emPower Lenses Don’t Live Up to the Hype

by Marcia Dettloff, OD on April 9, 2012

I reviewed the emPower electronic focusing lenses after seeing them at the SECO conference last year.  As I mentioned in my review, I did not think they were ready for prime time based on the prototype I saw.

So far it sounds like I made the right choice.  After many delays they finally started manufacturing late in 2011.  I am on Optcom, an optometry discussion listserve, and I have not heard any success stories there.  One doctor just received a pair for himself after 10 1/2 weeks and he said “they SUCK”.  He said they have a lot of work to do to get it functional and the lens has obvious optical flaws.  Another doctor said they offered the lens in 8 of their offices and they are not going to carry them any more because the first 3 pairs they sold took 45(or more) days to receive and all three failed within a week and had to be sent back for replacement or repair.

Sarah also checked them out at SECO in March and one of the lab reps told her the anti-reflective coatings on the lenses were not good.  And after much dodging, they admitted that they will not do “lens only” jobs.   That means you will not be able to keep the frame and update the prescription in the lenses.  Many offices will not “reuse” a frame but many people like to reuse frames so it’s something to be aware of before making a purchase.

While they are warranted against manufacturing defects, the have no “satisfaction” guarantee.  When new lens technology comes out, the manufacturers frequently  provide satisfaction guarantees to encourage patients and doctors to take a chance on it.  If the product is as good as advertised, the guarantees are seldom used so there is little risk to the manufacturer.  When emPower came out without a guarantee I just assumed that they were being smug and felt that their product was so superior that it wouldn’t be necessary.  Maybe they didn’t offer a guarantee because it would have been be too costly.

Any new technology has kinks to work out but, from what I have heard so far, I can’t see how this can continue to be a viable product unless Pixel Optics is able to quickly make dramatic improvements in quality and get their manufacturing time down to a reasonable amount of time.  Labs are getting a lot of complaints and remakes and no one can afford to routinely disappoint their customers, especially when they are paying $1200 or more for a pair of glasses!

If you still plan on purchasing a pair of emPower eyeglasses, be sure to find out exactly what type of guarantee/warranty is provided by the seller before you purchase them and have back-up glasses available in case you have to send them back for repairs.

Update 4/23/12

Dr. Michael Murphy posted some pictures and video on his SmugMug site that demonstrates the not-so-invisible seg, delaminating defects and glare/haze in the activated state of his  in his 2nd pair (first pair was defective and had to be remade) of emPower lenses.

 

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1 Mike Murphy, OD May 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Honestly, I have no idea how many different pairs of lenses they went through to finally get one that worked…sort of. We checked on them many times and they kept bouncing between edging, AR, and surfacing, over and over and over and over, ad infinitum. The reading segment was actually pretty clear (in the center only) while it was activated, but when it was deactivated it became terribly blurred and hazy.

2 Paul Pontier June 13, 2012 at 1:47 am

I purchased a pair of EmPower glasses in January. It took 8 weeks to get them. They failed to work within 1 week. The left bifocal lost conductivity and went hazy. The total pair was replaced. This took 7 more weeks. to do. I have worn them for 6 weeks for work 5 days per week. Now the right bifocal is not responding. I will be taking them back to my optical shop. The bottom line is I spent $1250 and in 5 months I have had 2 months of use. I know that they will go back to the shop for another 8 weeks. Your web page is one of the only sites that has any negative comments for viewing. Thanks.

3 Anne October 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Thank you for the review. I’ve not been able to find any “I purchased these at retail” user reviews or any other sort of unbiased review by someone who was not in some way connected to the developer of the emPower brand. I’ve decided to give it some time and let someone else pay to help emPower work out all the kinks.

Have you evaluated the SuperFocus self adjusting glasses. I’d love to see an unbiased professional comparison. I’m looking for something to replace multiple pairs of glasses. SuperFocus at least offers a 30-day trial period with a no questions asked return policy. The downsides are: the frames are not at all attractive; the $800 to $1,200 cost; and the relatively short 1-year warranty for such expensive glasses. Yet, I know two co-workers who swear by them.

My third set of very expensive, digitally customized progressives (that do not work for me) plus a second set of computer bifocals for desk and fine work (that do work) are difficult to keep up with. I’ve spent more than the cost of emPower glasses and SuperFocus this year alone on eye wear that I either do not use or lose because I have to take them on and off. I sure hope a better option presents itself soon and would welcome reading another unbiased review that compares the new technology.

4 Marcia Dettloff, OD November 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Sorry for the delayed response. I have been buried up to my eyebrows with our conversion to electronic medical records. I still haven’t seen a demo of the Superfocus lens so I can’t give any personal feedback on it but I am actually in the middle of investigating it for a patient and I will report what I find in a few days.

5 Marcia Dettloff, OD November 26, 2012 at 4:10 am

Anne,
I asked about experience with the Superfocus lenses on Optcomlist, a listserve for optometrists throughout the US, Canada and several other countries. Only one doctor responded. He measured them for an engineer who purchased them online and brought them by for him to see. When he checked the power and optics in the lensometer, the target did not come into sharp focus. That matched his experience of a soft focus looking through the lenses. The dual lenses make the glasses heavier than typical glasses. He said he didn’t test the focusing very much but the slider didn’t have a lot of movement so he speculated that it would be difficult to fine tune. That said, the patient was happy with his purchase.

I also contacted a friend of a friend that has carried them in her office for about 6 mos. She has only sold 1-2 pairs per month but said the people that have gotten them have been happy and she hasn’t had any problems with defects so far. For some the round lens style was a deal breaker. Currently, a round lens is needed to provide even tension across the power changing membrane. She agreed that they are heavy but the patients that got them have been tolerant of the added weight. Generally the people that have gotten them have failed with other options.

The Superfocus frame has limited adjust-ability. The frames have long nose pad arms that provide quite a bit of adjustment but the bridge contains the power change mechanism so it cannot be bent or adjusted at all. Also, the area around the temple (ear piece) hinge is not supposed to be adjusted either. That is where we normally make adjustments for crooked glasses because one ear is higher, or to change the pantoscopic tilt of the lenses when they are too flat or tilted in toward the cheeks too much. That is also where we widen or narrow the separation of the temples to provide proper tension against the head. Since proper fit is especially critical for comfort with heavier glasses, I would be wary of getting these glasses if your frames typically need a lot of adjustment to fit properly.

The reality is that once you need significant help in focusing for near, every lens design requires compromise. The key to success is in finding the right lens or combination of lenses that fit your personality, lifestyle and vision demands in the least disruptive way. The Superfocus lenses have been out long enough now that I would expect to heard a lot more discussion of them if they were as good as advertised. Generally, some type of multifocal lens design will provide the most flexibility in vision. If you have unusual visual demands such as needing to see up close overhead, do extended near work but have different working distances in different locations or you haven’t been able to tolerate any kind of multifocal lens design, then the Superfocus provides single vision optics (possibly with a slight sacrifice in image quality) with the ability to adjust the power for your working distance. If you can tolerate the design and extra weight, that may be more convenient than switching back and forth between two (or more) pairs of single vision glasses. However having to adjust the power slider with every change in working distance is not equivalent to the immediate focusing of your natural lens in your 30s.

If you are seriously interested in the Superfocus, the best advice I can give is to put on a pair of single vision lenses (if you have them) and keep them on. Then make note of every time you feel things are blurry. Each of those times you would have to reach up and adjust your glasses in order to see clearly. But remember that when you look back and see clearly again through your glasses, you would have to adjust the lens again to see that way with the Superfocus lenses. If that doesn’t seem annoying and you can live with the style and the cost, the Superfocus may be a good option for you.

6 Gerd January 3, 2013 at 2:35 am

Hi,

are there any news regarding the emPower lenses? Like the time to get them or the quality of view and durability of the function?

The SuperFocus are a no-go for me because of the circular shape.

Best regards,
Gerd

7 Jodean Sparling April 1, 2015 at 3:09 am

Considering that the above comments are from about 3 years ago, I’m guessing that these autofocusing glasses haven’t worked out. I’m thinking I would like my soon to be new glasses to have two lenses. An inner lense for distance vision and an outer lense that pivots up, (with manual control) for distance vision and down to be in front of the distance lense for reading. Do you know if such is available, and if not, if there is any manufacturer who might be willing to develope them. As I visualize them, the reading lense could be carried with a clip on carrier that would permit removal, or made a permenent part of the glass frame.

Thank you, Jodean Sparling

8 Marcia Dettloff, OD April 9, 2015 at 4:03 am

Jodean,
There are flip-up reading lenses similar to the flip-up sunglasses worn by Steve Urkel on Family Matters. They attach to the lenses with a clamp near the bridge. They add quite a bit of weight to the glasses and the clamp can scratch the lenses of your lenses over time.

Another option is to get a custom Chemistrie clip with a reading lens. The Chemistrie clip is made at the same time as your regular glasses so it matches your lens shape. Small, high-power magnets are embedded in the lenses and a magnetic clip containing sun lenses or reading lenses can be attached, converting your regular glasses to a pair of sunglasses and/or reading glasses. You can even stack a sun and reading clip at the same time. Unlike multifocal lenses, your vision will be blurry at a distance with them on but you don’t have to swap between two pairs of glasses, you just add the clip when you want to see at near. They are very lightweight, easy to attach and remove and they won’t scratch your regular lenses.

9 James Moulton February 16, 2017 at 7:43 pm

I am a happy user of SuperFocus. But… My first two pair was the style with separate left and right lenses in front of the liquid lenses permanently mounted in the frame. The first one suffered a leak from nearly the get-go and was replaced at no cost. The replacement served me well for a couple of years, even though I occasionally knocked off the front lenses. The coating started to fail as small scratches, that rapidly became large swaths which made looking through them impossible. About the same time, the sliding actuating mechanism had worn to the point that adjustment was either near or far, not between.
For my third pair, I selected the style with the fixed lenses mounted in the frame, and the adjustable ones magnetically attached inside, closer to my face. This style has a rotary adjustment that is easier to adjust. And the adjustable lenses can’t fall off as they are mounted as a single, but removable unit. This style’s weakness – literally – is the reinforced plastic bridge over the nose. After some time, this takes a set which flexes the fixed lenses away from the adjustable ones so the two aren’t aligned properly. The coating on the rigid side of the liquid lenses is now failing.
Even with those issues, the SuperFocus glasses have been a liberator. I am near-sighted with an astigmatism and in my mid 60’s. Progressive, bi and trifocal lenses give me nausea and peripheral artifacts that make driving with them dangerous. The adjustment became so second nature that I don’t even realize I’m doing, and friends think I just have a habit of pushing my glasses up my nose. I am a photographer, a model airplane buff and a model maker working on a very small scale, keeping track of 3 sets of glasses and switching them quickly is impossible.
I’m eagerly looking forward to electronically adjustable eye wear – either manual or automatic now that SuperFocus is out of business and I can’t replace my old friend.

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