Review: Gunnar Rockets (anti-headache glasses)

A few weeks ago, I picked up a pair of Gunnar Rockets. They’re (slightly) tinted glasses which are touted as helping people who have issues staring at computer screens for long periods of time.

I didn’t used to have any problems, but after taking a year off of being a sysadmin, I think my eyes gave out on me, because I’ve been having headaches and a gritty feeling in my eyes after much shorter sessions than I did before. I decided to pony up $60 and give it a shot. I figured, “Hey, if it works, it’ll pay for itself in aspirin in no time”.

My first thoughts, after putting them on, were “wow, bright!”

The yellow tint of the lenses seems to make certain things “pop” that didn’t before. I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems like the tint makes the blacks blacker. The whites become slightly yellowed, but brighter somehow. I’m not sure why that is, but my theory is that it may have something to do with the fact that the eye’s peak sensitivity is around 555 nanometers, which is pretty close to the color of the Gunnar lenses (look for Fig. 249 on that link for the right graphic).

Also, there’s a slight magnification. It’s very slight, but just enough to make you go “whoa, something is different”. If you take them off, hold them in front of your face, and pass them over text, it’s clear that the curvature of the lens causes some very wide differences in diffraction across the length of the lens. If you look at the picture below, you can see that at the top, near the earpiece, there’s a pretty big discrepancy between through the glasses and not. At the nosepiece, there’s almost none.

Click to embiggen

My initial response was confusion, because normally this would make the image through the glasses altered, kind of like how your windshield is “weird” near the edges, but with these glasses, that’s not the case at all. My current working theory is that because of the curvature of the lens, it’s actually equidistant from the lens in your eyeball as it swivels in your eye-socket. This means that although it’s heavily curved, there’s no image warp. It also means that there’s an optimal distance in front of your eye for the glasses to sit.

For me, that seems to be pretty close, so I do find them sliding down my nose sometimes. It isn’t bad, and I live with it. The reason for the closeness might also have to do with the “microclimate” that the sales literature talks about, which is supposed to keep your eyes moist without condensing on the lens (and there really is no condensation that I’ve seen). This could be confirmation bias, but it does seem like my eyes aren’t as dry or sandpaper-y as they usually are. There were some days where I’d close my eyes and they just burned because I never seem to blink enough.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so I waited a while before I reviewed them in case some things changed.To be very very honest, if I would have reviewed these after the first week, I would have given them a negative review. I was actually writing it in my head. I didn’t notice anything different, and really, I couldn’t recommend spending money on them. Then that weekend, I used my computer a lot.

So, do you have a splinter in your finger right now? Probably not. You almost certainly have in the past, though, and you can remember that it really sucks, and it’s annoying. But the thing is, our brain is wired to forget the magnitude of pain (otherwise no one would have more than one child), so you don’t remember how much it sucks to have a splinter in your finger. But it sucks more than you can remember right now, and if you had a splinter in your hand, you’d constantly be smacking it against things and rubbing it the wrong way, and you would have trouble concentrating on anything else without thinking of it.

So by the Sunday following my first week with the Gunnars, I keenly remembered what it was like spending hours staring at a screen, and I realized that it wasn’t that they made no difference, it was that they made so much difference that I forgot about life without them. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

There are downsides, of course. These are glasses. If you already wear prescription glasses, then these aren’t really an option for you, unless you want to spend significantly more for prescription Gunnars. I don’t know how much they are, but the glasses by themselves are $60 on sale, so I imagine they’re quite a bit more.

Another downside is that they smudge. I read a lot of reviews that claimed that they smudged easily, but I kind of ignored it. I mean, people in general (myself, too) abuse sunglasses, and I figured that they were overreacting, but let me tell you…don’t wear these things unless you’ve got a microfiber cloth handy. Not only do they smudge easily, but because of the wavelength of the light, YOU NOTICE. I think that’s probably why it’s so bad, actually. I doubt that they smudge more than a pair of Oakleys with iridium lenses, it’s that the color is designed to make you notice it. So keep a cleaning cloth handy. I just leave one at my desk under my monitor (and they come with a nice microfiber cloth bag to keep them in, too).

There are also a lot of frame styles to choose from, so you don’t have to get the nerdy wireframe thing I did. I don’t think I look great in glasses, but this is about as non-bad as it gets for me:

For some reason, I never get mistaken for Bono as much as I’d like

The end result is, if you have trouble with headaches while using your computer for long stretches, or if you notice that it burns when you blink after staring at your screen, then there’s probably a good chance these will help. If you know someone who has a pair, I’d recommend borrowing them first, because that’s a lot of cheese to spend on something that may not end up working for you. I’m not sure about the return policy on things like this – it may be simpler to return them Amazon if you buy them from there. But if they’re an option for you, and in your financial reach, then I would get them now.

You can pick them up at Amazon with my Associate code or without (I get pretty small percentage of the sale, but it keeps me in things like arduino parts).

I’ve talked to a TON of people that also have Gunnars since I got mine, and pretty much everyone raves about them. If you’ve got an opinion, positive or negative, let me know in the comments. Thanks!

  • John McGrath

    Nice! I am getting my eyes checked soon, and I will look for these.

    I think the Bono impression would go further if you slicked your hair back more. :-)

  • Matt Elmore

    Come on Matt, give us a smile! :)

  • Ryan Salomon

    Great review Matt!

    I never get headaches from staring at the screen long but I get drowsy much more easily staring at black text on a bright white background.
    For that I recommend either using the High-Contrast theme in Windows or Linux, or reversing the colors in Mac (using Ctrl+Option+Cmd+8).

    Or, even easier, use your computer as normal but turn down the brightness.

    On iPhones/iPad etc, under Accessibility there is a reverse color option that you can set to presses of the Home button, such as three presses.

  • One thing that amazed me more than anything when I got a new screen is how much better/easier it is to be near when you have it calibrated.
    Take my Dell u2311h as an example: I had to have my brightness down to 30 instead of the 100 it was set up with, in order to have a perfect image.

    Sure, that might seem overkill for a non-photographer, but a high quality screen is essential for the long hours looking at it :)

    Calibration tools cost 100 usd fyi.

  • Thanks, Matt, for the review.

    I don’t have any of the symptoms you do so I’m not entirely convinced they’d be useful for me in that regard. Fatigued eyes are what I’m more concerned about, have you noticed it’s less tiring when you wear them?

    As for pain of childbirth, ha! I’ll have to ask my wife about that, but it seems epidurals help. :)

  • chewyfruitloop

    I have actually set my enviroment to have a yellow background just to take the strain off my eyes.
    I was dubious about a set of specs being that good, so thanks for the review

    I’ve considered getting tinted lenses for an age to try and help my reading (I’m dsylexic) but if they help eyestrain too… bonus

    on the prescription side …from gunnar….YOUCH!!
    I may settle for contacts + normals lol

  • Chewy: Yeah, I do contacts and the Gunnars usually. I’m wearing my prescription glasses at the moment, so I have to go without right now.

    Have you check out dyslexic fonts?

  • chewyfruitloop

    I’ll give that font a go on my work machine, but I tend to find a fixed width font more useful most of the time
    guess I’m just used to reading it, had a computer since 1981 :)

  • Dan

    Hi Matt, you might consider having your eyes checked. I had an eye exam about two years ago and the doctor told me I had “dry eyes” but he did a terrible job of explaining anything about the condition and just gave me a free sample of some drops. I blew it off completely since I had gone for a routine checkup and had no problems whatsoever. A couple of months ago I started having similar problems to what you describe and it got bad enough that I made another appointment where I was again told I had dry eyes which reminded me of the previous diagnosis. My eyes, in addition to having itchiness, were watering a lot so “dry eyes” made no sense to me. I got some slight magnification reading glasses and I put lubricating drops in my eyes most of the time when I get up and before going to bed and, when I’m having a bad (eye) day.

    I’m not saying the yellow tint isn’t helping in some way but I’d bet the slight magnification takes some strain off and the burning you sometimes experience *may* be a symptom of the same thing I’m dealing with.

    After having absolutely perfect vision for over four decades, I’m bummed that my old body is starting to let me down!

  • Ronnie James

    So it’s more than a year later. How has the staying power been with these? I’ve been getting really bad eye strain lately and am looking into these.

    Some sites say great. Others say nonsense.

    Are you still wearing them? Are they still making a difference?