly proved the concept that variable focus eyewear is feasible and can deliver outstanding visual clarity at all distances without the distortions and discomfort of progressive lenses. Unfortunately, the SuperFocus business model lacked an effective marketing and distribution mechanism, and/or lacked sufficient funding, and the company ceased operations in early 2014.
By the time of the SuperFocus failure, Adlens, a business based in Oxford, UK, had already announced its plans to enter the variable focus market. Adlens was established in 2005 to provide adjustable eyewear to developing nations where there is a lack of infrastructure for conventional vision prescription distribution. In fulfilling that need, they have previously introduced several low cost technologies providing customizable non-prescription solutions. It is from that solid foundation that Adlens decided to evolve a prescription-based variable focus technology targeted to consumers in developed nations. This technology, now called CustomFocuss, is a direct replacement for what SuperFocus had been offering.
CustomFocuss has some significant advantages over SuperFocus that offer hope of success where SuperFocus failed.
- CustomFocuss is distributed through ordinary eyewear retailers (Lenscrafters in the US). By contrast, SuperFocus was available only through a web site. The CF model offers important benefits, such as the ability to see and try the frames before buying, integration with local optometrists, accurate and professional pre-purchase measurements, and the likelihood of superior post-sales support in the event that something goes wrong.
- Although CustomFocuss frame designs are restricted to a small set, they do offer four slight variations and a more conventional rectangular appearance. By contrast, SuperFocus had a one-size-fits-all approach and relied on a round frame with limited commercial appeal. Although both products achieve variable focus through a liquid-injected flexible lens technology (mimicking the eye), with CustomFocuss, Adlens has developed an approach that claims to retain distortion-free clarity without requiring a round lens. They have published descriptive documentation on their technology, so I will not repeat it here.
As of a couple of weeks ago, CustomFocuss is now available for purchase, however the initial rollout is limited to only 34 Lenscrafters locations in 7 states. This represents a mere 4% of the 850 Lenscrafters locations, and most areas of the country have zero representation. Presumably this initial test rollout will be followed by a more comprehensive coverage, but for the time being most people will find it challenging to obtain a pair of these glasses since there is no online alternative for ordering. Fortunately, through some phone calls I have found a solution! Read on.
The nearest participating Lenscrafters to my location is over 200 miles away in Bakersfield California, which obviously is not logistically practical. I contacted a nearby Lenscrafters location in La Jolla a couple of weeks ago, who unsurprisingly at the time had heard nothing about this product. We should expect that Lenscrafters locations that are not participating will know nothing about CustomFocuss.
I then called the Bakersfield location and was immediately helped by a knowledgeable sales associate. When I explained that I was some 200 miles away in the San Diego area, she agreed to contact her Adlens rep and also my nearby Lenscrafters location to see if they could arrange something. This is exactly the kind of network advantage that Lenscrafters distribution should provide, so this was encouraging. After all, Lenscrafters are all company owned and share a database, so there is no reason that they can’t work together cooperatively.
Yesterday, I spoke with the Adlens rep who explained that he had sent some sample frames to the La Jolla store, and that they were anticipating my arrival for measurements. I then called the La Jolla store and they confirmed that they were indeed looking forward to my visit. I stopped by earlier this afternoon and tried on three different frame designs, selected one, and had measurements taken. I am now eagerly anticipating the next steps, but to this point I can say that Adlens and Lenscrafters have made this process a positive and relatively easy one. I would encourage readers who want to be “early adopters” (but lacking a nearby participating location) to take the same approach by contacting the nearest participating location and having them work with a nearby non-participating location to get the job done.
Here are my first impressions of the frames. Adlens has four frame designs, called Kinetic, Quantum, Flux, and Vectra. Each of these are available in a variety of color combinations (front/ side color and interior color). At first glance on their web site, they all look identical. With closer examination we can see minor cosmetic variations primarily in the bridge and temples. My feeling is that each of these frames accept the same exact lens / focus module. This is a logical cost containment strategy, but as a result the frame variation is somewhat limited when viewed on a web page. The reality is a bit different, as each of the frames did have a distinctive look when actually worn.
Unfortunately, I don’t know for certain which frame styles I tried because they were not labeled. I believe there were one each of Kinetic, Quantum, and Vectra, although I can’t say for certain. The Quantum frame is too boxy for my taste and seemed visually bulky. The Vectra frame (if that’s what it was) was too wide for my face. I selected (I think) the Kinetic, which was clearly the best fit of the three for my head shape. I’m sorry to be so vague, but the important lesson learned here is that you cannot tell from the web page how different they are, and really must try them on in the store to make an informed selection.
I will say that I found all three to be comfortable. The weight was good, although these were lacking the variable optic lens. As such, I’d expect the final glasses to be a bit heavier. The frames are somewhat thicker than my usual glasses, but not unpleasantly so. They felt substantial and well constructed.
I did note that the frames have two focusing wheels – one on the left and one on the right. It’s not clear to me if this means one must adjust each side independently or not, an issue that is certainly relevant to the practicality of these glasses. (My hope is that these will focus like a pair of binoculars: one dial controls only one side but the other dial controls both together. This would allow efficiency of use while also permitting fine tuning if the sides become out of sync – as is the case with one of my SuperFocus modules.)
On my next update, I’ll let you know how the complete ordering process comes to conclusion, and give my impressions of the actual finished product.
I have to backtrack slightly regarding product ordering. If you are not within reach of one of the 34 participating Lenscrafters locations during this test rollout, for logistical reasons Adlens is recommending that you contact them directly at 617-721-1689 so that they can handle your order personally.
Update 11/11/2014: First Impressions
I received my CustomFocuss order this morning and have been wearing them now for approximately 10 hours. My use has been in an everyday work environment involving normal office interaction, detailed workbench activity, and driving, with vision needs at all distances. I now have sufficient experience to describe first impressions, though no doubt my opinions will evolve over time with increased use.
Using the same grading system I used previously with SuperFocus, here is my initial grade. Each item will be discussed below in some detail.
- Optics: B+ (SuperFocus: A-)
- Practicality: B+ (SuperFocus: B+)
- Aesthetics: A- (SuperFocus: C)
- Cost: B (SuperFocus: B)
- Quality: A- (SuperFocus: originally A, now C for repeated leakage failures)
- Presales Customer Service: A (SuperFocus: B+)
- Postsales Customer Service: A (SuperFocus: originally C, now F)
Optics. Generally speaking, I’m pleased with the optical quality. This is interesting because my first impression out of the box was not particularly positive. I immediately noticed distortions [see note below], a constrained viewing window, and a bit of “fishbowl” effect. However, some of this impression was not entirely fair and with a few adjustments within a minute or two the initial concerns began to evaporate. Compared against my single vision Warby Parker glasses, all of the above observations are essentially true. The single vision glasses are larger with viewing angles from top to bottom and side to side, with no distortions of any kind. (They are also lighter weight and a lot cheaper, but those are topics to be discussed elsewhere). However, a more fair comparison would be against progressives or SuperFocus.
Note on distortions: It turns out that most of the distortion that I initially noticed was due to a flaw in my CustomFocuss glasses. It took me awhile to figure out that the focus zone on the right lens had a crease near the top which produced a substantial distortion at the upper end of the vision area. When I brought this flaw to the attention of Adlens, they promptly agreed to replace the glasses. The replacement set is utterly perfect. There is normal distortion at the zone border as others have reported, but is no more significant than any eyeglass frames. As with frames, our brains filter out the border distortion from our normal perception.
CustomFocus vs SuperFocus: SF glasses are so small and so round that the viewing space feels constrained and I always feel aware of the frame. On the other hand, they offer crisp clarity across the entire lens surface. Although exquisitely clear and undistorted, SF does indeed have optical artifacts. For example ghosting arises due to the spatial gap between the prescription lens and the focusing lens, and the non-integrated nature of SF means that the focusing module can wobble behind the lenses (note: I am referring to the Leonardo design). CF glasses are rectangular which offers superior visual width and less awareness of the frame. This improvement comes at the expense of visual distortion where the focusing component attaches to the prescription lens. In my experience so far, this distortion is really only noticeable with the head tilted down while the eyes are looking straight ahead, or while the eyes are looking up without tilting the head. It may be that some fit adjustment would reduce this characteristic, and in any case based on my one day of use I believe it is something to which I will become acclimated.
Furthermore, the CF design is more integrated than the SF design in that the focusing component is permanently embedded within a lens sandwich. As a result, thus far I have noticed absolutely no ghosting effect as I have with SF. This renders CF far superior for distance and night vision. I found SF difficult to wear at night with ghosted streetlights and headlights. Further, I found SF distance vision gave me some cross-eye effect at distance which I am not experiencing at all with CF. This problem was not due to PD mismeasurement as some have suggested, but rather is an artifact of the focus module – the problem disappears when that module is removed. Other benefits of the CF integrated design is that the total product feels more solidly constructed, should be easier to clean, and (I have to hope) will be more immune to failure of the soft membrane.
CustomFocus vs progressives: Like progressive lenses, there is definitely an optical “sweet spot” for CF and it will be important to have a pupilary distance measurement and proper fitting to maximize the results. For this reason, the Lenscrafters (retail) distribution model probably is a critical part of the ultimate success of the product. It is much easier to adjust to CF than to progressives, and no neck pain for reading and computer work. And while CF has minor distortion it is only at the periphery, unlike progressives which offer the greatest distortion in the middle of the lens, at the transition from distance to near vision.
Practicality. As all SF users know, variable focus glasses have a high practical benefit as there is no need to continually switch glasses for different distances, carry multiple glasses, risk dropping and scratching the ones that are not in use, and so on. (Grade A). That said, there are some downsides:
- CF are heavy. On my shipping scale (which is accurate but not terribly precise, rounding up to the nearest 0.2 oz), CF weighs in at 2 ounces while SF weighs 1.4 ounces and my Warby Parker single vision glasses come in at 1.2 ounces. After 10 hours of wear, I’m starting to feel it pinch on my nose. It’s not terrible by any means, but although I expect to adjust to it I’d like to see them knock some weight off in future designs. It may be a problem for those who are highly sensitive to eyeglass weight. (Grade B). [Update: during the first week of use, I adjusted the nosepads to be less pinchy. Although I’d still like to see about a half ounce carved off of a future model, the weight distribution is now quite wearable].
- CF offers dual focusing wheels where the left and right sides are focused independently. Many SF users will consider this as a potential show-stopper because we are used to having a single dial control the focus of both sides at the same time. However I want to emphasize that it actually works quite well in real life use. I’m giving a C grade based on the scale below, but there are advantages to this approach and in any case it is superior to a progressive or multiple single focus model. It has already become second nature for me to dial both sides at the same time. They dial in opposite directions so the motion is intuitive, and they provide click-stops for near, middle, and long distance so a quick change is easy. In cases where I’ve had one hand occupied, I’ve dialed the other side for focus, and while this is not the way I would want to see all the time, it does the job adequately for brief situations. I would like to see a 4th click stop (reading/detail, computer, mid range, long distance). In some future model, I’d love to see both independent and synchronized focus because both are useful. I’m sure this presents an engineering challenge but it can be done. [Please note the update below dated 11.19/2014. Since the initial review, I have decided that I prefer the dual focus approach. I’ll keep the same grading scale here but in reality I’d now give this approach a B rather than a C.]
Multi-Focus Methodology Grading Scale
A: Both synchronized and independent focus
B: Synchronized focus only
C: Independent focus only
F: Single Vision (multiple sets of glasses)
I suppose an A+ would be given for a method of “bio-automated” focus, but I would guess such technology will not appear in my lifetime.
[Someone asked me for what reasons I might find the CF focus approach preferable to the SF approach. I can think of two. First is it possible to have the two sides out of synch. I had two SF focus modules, one of which was slightly out of synch. There was no way to adjust it other than sending it back to the company for a replacement. The second reason is that it is a little less disruptive to have the focus dial at the stem of the glasses rather than the bridge. With the latter, you need to cross your hand in front of your face, or curve your arm awkwardly above your forehead. By contrast, focusing at the stem seems much more natural to me. For me, an ideal scenario would be the approach taken with binoculars, where you have one dial that adjusts only one side, and the other dial adjusts both sides together. This would require designing some sort of mechanical connection between the two sides which currently does not exist.]
Aesthetics. This is entirely a matter of personal opinion, but I feel that CF blows SF out of the water. Although the frame options are limited, I feel that the rectangular style has a much broader appeal than the circular style. CF looks far more “normal” or even upscale. While SF will get you a lot of immediate attention (some good, some humiliating), CF will generally go unnoticed at worst. For broad market appeal, that can only be a good thing. I selected the Kinetic frame with a dark brown / amber coloring, and they look very good in my opinion. Bottom line: I’m not embarrassed to go outside. I don’t have much more to say on this subject.
Cost. The current “early adopter” pricing of $599 (at Lenscrafters only) is anything but cheap, however it’s not unreasonable given that in theory one pair of CF glasses potentially can take the place of several pairs of conventional glasses. On the other hand the “regular price” of $799 strikes me as potentially too limiting for the market. Although you could make a financial case, I believe it will prove to be a hard sell outside of a diehard niche. My recommendation to AdLens would be to make the $599 price permanent, and attempt to increase the average sale price in different ways. For example, they could offer a second pair at half price for the same prescription ordered at the same time. The incremental material cost would be relatively small, but the net sale would go to $899.
Quality. Here is where CF really shines. The frames feel solid and substantial, and the construction feels top notch. The finish is nice, the hinges are firm, and the glasses fit snugly to the head and nose without slippage. By contrast, SF always struck me as somewhat flimsy as a whole. The components were well made but they just didn’t integrate together very well. Further, the open access to the variable membrane was practically begging for problems, and it got them. SF created double the surfaces to be cleaned, one of which is sensitive to the touch and as a unit feels fragile. Meanwhile, CF is easy to clean with only two sides presented as a single unit. Time will tell us how well this design will hold together, but I feel hopeful that the poor SF shelf life and fluid leaks will not be repeated with CF. I am downgrading the quality grade slightly because the transition from focusing component to bare lens is visible and I would like to encourage AdLens to continue to refine the technology to minimize this transitional barrier.
Presales Customer Service. The experience was good overall. Initially, I attempted to purchase the glasses through Lenscrafters, but as described previously this turned out to not be possible. Lenscrafters personnel were certainly pleasant and helpful, but in the end, I had to purchase directly from AdLens. We can’t draw too many conclusions at this point because as early adopters this experience is very different from a presumed full rollout at Lenscrafters.
Postsales Customer Service. So far AdLens has (or “Adlens have”, as they would say in the home country) been outstanding in communicating with me after the sale and even arranging a personal fitting. It is obviously too early to tell what future customer service will be like. To be sure they are working hard to treat early adopters well during this test rollout, but Adlens seems to earnestly want to understand our experience and improve their product and customer experience.
Conclusions. AdLens has made an excellent debut prescription product that is worthy of consideration as an alternative to progressives and multiple single-focus eyeglasses. If you have never used a variable focus product before, CustomFocuss will be a revelation. On the other hand, former SuperFocus users will see CustomFocuss through that context and will find some things they like more and some they like less than SF. SF users will need to make a judgement based on the aspects they find most important. In my opinion, taking into consideration all of the different aspects of the products, I find CustomFocuss to be superior to SuperFocus and more viable from a product marketing perspective. There is room for improvement from this initial generation: I’d like to see the product evolve to be lighter weight, to be further refined in the focusing boundary, and to have a dual focus ability.
Here is a photo gallery of CustomFocuss and comparison shots against SuperFocus.
Update 11/19/2014: Week 2
Now that I’ve been using CustomFocuss more or less constantly for over a week, I have a somewhat surprising update.
First of all, I have decided that I LOVE LOVE LOVE these glasses. They are not perfect and have room for improvement, but they are a delight to use.
Here is the surprising part: I’ve decided that I actually prefer the dual focus approach used by CustomFocuss and I feel that it is superior to the synchronized SuperFocus approach. I continue to believe that having both would be good, but if I have to choose one, I prefer the dual focus approach. In the vast majority of cases, the preset click-stops are all you need, however in many circumstances I have found it desirable to make a micro-adjustment on one side or the other, and it would not be possible to do that with SuperFocus. Indeed, I spent some time directly comparing the two and found I could focus more precisely with CustomFocuss because of this flexibility. It may be a reflection of my own personal eyesight, but I believe that one eye has slightly different ability to focus than the other and that it can change over time. For example, if the air is unusually dry (as it has been the past few days with a Santa Ana condition), my right eye tends to become watery. When that happens, its normal focus ability shifts and so my eyes become somewhat out of kilter with my prescription. With CustomFocus, I’m able to micro-adjust in that situation and get back to proper focus.
It’s true that separate focusing is a bit of a nuisance, but it’s really quite minor. I have found that focusing with both hands at the same time is simple and intuitive, but I have also found that when one hand is occupied it is quite easy to use the other hand to dial one side to a click stop, then move the hand to dial the other side. Each dial is easy to reach with the thumb in either case.
So, my biggest area of apprehension with CustomFocuss has turned into an area of preference. Other SuperFocus users may disagree, but this is my finding.
Update 12/17/2014: Adlens Ends Test Rollout Phase
As of a couple of days ago, the CustomFocuss web site indicated that the test rollout via Lenscrafters had come to an end. I asked David Hunt of Adlens to clarify what that meant for current and future customers so that we could share that information on this blog. Here is his response.
As you are aware Adlens engaged in a product test with a fantastic partner and leader in the optical industry. We are very proud of the results of that test and the partnership. As with any product test there would be a start date and an end date. As of December 15th, 2014 we have crossed that end date. This decision will allow us to take what we have learned from the test and implement process improvements to meet expectations and demand. We will continue our partner discussions about the product test and look forward to the future.
Adlens is committed to servicing our very valued present and future customers. Everyone is welcome to call me direct in Boston. Focuss will have a huge impact on the optical industry and you will start to read and hear a lot more as we prepare for the product launch in the second quarter of 2015. It is a very exciting time for us right now. The Boston office is happy to answer any inquiries regarding the launch and can be reached directly at 888-459-9793.
– David Hunt, Global Customer Excellence Manager
I’m glad that I got my glasses during this brief test phase because I love them and it’s not clear to me if new orders will be processed until the next phase begins. On the other hand, those who have to wait for that phase should benefit from the experiences of the early adopters as Adlens refines its product and processes.
Update 6/8/2015: Focuss is Back!
Adlens has announced that they are now back in production. Evidently the name of the product is now AdlensFocuss. I have the following information provided by David Hunt of Adlens regarding the new rollout:
We are very happy to announce the official release of AdlensFocuss™. While the design, functionality and frame styles are the same as our CustomFocuss™ test, small changes in materials were made in the product to improve overall patient satisfaction. The most significant improvement is a manufacturing line expansion to meet patient demand.
We plan to have 150 Eye Care Practices all over the nation dispensing AdlensFocuss by the end of 2015. Each week new optical professionals will be listed on www.AdlensFocuss.com
Currently, we are targeting major metropolitan regions of the country like Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Chicago. However interested patients who are outside of the available regions can order directly from our Boston office. The toll free number is 1-888-459-9793 and 1-617-721-1689 is David Hunt’s number for after hours and weekends.
Mr. Hunt also explained that among the changes AdlensFocuss is now able to accommodate a wider range of prescriptions, as they “are now able to surface (or glaze) the eyewear to ANY axis for Cylinder up to -2.00”.
I will be obtaining a new set and will post another update regarding noteworthy changes.
Update 7/18/2015: Focuss is Back!
I received my pair of production run glasses a few days ago. Click here to read the updated review.